One thing the 2014 NFL Draft has taught us is that Dave Caldwell is solidifying something special in Jacksonville and is on a mission to get them out of the NFL's cellar.
After focusing on the defensive side of the ball most of last year's draft, most media outlets and analysts assumed the Jaguars would try to revamp arguably the league's worst offensive units. Dave Caldwell made the first big "splash" of the draft by taking Blake Bortles with the 3rd overall pick. Some might call it a smokescreen, but Caldwell purposely hardly mentioned Bortles when asked about this years crop of quarterbacks in the pre-draft process. While many analysts continued to link the Jaguars to Johnny Manziel or even Teddy Bridgewater, Caldwell knew all along who he wanted to be the face of the franchise. Since re-signing Chad Henne was a priority in the off season, the Jaguars front office has been adamant about letting Blake Bortles sit and develop until he is conclusively ready to lead this Jaguars offense.
What better way to revamp one of the NFL's worst scoring offenses but by adding not one, but two, home run type caliber receivers in round 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft? With Justin Blackmon's indefinite suspension fresh on everybody's mind it was easy to connect the dots on the Jaguars needing an impact receiver. Dave Caldwell pulled the trigger when USC standout Marqise Lee fell to the Jags with the 39th overall pick. After many analysts praised the pick, for giving Blake Bortles a weapon to grow with, Caldwell then made another splash by trading up to the 61st overall spot to snag Allen Robinson out of Penn State. While this all but ensures Justin Blackmon won't be returning for the 2014 season, these two picks now turn what seemed to be a glaring weakness on the team's roster into a strength for the foreseeable future with two excellent value picks.
Looking ahead to the 2014 NFL season, it seems as though the Jaguars will have an entirely different look on the offensive side of the ball. Chad Henne will be in his 2nd year in Jedd Fisch's offensive scheme and can be a serviceable starter while Blake Bortles learns the NFL ropes. Toby Gerhart's power running style will compliment the offense's new revamped speed along with Jordan Todman being a change of pace back. Speaking of speed, the Jaguars will look for growth from 2nd year contributors Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders. Denard Robinson might be a dark horse in the Jags backfield but could contribute heavily if he is able to polish his ball security. Ace Sanders looks to be something special in the slot position and gives the Jaguars a gimmicky type of player that they can line up all over the field. Marcedes Lewis will look to give stability at tight end after slowly recovering from a nagging calf injury that plagued him until late last season. Finally, with Cecil Shorts III penciled in to start at one of the outside WR spots, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson will compete to start opposite of Shorts III. Marqise Lee brings elite speed to the wide receiver position while adding sharp route running, good separation skills, and big play ability. The knock on Lee has been his smaller frame (he dealt with a knee injury his junior season at USC) and his hands. On the other hand, Allen Robinson might not be the burner that NFL execs love to covet, but rather a big, physical receiver who can win 50/50 balls. Robinson is 6'2" tall and has a reported 42" standing vertical, which instantly makes him a big time red zone threat. Along with above average size and athletic ability, he possesses good vision and a knack for producing yards after the catch. The knocks on Robinson are that he lacks elite speed and relies too heavily on his athleticism instead of creating proper separation from defensive backs.
Factoring in the 2014 NFL Draft picks on the offensive side of the ball, this Jacksonville Jaguars team looks poised to have a breakout year. The one constant theme many continue to hear around Everbank Field is "competition". Gus Bradley emphasizes competition daily and has created a culture of strong-willed players that never seem to give up when called upon. After starting 0-8 last season, it might have been easy for Jaguars players to throw in the towel and look forward to the #1 overall pick in this year's draft. Instead, by finishing 4-4 the 2nd half of the 2013 season, a foundation was built and progression was made. For Dave Caldwell, he wanted to rebuild the Jaguars defense starting with the 2013 NFL Draft and looked to hit on players such as 2nd round pick Jonathan Cyprien and 3rd round pick Dwayne Gratz. After seeing the Jaguars young secondary progress throughout last year, it was time to revamp the other side of the ball in this year's draft and it looks like the Jaguars did just that. Only time will tell how well Blake Bortles, Marqise Lee, and Allen Robinson will pan out, but it looks as if the Jacksonville Jaguars got their new identity on offense.
While most level headed fans won't be expecting an automatic playoff push this upcoming season, the Jaguars look to be building something special for years to come and will continue to catch attention from around the league.