JACKSONVILLE – Here's what we learned from the Jaguars' 2013 NFL Draft weekend...
1. The Jaguars got faster.Improving team speed was a major objective of General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley entering the draft. Caldwell said while the Jaguars weren't slow, compared to the way he and Bradley wants the Jaguars to play – and compared to what the duo was used to at previous stops such as Indianapolis, Atlanta and Seattle – the team lacked speed. Asked if the Jaguars improved their speed in three days, Caldwell replied, "Absolutely."
2. The Jaguars got more durable.They hope so, anyway. A common thread of the eight players drafted Thursday, Friday and Saturday was collectively they missed very few games in college. Of the eight draft selections, five – left tackle Luke Joeckel, safety Johnathan Cyprien, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, wide receiver Ace Sanders and cornerback Jeremy Harris – played every possible game in college. Only safety Josh Evans had a collegiate season in which he played fewer than 10 games. The Jaguars want players who will be on the field, and Caldwell believes they got a lot of those types of players over the weekend.
3. Caldwell's not locked into big schools.Remember January? Caldwell said he preferred big schools to small. That understandably got a lot of play because of fans' unhappiness with former General Manager Gene Smith's history with smaller schools. Well, Caldwell also made it clear throughout the pre-draft process that while he liked players from big conferences he wouldn't ignore smaller schools. The Jaguars' draft class included a second-round selection from Florida International (Cyprien) and a seventh-round selection from Appalachian State (cornerback Demetrius McCray). As it turns out, you find football players where you find them.
4. The Jaguars indeed filled needs.Before the draft Caldwell said the Jaguars would be a needs-based-drafting team and a scheme-specific-drafting team. There was evidence of that throughout the seven rounds. Joeckel, Cyprien and Gratz were in positions of immediate needs, and if they don't start immediately, they'll have a very good chance.
5. The Jaguars got better.At first glance it appears so. You can't grade a draft class for couple of years. Remember, the 2009 Jaguars draft class received high marks immediately afterward and even the following season and now only left tackle Eugene Monroe remains. But considering the positions filled and the perceived quality of the selections, it would appear the class couldn't help but improve the talent base.
6. The Jaguars didn't love the '13 quarterback class. It's safe to say they didn't like it all that much, either. For all of the pre-draft speculation about the Jaguars taking a quarterback, it just wasn't happening – at least not in the draft. The team didn't believe any of the available quarterbacks could beat out Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne. Argue it all you want, but that was their feeling.
7. Gabbert is the favorite to start the season.This is not saying he will win the job. This is not saying the Jaguars have decided anything. But the Jaguars believe Gabbert has the talent to be successful. He has a lot to prove, and because he has looked good in training camp and the preseason before, there is probably a lot he can't prove until next regular season. Gabbert must win the job and he must outplay Henne and now, rookies Matt Scott and Jordan Rodgers. There's a long way to go, but it would be surprising if that doesn't happen.
8. There are no plans to sign a veteran quarterback.Caldwell made that clear Saturday.
9. There are no plans to sign Tim Tebow.Caldwell made that clear long before Saturday.
10. David Caldwell loves Denard Robinson.This is not to say he doesn't like all the players, but Caldwell raved about Robinson in the post-draft press conference. This was a guy he scouted a lot at Michigan, and Caldwell said he was a bit surprised the former quarterback wasn't selected in Round 3 or 4. The Jaguars got him in Round 5, and he will work initially at running back – and perhaps, kickoff returns. "I've been watching that guy for as long as he's been playing," Caldwell said. "Every time I go to Michigan it just amazes me about how passionate he is about football, how loved he is at that school amongst his teammates and how he just goes about his business. You watch that guy practice and he has fun. Not only does he have juice on the field in terms of his speed and play-making ability but just juice in the building. You're going to love the kid. I've watched from afar for a long time. I got a call from Thomas (Dimitroff) and he's like, 'I knew you were going to end up getting him at some point in time,' because we talked about him in Atlanta and I was really excited about that pick."
11. Bradley liked to know the draft picks.Well, of course, right? Not necessarily. In many situations, a coach essentially learns who the team is drafting on draft day. Bradley was intimately involved in the draft process, and a huge factor was how Bradley felt about the players as people. Bradley had extensive pre-draft meetings with at least the first three selections – Joeckel, Cyprien and Gratz – and believes the draft class fits the sort of competitive, football-loving profile he wants for the entire roster. "I want to be able to feel this team out there," Bradley said. "I want to feel their personality. I want to feel what they can bring to this organization."
12. The Jaguars are better on the offensive line.A pre-draft priority was improving the pass protection. Caldwell said that was identified as a priority early in the offseason. Selecting Joeckel, who some observers see as the top player and top tackle in the draft, could turn an area that struggled at times last season into a strength. "It was important for me and Dave in this whole process to say, 'Now, let's knock the (quarterback) pressures down and see where we're at,'" Bradley said.
13. The Jaguars like their skill positions.This is not to say the decision-makers walked away Saturday night wiping their hands, smiling and saying, "Well, we're all set there." After all, this is an offense that ranked No. 32 in the NFL the past two seasons. But the Jaguars stayed away from skill positions on Days 1 and 2, an indication that they believe Maurice Jones-Drew, Cecil Shorts III, Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis are capable of being productive if they get consistency at quarterback.
14. The secondary will look different next year –a lot different. Well, we knew that already – particularly after the departures earlier in the offseason of safety Dawan Landry and cornerbacks Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox, Will Middleton and Aaron Ross. The team drafted five secondary players - -Cyprien, Gratz, Evans, McCray and Harris. "It was identified early on in the process, especially since we're a system-specific team and Coach Bradley's defense is very system-specific," Caldwell said. "That is the one thing we had to kind of change and fix to a degree. We just had some vacant roster spots in the secondary when we came in. We created our own urgency there quickly into our tenure here. So we knew that we had to draft but we also knew that it was a good year for the secondary for this year's draft. So, that was our mindset."
15. Bradley feels better about strong safety than he did a week ago.This time last week, Bradley said the Jaguars really didn't have a strong safety on the roster – at least not one who filled what he had in mind for the position in his defense. The addition of Cyprien and Florida safety Josh Evans in Round 6 changed that. "There's going to be a battle there, but I don't want to just pigeonhole those two into our strong safeties," Bradley said. "The two best safeties will play to add with the guys that we have. I think we have a group that we can start to take a really strong look at."
16. Caldwell had a plan –particularly when it came to pass rusher/pass protector. Here it was: "We felt like for a premier pass rusher or a premier offensive tackle you really have to take those guys really high. We knew coming out of this draft we were going to fill one of the two needs. The rest of it was going to be other needs that we were going to fill." Translation: This offseason, because of the presence of Joeckel, the focus was protecting the passer. It's quite likely the other gets addressed next offseason.
17. Special teams improved over the weekend.The Jaguars not only drafted South Carolina wide receiver Ace Sanders for punt returns and Robinson for possibly kick returns, the final three selections – Evans, Harris and McCray – could make a big impact in the coverage units. "Gus and I talked about that," Caldwell said. "We wanted eight-to-ten good core special teamers. We felt like we had about four, so not only are these guys going to play for us on offense and defense but definitely contribute on special teams." Of Sanders, Bradley said, "Ace gives us that punt returner that we're looking for."