Kevin C. Cox
The possibility of the NFL Draft's top quarterback being available to the Jaguars is now more of a reality.
The Kansas City Chiefs have completed a trade for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, which most assume means they Chiefs won't be drafting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the first overall pick. This means now that the Jacksonville Jaguars will be in position to draft Smith, barring another team trading up to the number one overall pick, if they choose to.
This draft is starting to feel a lot like the 2008 NFL Draft, when now Jaguars general manager David Caldwell was with the Atlanta Falcons as Thomas Dimitroff's underling. That was a draft that was viewed as a weak one, in terms of the quarterback position, and led the Miami Dolphins to passing on Ryan for offensive tackle Jake Long.
There was a big debate if the Falcons, who had just hired Mike Smith from the Jaguars, would draft defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey to build the type of defensive line foundation that Smith had in Jacksonville with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. The Falcons needed a quarterback however and pulled the trigger on Matt Ryan, who many wondered if he was worth a Top 10 pick.
There were concerns with Ryan's overall arm strength, accuracy, and the fact that he didn't have much success in college at Boston College, in terms of winning football games, and threw more interceptions than you'd like to see in his senior season. Ryan even suffered somewhat of a "meltdown" down the stretch to end his season, losing three of his last five games before the bowl games came around. Most mock drafts back then had Ryan going No. 8 overall to the Baltimore Ravens or falling out of the Top 10 completely. The Falcons, who Dave Caldwell was head of scouting for at the time, pulled the trigger on the imperfect quarterback.
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Fast forward to the 2013 NFL Draft and you hear a lot of the same things for the quarterbacks. There is a clear top guy in Geno Smith, but he's not with out his warts, just like the rest of the quarterback class that's being panned as not very good. The Jaguars have made it clear however they're going to bring in competition and that Blaine Gabbert isn't guaranteed the starting position in 2013. It's likely the Jaguars bring in a quarterback in the draft and now the opportunity might be there to get the best one in the draft with the number two overall pick.
David Caldwell hasn't ruled it out, either.
"You never know. You've got to go through the process. We'll see," Caldwell told Pro Football Weekly back in January. "Maybe one identifies himself for us. It's too early. Sometimes it may not look like there's a quarterback now and you go through the process and you find a guy.''
The biggest knock in this draft as that the "value" isn't there for a quarterback in the Top 10 and it will be a reach. The value there is subjective however, as each team has their own draft board and values things differently. If the Jaguars, who've said they are a needs based drafting team, identify Geno Smith as a franchise type quarterback, they should absolutely draft him with the second overall pick.
Quarterback is always going to be your biggest need until you find one, and the Jaguars have been looking for one for a decade.
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Smith was an ultra-productive quarterback at West Virginia, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 42 touchdowns in his senior season. Smith played in an offensive system under Dana Holgerson that's a variation of the "Air Raid", which is a pass heavy spread offense. This is also one of the knocks used against Smith, but he didn't play in that system his entire career, it wasn't until his junior season that the Air Raid came to Morgantown. Prior to that, he was in a more traditional passing attack and was still productive in his sophomore season as the starting quarterback.
Physically, Smith has everything a quarterback needs that teams look for in the NFL. He doesn't have the strongest arm, but he can make the stick throws and can pass the football down the field. As a prospect, Smith isn't that much different than Matt Ryan was as a prospect entering the 2008 draft. They were both quarterbacks who had what you looked for physically, but had their warts.
David Caldwell was part of a process able to identify Ryan as a franchise quarterback however and pulled the trigger. It's possible that could happen again.
This isn't to say the Jaguars should draft Geno Smith with the second overall pick, but with a draft class that's viewed as more deep than it is top heavy, it wouldn't be out of the question to take your quarterback. It's also possible there could be a trade market for Smith, allowing the Jaguars to drop back and acquire some more picks, or they could stay at No. 2 and just draft the best pass rusher available.
It's going to be interesting to see what ultimately happens with the No. 2 pick, as free agency can change the course of it dramatically, but the Jaguars are in the process of rebuilding, just like the Falcons were in 2008. The Falcons weren't afraid to draft their guy then, and I don't think Caldwell will be afraid to do it now.