When Gene Smith explained exactly what his drafting philosophy was last year, it wasn't the cut and dry, rank-and-pick selection style that Vic Ketchman made it out to be. Instead it made a lot of sense why the Jaguars have happened to address needs in each of their last three drafts.
"You have grades ranges – what I call levels – within a round," Smith said. "When you get farther down the board, you get more players who become more similar. You take the greatest need within a grade range, but you’re going to take the guy who is a level above if he’s still there." - Jaguars.com (April 21, 2011)
The reality is that the draft is certainly need based, but a drafter can't sacrifice value to address that need. The Jaguars need to find a wide receiver, but if there isn't one worth taking at the seventh overall selection, they'll look elsewhere. Given their recent draft histories, I also doubt the Jaguars would take a position they don't perceive as a need just because a player is ranked slightly higher on the draft board.
The result is a balance between need and value that is the reality on draft day instead of the oversimplified draft strategies of best available player or position specific drafting. With that in mind, the Jaguars have very few positions, if any, on their roster that couldn't be upgraded with new talent through the draft.
But there's a difference between positions that can be upgraded and starting spots that have to be filled. For example, iIf the Jaguars do not fill both defensive end positions with starters in free agency they will be absolutely forced to try and find a starting defensive end early in the 2012 NFL Draft. While I like North Carolina DE Quinton Coples, the Jaguars need to avoid a scenario in which they have no choice but to draft him because they have a shortage of starting level defensive ends.
If the Jaguars do not re-sign Rashean Mathis or find his replacement prior to the draft, they'll likely be forced to find a starting-quality cornerback early in the draft.
But if they are able to fill their crucial, starting needs in free agency, they'll open themselves to the opportunity to pick based on value. They'll give themselves the option to trade down and/or target positions that don't necessarily absolutely have to be had.