The Jaguars did just that by drafting Kentucky center/guard Luke Fortner with the first pick of the third round (No. 70 overall). Fortner has an opportunity to earn immediate playing time in Jacksonville if he is able to impress Doug Pederson and the coaching staff.
Will Fortner contribute right away for the Jaguars? Jason Marcum, the managing editor at A Sea of Blue — SB Nation’s one-stop shop for Kentucky Wildcats athletics coverage — believes Fortnner will do just that.
Jason explains what Fortner does well, what leadership traits he has and why he was a sneaky valuable pick in third round.
1. What are Fortner’s strengths? What aspects does he need to get better at to compete in the NFL?
Jason: Fortner is a great technician who is very good at winning the leverage battle as he engages defenders and seals them off from where runs go or in pass protection. He needs to add some strength to hold up in the NFL, as bigger defensive linemen can give him issues, but he’s got all the tools to make it in the NFL as, at worst, a solid backup who gives your team depth at center and guard. And don’t mistake his lack of top-tier strength as a sign of his physicality. He’s got a mean streak to him on the field and absolutely loves contact.
2. The Jaguars addressed a clear need at center with Fortner, but were you expecting Fortner to get selected in the 2022 NFL Draft as early as he did (first pick of the third round at No. 65 overall) or did you expect he would go later in the draft? Why or why not?
Jason: It’s always hard to project where interior offensive linemen will go due to the lack of value at both guard and center. There are always quality guys like Fortner falling into Day Three. And where he’s one of the older prospects in this year’s draft class at 24 years old, so I kind of figured he’d go somewhere in the fourth round, but there’s no doubt in my mind he has third-round talent.
3. With the retirement of longtime Jaguars center Brandon Linder this offseason, Fortner has a pretty clear path to a starting position with perhaps only Tyler Shatley standing in his way. That said, Fortner also has the versatility to play either guard spot and the Jaguars also have a staring role up for grabs at left guard. Do you expect Fortner to start immediately for the Jaguars, and would you say his best role in the NFL is at center or guard?
Jason: With the Jags’ issues along the offensive line, I would expect Fortner to be a starter this year. The Jags don’t appear to be in win-now mode, so my guess is they’d want guys like Fortner to play so that they know what they really have in him while also speeding up his development, whereas Shatley is more of an average backup-type of player who just turned 31.
I think Fortner’s best position will be at center as long as it’s in an offensive scheme that allows him to get out in space on pulls and doesn’t restrict him to just playing inside the tackles. Plus, the center tends to get more help from one of his guards, which he’ll need for at least his rookie season as he bulks up. If not, then at guard so his skills are fully utilized.
4. Fortner was a captain at Kentucky. What kind of leadership and character traits did he show with the Wildcats, and do you expect those traits to translate to the NFL during his career?
Jason: Fortner was the leader of the Big Blue Wall this past season, which has been the strength of Kentucky football under Mark Stoops. He’s a no-nonsense guy and is fully capable of making calls at the line and changing protection. He’ll absolutely boost the character of the Jags’ o-line.
5. Fortner has also been lauded for his intelligence on the field (and off the field as a multiple time All-Academic award honoree as well). Are there any particular plays or moments during Fortner’s playing career at Kentucky where this was best on display? Do you have a particular favorite memory of Fortner?
Jason: Personally, my favorite highlight was when he played right guard versus Auburn during the 2020 season and lit up a defender for the Tigers. It’s a great example of how well Fortner moves in space and walls off defenders from where the play is going. You can see it below (he’s No. 79 in the clips below).
6. Is there anything else Jaguars fans should know about Fortner on or off the field?
Jason: Coming out of high school, Fortner was rated the 69th-best offensive lineman nationally by 247 Sports.
Jason is a trusted source when it comes to Kentucky athletics, so a big thank you to him for providing his thoughts and analysis on Fortner. You can find Jason on Twitter, and to keep tabs on what is going on with Kentucky, make sure to follow A Sea Of Blue as well.