JACKSONVILLE – Here's what we learned about the Jaguars during 2015 NFL Draft Weekend …
1.The Jaguars got better.No doubt.
2.David Caldwell can draft – and people nationally know it.It's not as if the Jaguars' first two drafts under General Manager David Caldwell didn't teach us this, but once again, Caldwell has a sound plan and stuck to it. And the national analysts noticed, giving the Jaguars' draft "As" and A s" pretty much across the board.
3.The Jaguars got better.It's worth repeating, because it's true. And while it's important to remember this rookie class – like all rookie classes – will need time to develop, there appears to be a chance for a bit more immediate impact than normal. Edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. from Florida should add to the pass rush immediately, and because second-rounder T.J. Yeldon from Alabama is a running back, he could contribute significantly as a rookie. That position allows for a quick transition from college to the NFL.
4.Fowler Jr. is going to be fun.The shoes. The suit. The easy smile. The thoughtful answers with a touch of sincerity. The real feeling you get that he appreciates his opportunity at hand. There's not a lot to dislike about the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.
5.There's some maturity to Fowler, too. It wasn't insignificant that Fowler showed up to Jacksonville on Friday and Saturday far lower key than when he wore a white suit and custom-made gold shoes to the draft Thursday. Fowler said Saturday that there's sort of two Fowlers – one off-field for the cameras and one when it's time to work. The first one knew it was time to let the other one shine when he arrived in Jacksonville Friday.
6.Fowler is a Leo.Yes, he's bigger than a normal Leo, but because he has the skill set to rush the passer and penetrate, the Jaguars believe that extra size is a good thing.
7.Fowler was an easy choice.The Jaguars saw him as the right fit. And while Southern California defensive tackle Leonard Williams was high on their board, the Jaguars already had Jared Odrick at strong-side end and Sen'Derrick Marks at three-technique tackle. That made Fowler the obvious selection, and Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley pretty much knew all week he was the selection.
8.The Jaguars love Yeldon.OK, they wouldn't have taken him No. 36 otherwise, but talking to scouts and personnel people around the Jaguars, there's a real excitement about the running back from Alabama. His vision, ability to hit the hole and experience as a foot-in-the-ground-and-go-runner in a zone-running scheme give him a chance to excel quickly. "I think the way he runs he's got the ability to break long ones," Caldwell said. "He's a patient runner and he gets the most out of what's there."
9.A rotation at running back is ideal.Yeldon almost certainly will start, but that doesn't mean he'll be the only back. Caldwell said ideally the Jaguars' primary running back would carry about 16 times a game, meaning there still will be carries for Toby Gerhart … Or Denard Robinson … Or Bernard Pierce … Or Storm Johnson. "You can never have enough good backs," Caldwell said.
10.Denard Robinson will return kickoffs.Robinson finished the season as the starting running back until a late season injury. He'll get a chance to play a role as a primary kickoff returner next season, and Caldwell said he also likely will have a key role offensively, too.
11.There's competition at left guard.The Jaguars didn't take South Carolina guard A.J. Cann to make him sit for long. Maybe Cann will beat out veteran Zane Beadles immediately and maybe he won't, but look for this to be a significant training camp battle.
12.The offensive line is getting bigger.The Jaguars haven't abandoned the zone-blocking scheme, but make no mistake: the lean toward bigger linemen is real, with Cann the latest example. "That was a thing," Caldwell said. "That was a piece-by-piece-by-piece and that's what we're starting to do at every position."
13.Wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan likes wide receiver Rashad Greene.Sullivan said of the ultra-productive fifth-round receiver from Florida State, "He will be a guy who will be very coachable and conceptually be able to take what we throw at him and put it on the field. I think he will do well and don't anticipate any major problems." That indicates Greene could be productive sooner rather than later.
14.This is a big year for safety Johnathan Cyprien.The third-year veteran has played well at times and been inconsistent at other times. Jaguars secondary coach DeWayne Walker said Cyprien has had to adjust his first two seasons playing in a system that asks him to essentially be a linebacker in many situations. "He walked in right as a starter," Walker said. "To learn the NFL, learn the system, and a new position, all of that is quite a bit for a young guy. I think the couple of years he has learned a lot." Walker added, "It's time and he understands that. We are banking on it."
15.Rookie James Sample will begin at free safety.The fourth-round selection from Louisville will work as a free safety to start the offseason; look for a significant competition between Sample and free-agent Sergio Brown sooner rather than later.* *Third-year veteran Josh Evans could swing back and forth from free safety to strong safety, but he will open backing up Cyprien at strong.
16.The Jaguars considered Greene and Michael Bennett "steals," too.Greene and Bennett – a sixth-round defensive tackle from Ohio State – were lauded as bargains by draft analysts. The Jaguars were equally surprised that the two were available. "To have the ability to draft them when we did was great," Bradley said, with Caldwell adding of Bennett, "I can't tell you what other teams are thinking or why it wasn't a great fit for some schemes. He is a scheme-fit type of player, and fortunate for us he fits our scheme." Caldwell added of Greene, "Once we bypassed him in the fourth, we didn't think we would have the opportunity to come back and get him."
17.The Jaguars won't carry a fullback this season.This ground was actually covered in March, but it became news again over draft weekend. The Jaguars won't have a fullback next season because their offense won't call for one. That could mean carrying an extra running back and tight end.
18.There's real competition now.The Jaguars have talked about competition since Bradley was hired in 2013. But there was a sense after the draft that there's real competition at far more positions than in the last two seasons. That will mean competition for starting positions, and for roster spots. It's going to be a lot rarer for a rookie to step in and be handed a starting job. That's significant.