The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Best Direction in the 2016 NFL Draft
Since taking over in 2013, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley watched over teams that have combined for a 12-36 record. His teams haven’t won more than five games in a single season, so there is no reason to think that he will survive another disappointing season in 2016, his fourth year in charge of the team.
What the Jaguars need from this draft are players who can make immediate impacts. They no longer have the luxury of adding developmental players for the future. It’s time to win.
It’s hard to see the Jaguars taking an offensive player in the top five of this draft. This class is primarily celebrated for its wealth of options on the defensive side of the ball and that is where the Jaguars have more issues that need to be addressed. They are already locked into their starting quarterback, signed a potential starter at left tackle in free agency, have invested in running backs over each of the past two offseasons and have one of if not the best starting receiver tandems in the league.
Even though the unit as a whole ranked 21st in DVOA, 20th in passing and 28th in rushing, the Jaguars will be expecting their offense to improve through the growth of their young players rather than from adding more outside pieces.
Having added Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson in free agency, the Jaguars would ideally look to replace Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker or add another edge rusher to take some pressure off of last year’s first-round pick, Dante Fowler. The Jaguars have enough interior rushers and could be extremely effective pass-rushing from their base defense if Sen’Derrick Marks is fully healthy, it’s what they can do in obvious passing situations that is concerning.
Joey Bosa isn’t a speed rusher. He’s not the kind of defensive end who will relentlessly pursue the quarterback off the edge on every snap. He won’t step into an Aldon Smith-like role during his rookie season and give his new team a 10-sack defender. Expecting any defensive end to be as successful as Aldon Smith is irrational, but trying to find someone who is most likely to make a similar impact isn’t. In this draft, the best option at fifth overall will be Clemsonn defender Shaq Lawson.
Lawson is an explosive athlete who won’t necessarily bend the edge but can use his combination of strength and speed to beat offensive tackles in one-on-one situations. He’s not a consensus star at the top of the draft nor would he have been selected ahead of former teammate Vic Beasley had he come out last year. Lawson could likely be had closer to the end of the top 10, so a short trade down if available could be ideal.
Trading further down would put the Jaguars in position to look at Noah Spence or Kevin Dodd. Spence is the more interesting of the two.
Spence is an outstanding talent who should fall in the draft for off-field issues that impact his journey through college football. He was forced to transfer from Ohio State to Eastern Kentucky after failing multiple drug tests. Spence excelled at Eastern Kentucky without having anymore off-field issues, but those will still linger over his head during the draft. Furthermore, Spence will have to deal with transitioning from playing against FCS opponents to playing against NFL athletes, so his transition into his rookie year is unlikely to be smooth.
What makes Spence appealing is that he is probably the best pass rusher in this class. He shares some similarities with Cliff Avril during the early stages of his career. That explosiveness and comfort coming off the edge is exactly what the Jaguars should be looking to add to their defense. It would be an ideal match really because the Jaguars won’t need to force him into a full-time role in the projected construct of their defensive front.
Trading down makes a lot of sense, but it may also make sense for the Jaguars to trade up. There isn’t a pass rusher worth trading up for, at least not one who fits what the Jaguars need, so any move up in the draft would be for another defensive stud.
Jalen Ramsey would be appealing to the Jaguars simply because of his talent and their issues covering the middle of the field over recent years, but Myles Jack makes the most sense. Jack could be moved around the field into different roles, allowing Posluszny to still carry out a role in the defense, but his greatest impact would be felt in that middle linebacker role. Playing behind the Jaguars’ talented defensive tackles would allow Jack to attack in the running game while threatening as a pass rusher and excelling in coverage. Jack is a star, he will immediately become a foundational piece for any defense he is dropped into.
Even if you would be trading up for a non-pass rusher as the Jaguars, you would still feel comfortable doing so because of the sheer quality of the player you’d be adding to the spine of your defense. Furthermore, Jack shouldn’t have any issues adapting to become an immediate impact player.
Presuming they keep their second round pick in all of these scenarios, the Jaguars should be focused on defense again after the first round. Keanu Neal or Karl Joseph would make a lot of sense despite the addition of Gipson, Neal especially so since Gipson is better suited to the deep-lying role in a Cover-3 heavy scheme. Davon House and Prince Amukamara would make a very good starting cornerback tandem, but Amukamara was only signed to a one-year deal and has had major durability issues in his past. As such, the Jaguars could be interested in one of the cornerbacks who drops out of the first round. There are a plethora to choose from.
Whatever the Jaguars do this year, the payoff needs to be immediate. They should even consider trading picks for established players, presuming the money works out.