By: Hays Carlyon
The Jaguars defensive losses have been numerous. Dating back to the midway point of last season, the Jaguars have lost the following defenders: tackle Malik Jackson, free safety Tashaun Gipson, strong safety Barry Church and defensive end Dante Fowler. Those four players combined to play 2,469 snaps last season.
All four were crucial to the 2017 defense being arguably the best in the NFL. Counting the playoffs, they combined for 20 ½ sacks, eight interceptions, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two touchdowns.
Is it possible that were looking at this draft all wrong? Certainly, the Jaguars need an upgrade in offensive talent. But, do Jaguars personnel chief Tom Coughlin, general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone feel that way?
The Jaguars have four picks in the first three rounds. I’ve always thought three of those picks – including the first two – should go to help the offense.
I still do.
But does Coughlin?
He has signed Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles in free agency, providing an obvious upgrade to Blake Bortles. The Jaguars have also tried to build some depth with inexpensive free agents in receiver Chris Conley, tight end Geoff Swaim and right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. They also re-signed right guard A.J. Cann and tight end James O’Shaughnessy.
The defense has only added unheralded linebacker Jake Ryan through free agency.
The Jaguars do face challenging quarterbacks in Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Houston’s Deshaun Watson in a quarter of their games. They’ll also battle Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and Cam Newton this season.
If Coughlin’s top priority is fielding an elite defense, could he actually flip the script I’ve previously laid out? Could he take three defenders and one offensive player with those first four selections?
Let’s examine what that might look like.
The best move would be to trade back and acquire an extra second-or-third round pick. For now, we’ll project the Jaguars won’t have any trade partners looking to move up.
7th pick: DE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Why: Sweat immediately becomes a starter in nickel. That allows the Jaguars to play Pro-Bowl end Yannick Ngakoue and Sweat on the edge with Pro-Bowler Calais Campbell moving inside to play next to Taven Bryan (last year’s first-round pick) in passing situations.
Moving forward, the Jaguars have to reload on the edge with Campbell likely playing his last year with the Jaguars and Fowler gone. Sweat would pair nicely with Ngakoue.
Sweat (6-6, 260 pounds) has dominated the draft process from his sensational Senior Bowl week to an eye-popping display at the NFL Scouting Combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds (with a 1.55 time in the first 10 yards) and has the longest arms (35 ¾ inches) among all edge-rush prospects. Sweat recorded 22 sacks in 26 games for the Bulldogs.
38th pick: FS Deionte Thompson, Alabama
Why: The Jaguars need a rangy free safety to push and eventually unseat inexperienced starter Jarrod Wilson after the Jaguars cut Gipson. Thompson, a redshirt junior, is a perfect fit for the defense with his ability to cover ground and tackle in the open field.
Thompson (6-1, 195) forced four fumbles (with two picks) last season, recording 79 tackles. He suffered a wrist injury while lifting weights that required surgery and did not test at the combine. Thompson is scheduled to take part in Alabama’s make-up Pro Day on April 2.
Thompson would pair with former teammate Ronnie Harrison (third-round pick in 2018) to give the Jaguars an outstanding young duo at safety to blossom around elite cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
69th pick: TE Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Why: The Jaguars still need a legit receiving threat at tight end. Sternberger (6-4, 251) caught 47 passes for 804 yards and 10 touchdowns last season as a true junior. He ideally would become the best move tight end on the roster, giving Foles a reliable target.
98th pick (from the Rams): DT Renell Wren, Arizona State
Why: The Jaguars need to build depth behind Marcell Dareus and Abry Jones. Wren (6-5, 318) is a run-stuffer. That’s an important area for the Jaguars. They rely on being sound against the run, so they can unleash their dynamic rush-and-cover combination. Dareus is likely playing his last year this season for the Jaguars. Wren made 43 tackles (4 ½ for loss) as a redshirt senior last season and showed impressive strength (30 bench reps at 225 pounds) at the combine.
109th pick: OLB Germaine Pratt, North Carolina State
Why: The Jaguars can save $7 million by releasing Telvin Smith after this season. Pratt would help them make that move as a potential successor at the weak-side spot and offer depth this season. A converted free safety, Pratt (6-2, 240) became a play-making linebacker for the Wolfpack, recording six sacks and two picks with 16 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons combined. He ran a 4.57 time at the combine with 24 bench reps.
178th pick: RT Isaiah Prince, Ohio State
Why: The Jaguars might feel better than we think about the right tackle situation, content to let second-year player Will Richardson (a fourth-round pick) compete with Ogbuehi for the right tackle spot vacated by cutting Jermey Parnell. Still, adding a third contender to the mix would make sense. Prince (6-6, 305) started 41 games at right tackle for the Buckeyes. His questionable athleticism and technique could make him available here.
236th pick: RB LJ Scott, Michigan State
Why: The Jaguars need a physical back to spell starter Leonard Fournette. Scott (6-0, 227) runs with a physicality that would be appealing in this offense. An ankle injury has destroyed Scott’s stock. After running for 994 yards in 2016 and 898 yards in 2017, he only played in five games this past season and was never fully healthy.
(You can email Hays at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)