We’re now a few days removed from the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Draft, and man, what a fun event it was. There were trades galore, big surprises, and some great stories along the way. Now that the team has finished signing their undrafted free agents and are ready to move forward in the offseason, I thought I’d look back and give a few thoughts on this draft class.
The Jaguars got better
I’m going to start here, because I think it’s probably the most important thing, and I also like to start off with something positive whenever possible. I’m going to touch on some questions/reservations I had with their draft, but for now I’d like to establish that I do believe this is a better roster than it was last week. You obviously never know how a draft pick is going to pan out, but for now it appears that the Jaguars upgraded their running backs, offensive line, pass rush rotation, team speed, and especially special teams. The whole point of the draft is to get better, and I think that overall, the Jaguars accomplished that.
The plan of attack was surprising
The consensus deepest positions of this draft were running back, tight end, and corner. All of three of those positions also happened to be needs for the Jaguars, so it would only make sense that they would target those, right? Well.....
They used the fourth overall pick on running back Leonard Fournette, so they did target the position, but the value has to be questioned. I’m going to touch back on this in a minute, but using your top pick on a deep position does seem a little questionable. The team didn’t draft a single tight end, so they just ignored that position completely. That seems odd too, especially considering the aforementioned depth, and the fact that they just shipped out their starting tight end from the past two years. The Jags also only added one corner, and that was in the 7th round. Granted, Jalen Myrick was considered a higher round selection going in, so getting him in the 7th is great value. However, it is surprising that the team didn’t target a corner earlier on, given the lack of depth behind Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye.
They MAY have gotten better value for a top 5 RB than in other years
Listen, I’m not a huge fan of taking running backs this high in the draft. The position has devalued over the years, productive guys are becoming more common in later rounds, and this year’s class was considered a deep one. So even though I thought Leonard Fournette was an absolute freak of a player, I wasn’t a huge fan of the pick, given that I thought it was poor value. However, after giving it some more thought, I think I’d back off of that stance... a bit.
Fournette was widely considered the best running back prospect coming into the draft. Hell, he’s been considered the best prospect for years now, he’s that much of a phenom. So any time you can add a player of that magnitude to your team, it’s hard to say no to that. However, I’m more of the type that prefers quarterbacks and pass rushers in the top five, because of their value to the game and how difficult it can be to find upper-echelon ones later in the draft. But looking back at this draft, it’s now pretty clear to see that the Jags had no interest in taking a quarterback, so scratch that off. How about a pass rusher? Well, Solomon Thomas went the pick before, and guys like Jon Allen and Derek Barnett went quite a bit later on, so they clearly weren't valued that high. OJ Howard was intriguing, but he fell all the way to 19, and the value for a tight end that high is about the same as a running back. Safety, corner, linebacker, and wide receiver would carry similar or worse value as well.
So in short, I’m still not a huge fan of the value, but I think the situation improves it. The only other thing I could really bang the table for over Fournette in that scenario is a quarterback, and like I said, it was obvious the Jaguars didn't believe in a guy that much.
They made the Fournette pick better later on
I think the Jaguars may have gotten one of the steals of the draft in Cam Robinson. Leading up to the draft, Robinson was being discussed as an option with the fourth overall pick, and not too many people were raising eyebrows at that. So to be able to snag him in the 2nd round is phenomenal value, and it not only improves your offensive line overall, but it also makes creating holes for Leonard Fournette a lot easier. I’ve seen people complaining about the Jags trading up one spot to select Robinson, but it seems like that may have been a necessary move. If the Jags didn't move up, another team would have, and would have probably selected Robinson. A sixth round pick is easy to part with when it nets you a guy who handled pass rushers like Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, and Arden Key.
If Robinson weren't enough, the Jags made the ground and pound party even more fun with possibly my favorite selection in the draft: Marquez Williams. Williams is a behemoth, as he played fullback for the Miami Hurricanes at 280 pounds last year. He’s down to about 260 now, but he still looks like a long lost Clegane brother, albeit much shorter. Go watch his highlights on YouTube and just be entertained at how he destroys guys with his blocking. I mean, he's a fullback with highlight reels; what’s not to love?
They focused on the future, not just the present
I’ve often been a believer in the idea that the draft should serve as a building platform for the future, not just the current season. Obviously you’d like your 1st round pick to be an immediate contributor, and your 2nd round pick to at least be rotational their 1st year. But leaning on rookies is not usually a recipe for success, that’s why I never like to see teams target needs throughout the entire draft, and pass up on better talent at other positions. BAP is a myth, at least early on in the draft. Teams early on should find a perfect marriage of need and value at the top; however, in the later rounds I think teams should focus on the future and finding the best players they can. I think the Jaguars did that.
Dawuane Smoot might be better than you think. Obviously he can contribute this year as part of a rotation, but it seems to me that this pick was a mix of current need and future value. DeDe Westbrook has question marks galore, but his talent alone would have made him a first or second round pick. Clearly, wide receiver is not a pressing need for the Jaguars, but adding someone of Westbrook’s talent in the 4th round is hard to pass up. He also gives a nice immediate bonus in that he improves team speed, as he can flat out fly. Blair Brown drew rave reviews as a linebacker at Ohio. Again, linebacker is not really a need for the Jaguars right now, but Brown can contribute right away on special teams, and then quite possibly develop into a starter later on. Jalen Myrick may contribute early on as a special teams player, but the team likes his upside and potential to develop into a starter or high reserve player at corner, nickel, and safety.
Essentially, the Jaguars addressed some big needs in the first two rounds, but then seemed to just try and add good players for the future later on. It was puzzling to watch unfold live, but looking back at the results, it’s a little hard to argue with what they accomplished.
The Jaguars improved this offseason, both through free agency and the draft. Their roster, on paper looks like it could compete. It will almost all hinge on the play of the quarterback, but that’s been discussed plenty and is now obvious. The team overall improved an already good defense, their weakest unit on offense in the offensive line, and their dreadful special teams. They seem to have made strong personnel moves. The question, like always, is will those moves translate to wins?