JACKSONVILLE – We'll start 2018 NFL Draft week discussing a long shot.
This writer's feeling remains that the strongest possibility for the Jaguars at No. 29 overall in Thursday's first round remains the same: offensive line, followed by tight end.
If the Jaguars are looking at needs, those are real possibilities.
But General Manager David Caldwell made it clear at Friday's '18 pre-draft luncheon at EverBank Field that the Jaguars could veer from need to best available player. That's how efficiently the team filled holes last month in free agency.
"What's unique about us this year is we've tried to make it as seamless as possible where we could line up tomorrow," Caldwell said. "[There have been seasons in the past in which] We didn't even have guys to line up with. In our first year here, we had to draft four rookies and I think all four started in the secondary. That's not an ideal situation.
"Now, we're in a situation where we can literally take the best player available."
The Jaguars indeed could do that, which would render most pre-draft projections regarding the No. 29 selection meaningless.
Such an approach also would make defense in Round 1 more likely than has been projected by most analysts, the majority of whom have projected the Jaguars taking offensive line, tight end or wide receiver.
A defensive player early makes sense in one very real respect. While the roster is strong and comparatively deep at all three levels defensively, the team's salary cap entering the following offseason could dictate difficult decisions on the defensive front and at safety.
While all are under contract for 2019, it seems unlikely that end Calais Campbell, tackles Malik Jackson and Marcell Dareus and safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson all would return that season. Addressing either position early this week makes sense.
One position that still feels like a longshot: linebacker.
Many analysts have projected the Jaguars selecting the spot late in Round 1, pointing to a "need" to replace recently retired middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. The argument against a Round 1 linebacker: Myles Jack and Telvin Smith are the team's every-down linebackers; whether a first-round linebacker played inside or outside, he likely would play about 30-to-35 percent of the snaps.
"It's a good class," Caldwell said of the draft's linebackers, comparing it to this year's quarterback class in the sense of there being quality players at the position "at all different levels: first round, second round … throughout the draft, there are linebackers you can get value out of."
Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin was asked on Friday what he hoped to gain when a prospect visited the Jaguars before the draft. Coughlin's answer illustrated the importance he places on even seemingly small details. "You want to pick and prod at their background, what their thinking is and what they feel like is the most important thing going forward for them," Coughlin said. "What are the areas they feel like they need to improve? How has their interaction been? Were they a leader? Were they perhaps the captain of their team? What kind of influence have they had on other people? What has been the most adversity they've ever faced as a collegian? How have they gotten out of that? If they haven't won, you want to know what impact that has had on their lives. If they have won, have they been able to maintain a real competitive hunger to want more? So, there are a lot of things you get.''
Coughlin on Friday also addressed a rule approved by NFL owners at the recent 2018 NFL Annual Meeting that would penalize a player for lowering his head to initiate contact. The league specified at the time of approval the rule would be further clarified before the season. The move has prompted concern from observers and players that it would change the game and over-punish some transgressions. Coughlin put the rule into perspective Friday, saying "I think what is needed is for the world to know that the National Football League is very concerned about making our players as safe as they can possibly be – and that in so doing we would take the first step or whatever step to get to that." Coughlin said while the word "targeting" hasn't been used at meetings discussing the issue, "The idea that all of us here can look at an egregious hit and know it has no place in the game … that's what you want out of the game. The idea of reteaching the way in which the helmet is used and the way in which tackling is done – as efficiently as you can, trying to keep the head out of the game – that will take the process of time. That will take teaching, etc., etc." Coughlin said the first step is "We get the egregious hit out of the game, the hit that has no business in the game, the hit that's not necessary, the hit with an intent other than to allow the individual to make a play within the game itself. The game is a physical game. That aspect of it will remain. But we think we can refine some of the techniques and how we go about our business to make the game safe."