I know, it's hard to imagine a shortened off-season actually being better for any drafted players. How can having less time to prepare for the challenges of the NFL be good? Well, it's not good for the individual players, but there may be some added benefits for the Jaguars as a whole. In my estimation, the players the Jaguars selected have a distinct advantage over their AFC South counterparts. Let's take a team by team look at how each draft class will be affected by losing time, starting with the Cellar-dweller Texans.
The Houston Texans' draft could turn out to be the best of all the AFC South teams. J.J. Watt and Brooks Reed are both strong players and (my personal distaste for Watt aside) could really help improve the Texans terrible, 32nd-ranked defense. The problem is that the team is switching schemes to a 3-4. Realistically speaking, in the first year of a new defense, a team always struggles. Some players aren't properly suited for their new roles (like Mario Williams), and there are general growing pains on the defensive side of the ball. Add to that fact that it's mid-June and none of the defensive players for the Texans have even been able to talk to a coach about the transition, and it spells trouble. It's hard to do something new, it's nearly impossible to do something new without the proper training. The switch and loss of coaching time is likely to affect Watt's and Reed's on-field performance.
All that needs to be said about the Titans' draft can be said in two words: Jake Locker. Linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy probably won't have too much trouble adjusting to the NFL, as LB's often make the jump from college with relative ease, but the Titans' season rests in the arms of their young, new QB. Just missing the time spent talking to coaches will really mess with the effectiveness of a young QB. The last starting QB on the roster, Vince Young, hissy-fitted his way out of town, and the Titans really had no other options at QB. Kerry Collins is contemplating coming back for what seems like his 466th season, but realistically speaking, the Titans need Locker.
Let's be honest, missing camp likely won't bother the Colts' rookies. Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana will probably jump right into the starting lineup and do what years of Colts linemen have done for years: stand there with their hands out and pretend like they're helping. The thing is, the team still needs them. As in, really needs them to perform. Their offensive line play was shameful last year. The team drafted another RB also, making 3 in five years, none of which have really helped the Colts' rushing offense.
My gripe with their draft is that it didn't really address the teams biggest need: defense. Last year that defense was... how do I say this? Porous? No. Soft? No... Overrated? Still not the phrase I'm looking for... Oh, decimated by injuries, that's it. As a defense, they rely heavily on two guys in their thirties, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, to keep them out of the cellar. If it wasn't for those guys, that defense would be bad, and they won't be around for much longer. Still, the team ignores it's secondary, and expects garbage bin linebackers to keep them competitive on defense. The team will be fine for next year, but part of me is really questioning the Colts' longterm draft strategy.
Here's where the Jaguars might have an edge: their drafted players are future players. Blaine Gabbert's missed time could well affect his development somewhat, but he wont be the starter unless the Jaguars fail to compete late in the season. David Garrard will fill that role. With Vince Manuai and Uche Nwaneri, Will Rackley might not even be called upon to start, either. Cecil Shorts and Rod Issac also play positions (slot receiver and nickel corner) that don't need too intensive of training.
Other teams in the AFC South drafted players as much for this season as for the future, which is negatively affected by the missed time this offseason. Certainly, some AFC South rookies will prove valuable in 2011, but many could find their 2011 performances lacking due to the lock-out. The Jaguars drafted purely for the future, and still have the players in place to return a very young, growing team to the field without the draft picks.