Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer has consistently preached availability, health and sports performance during his availabilities since being hired by the team in January.
On Friday, he and general manager Trent Baalke took a risk that was perhaps out of his comfort zone, selecting two players that raise eyebrows and have missed a significant number of football games as of late.
While concerning, both could be worth the risk due to the high level of play both players exhibited in their recent, and for at least one player, now-distant past.
With pick No. 45, the team’s second, second-round pick on Friday the Jaguars selected former Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little. Little, a former five-star recruit out of Texas, was considered at one point to be one of the top up-and-coming offensive tackles in the nation.
After putting on stellar campaigns in 2017 and ‘18 at left tackle, Little would play in just one game in 2019 against Northwestern before tearing his ACL, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.
1st True Freshman at LT for @StanfordFball since 2000— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 24, 2021
2017 @Pac12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year
2018 1st Team All-Pac-12 Selection
Having trained in a pro-style offense, Walker Little has what it takes to be in the @NFL
#NFLDraft | @PacPremierBank pic.twitter.com/cvlOF11scp
Though he was healthy enough to play in 2020, he would opt out due to a delay in the start of the PAC-12 season because of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning he has only played one game since the 2018 season concluded. Nevertheless, the Jaguars focused on Little early, Meyer said on Friday.
“We were kind of hoping he’d go play in the Senior Bowl so we could go and watch him, but we did a lot of intel,” said Meyer. “I know Coach [David] Shaw fairly well, and you watch his athleticism and bendability for a big man. The tackle position was very thin this year, and we needed a backup left tackle.”
The Jaguars entered the day with question marks at the depth of its offensive line. While the team is confident in its current starters, three players - left tackle cam Robinson, left guard Andrew Norwell and right guard A.J. Cann - are set to become free agents following the season.
Behind Robinson, swing tackle Will Richardson is also set to become a free agent following this season. Meyer mentioned prior to the draft that the team was looking to add competition to its offensive line group, and they believe they’ve done so with Little, who Meyer says expects to develop at one point to become a starter.
Baalke believes the selection is risk-reward. If Little would have played this season, perhaps he wouldn’t have even been there for Jacksonville to select him. For now, the team’s GM expects Little to get into the building working hard in the weight room.
“Our sports performance, you’ve heard Coach [Urban Meyer] talk about it a lot, it’s going to be the best of the best,” said Baalke. “These guys are going to get in here and we’re going to do our best job to get them ready to play on Sunday.”
The Jaguars took another risk on Friday with its selection of Syracuse safety Andre Cisco, one of the best playmakers in the draft. Cisco was on his way to another stellar season in 2020 before tearing his ACL in September, ending his final season with the Orange.
During his career at Syracuse, Cisco accounted for a staggering 13 interceptions to go along with his 136 tackles (94 solos) in just 24 games played. A true ballhawk, Meyer made an apt comparison to two former players of his during his press conference on Friday.
“He’s a guy we just all fell in love with,” said Meyer. Before that injury, he’s — I had Malik Hooker at Ohio State — and he’s the best overlap player I thought in the draft. We used to call [former Florida Gators safety] Reggie Nelson the eraser, he makes a lot of things right. Best ball skills we felt in the back end of the draft.
“We had a couple incredible Zoom calls with him. Great background, great character and if he wasn’t injured, I think that was a value pick. We’re real pleased with that.”
Both Meyer and Baalke stated that the team feels very good about Cisco’s ability to get back quickly. During Cisco’s post-pick press conference with the local media, he indicated that he should be recovered and ready to step onto the field during training camp.
“They shot some videos the other day and he looked extremely well moving around on the field,” Meyer explained. “That’s not game speed and we realize that, but I think he’s in a good position to come in and get going early.”
1st day back 6 Months outta ACL Surgery... long way to go but it all feels worth it! @I_Am_OD3 pic.twitter.com/rGaaZFKFnm— Dre Cisco (@andrecisco7) April 27, 2021
“[We] did a lot of background work on it and know the guy that did the surgery real well, our medical staff does,” Baalke said. “We’re very optimistic he’s in position to come in and take over right away.”
The Jaguars expect a lot out of their two most recent draft selections, but the risk is certainly there. If both can come back and play to their true form, they could be noted as the steals of the class.
Still, Meyer found their selections “difficult,” if only due to his overall philosophy, something that he will have to continue to trust in his staff and his outside connections to make sure that the right decisions are being made.
“Very hard and I needed help with that, to be quite honest,” Meyer said of drafting two players that haven’t played in a long time.
“We had to do as much intel as we could, but if you look at sheer talent, I think the two guys Walker and Cisco, yeah it was really hard. I’d much rather have those guys in, spend time with them, but the good thing is we have great connections with Cisco and we had great connections with Stanford and Walker Little.”