The Jaguars were always expected to continue upgrading their offensive line at some point in the 2022 NFL Draft. They did so on Friday, selecting offensive lineman Luke Fortner, who played and started 13 games at Kentucky last year at center, being named First Team All-SEC.
Fortner would ultimately play three positions in five years at Kentucky, starting 20 games at right guard from 2019-2020, along with three games at left guard (2020). The versatility is clear, and that’s what Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke reiterated shortly after the day was done.
“We do like him at center, but he has the position flex to move to guard as well, so the position versatility is good for us. He gives us depth at the position. Great competition there,” Pederson mentioned.
The Jaguars had a need at the center position following the retirement of long-time starting center Brandon Linder. Though the team re-signed guard/center Tyler Shatley to a two-year, $6.8 million deal in the offseason, there was plenty of room for competition, something Fortner is expected to offer.
“He’s a guy that when you watch him on film, he can do everything that we do in our offense in the run game,” said Pederson. “Whether he’s reaching the three-technique or climbing to the second level, he’s got the ability to do that. He can redirect. Just a really good fit for our offensive line and that room.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Fortner allowed just five sacks in 1,029 pass-blocking reps in his career with the Wildcats.
He allowed just five pressures last season in 429 reps. Among interior offensive linemen in college football last year, Fortner ranked 16th in offensive grading at 85.1, he ranked 25th among all IOL in pass blocking, while coming in at 19th in run blocking.
Similar to the team’s previous picks, Pederson doesn’t want to simply pigeon-hole Fortner into one position, though he did admit on Friday that he’d play center to start out, while offering some versatility as a guard, too.
“Obviously, we took him as a center and he’ll play that position. We’ll move him around too and allow him to play some guard and let him get comfortable with the offensive line,” he said.
“Being able to get them in here in a couple of weeks with our rookie minicamp, we can start that process with these guys and really see where they can best suit us, but right now we’re have him in there competing at the center spot.”
The Jaguars have invested heavily in its offensive line this offseason, not only re-signing Shatley but also extending left tackle Cam Robinson to a three-year contract worth $54 million. The team also went out and signed free agent right guard Brandon Scherff to a three-year deal worth $49.5 million.
Now, the team utilized the draft to take a player who has a ton of experience but is just getting started in Fortner. Someone that can become one of the building blocks of the team for years to come.