When the Gene Smith era ended for the Jaguars on Monday it came after the worst season in franchise history. But what exactly was it that Smith did so poorly that caused the collapse of the team and what can the Jaguars target in a new GM to avoid those same problems?
Small school and high-character selections became a punchline of sorts for Jaguars fans as the jokes of "a married guy from Southeastern Virginia Tech" never got old. (Seriously, guys they're funny every time and never get unoriginal.) However, those traits in Smith's draft picks weren't necessarily the problem.
Yes, Smith targeted more FCS and lower division players than the average GM, but some of his best selections (i.e. Derek Cox and Cecil Shorts III) came from somewhere outside of the big conferences. In fact, his biggest whiff of all, in terms of value and impact on the team, was arguably Blaine Gabbert of the Big 12.
And there's nothing wrong with drafting high character players either. If that philosophy transcends into a situation where the team is passing on elite talent because of past issues that are not issues anymore, then perhaps it can be an issue, but Smith showed that not to be the case when he drafted Justin Blackmon. Couple that with the fact that free agents like Aaron Kampman were swayed to come to the team because they "did things the right way" and there's certainly an argument to be made for good guys on the team.
Instead, the issues were in other areas of his time as general manager. One particular example was Smith's poor gamesmanship in the NFL Draft. While he went out of his way to get the guys that he wanted to get, it often came at the expense of draft picks, or in spite of them.
In each the 2010 and 2011 NFL Drafts, Smith was without a second round pick due to trades and he gave away a fourth rounder to move up for Blackmon in 2012. For someone that supposedly valued draft picks, he was surprisingly willing to trade them away to move up in the draft order, and seemingly hesitant to ever move down. While trading down is easier said than done, seemingly forced picks like the one for Tyson Alualu proved costly.
But if the players had performed like he thought they would have, it likely would've been different story in Jacksonville. Smith certainly had his share of bad luck, especially with injuries that sent the careers of Alulau, Eben Britton and Zach Miller, among others, in different directions.
Ultimately, though, the talent didn't produce on the field and Smith was unable to find a Pro Bowler in four years as general manager. For all the criticism that Shack Harris received, he certainly found an immediate home run with Maurice Jones-Drew. Smith had no such immediately successful player.
With a new general manager, the Jaguars obviously need to find someone that is a good talent evaluator and perhaps a guy with a little bit of luck on his side, but the only major philosophy difference I'd like to see is one that puts a higher emphasis on draft day gamesmanship. Some Bill Belichick-esque Jedi mind tricks would be nice.