Zone reaction: The best available


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser’s four quick thoughts following Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft

1.Taven Bryan really was a best-available-player selection – and that’s a good sign. If one thing kept standing out when reflecting on the Jaguars’ first-round selection in the ’18 draft, that was it – that this really was a case of selecting the best-available player. The Jaguars on Thursday used the No. 29 overall selection not on any of their perceived needs such as offensive line, tight end or receiver; rather, they used it selection on perhaps their deepest, best position: defensive line. That could bode well for the selection. The easiest way to assure a bad selection is to reach for a player about whom your uncertain because you feel it’s a need – and there’s no way the Jaguars thought they needed a three-technique tackle on a roster that already includes two players who can play that position: Pro Bowl defensive end/tackle Calais Campbell and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson. The only explanation for the selection was the Jaguars honestly believed Bryan too good to pass at No. 29. That doesn’t guarantee he will succeed. But it certainly gives him a better chance than if the Jaguars felt they had to take him because they had no other viable options to play the position.

2.Another sign that Bryan really was who the Jaguars wanted at No. 29: the team had opportunities to move out of Round 1 but opted to select Bryan. “We had phone calls, primarily to go back, but we waited to see who was there for us,” Coughlin said. “When it was obvious that Bryan would be there, we stayed put.” Coughlin and General Manager Dave Caldwell both said following the selection that Bryan was the highest-rated player on the Jaguars’ board at the time of the selection, with Coughlin saying the team began feeling good about getting a player it coveted around No. 19 overall. “We felt with about ten picks to go, that the names we associated with our pick, we thought we would have wanted those players [to] come to us, but then it looked as if some of those people that we had prioritized would not be there,” Coughlin said. “But fortunately, when it came our pick, we did have an opportunity to draft Taven Bryan.”

3.The whole no-running-back-in-the-Top-10 trend may be permanently over – and the Jaguars may be a major reason. Remember? A few years back? The overriding theory was teams didn’t take running back in the Top 10, much less the top five. No more. The Dallas Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott No. 4 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and the Jaguars selected Leonard Fournette No. 4 overall in the ’17 draft. The Cowboys went 13-3 in Elliott’s rookie season and the Jaguars improved by seven games in Fournette’s rookie season, winning their first division title in 18 years and advancing to the AFC Championship Game for the first time in the same span. The New York Giants took that trend to another level Thursday, selecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall. If the Giants follow the trend of the Cowboys and Jaguars, the trend may be permanent. In fact, that already may be the case.

4.A final thought on Bryan: this was a selection that in retrospect made sense. While many observers expected the Jaguars to select offense in Round 1, both Coughlin and Caldwell said during the teams ’18 pre-draft luncheon on April 20 that taking the best-available player was possible. The Jaguars had addressed needs in free agency. And the Jaguars are expected to face salary-cap decisions with players such as Campbell, Jackson and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus following the 2019 season – though Caldwell on Thursday said “We can handle” that impending cap issue. But the biggest reason the selection made sense is Coughlin’s history. He won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants with a team led by a dominant defensive line that played in waves. The Jaguars had success with a similar formula. It’s perhaps not a complete shock considering those factors that the Jaguars opted on Thursday to try to keep the strength of their team as strong moving forward as it was last season.

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