Coughlin, Caldwell deserve credit for excellent Jaguars draft class

Coughlin, Caldwell deserve credit for excellent Jaguars draft class

By Hays Carlyon

There is plenty to criticize the Jaguars front office for — even beyond its role in the current fiasco with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

  • The player with the highest salary-cap hit this season – left guard Andrew Norwell at $16 million – has been a supreme disappointment so far early in his second season with the team.
  • The Jaguars carry $15.5 million in dead money on the cap this season after releasing failed starting quarterback Blake Bortles. The Jaguars decided to stay with Bortles and passed over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft.
  • The team has yet to sign Pro Bowl defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to a long-term deal as he plays out the final season of his woefully-underpaid rookie contract.

That’s a lot of awful on the resume for Jaguars personnel chief Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell.

However, there is mounting promise as well.

The Jaguars 2019 draft class might be the best in franchise history.

Yes, we’re only three games in and maybe Minshew Mania is going to my head, but all indications are that the Jaguars had the NFL’s best draft this year and it’s not close.

The success starts with sixth-round quarterback Gardner Minshew. He’s already won a game against a bitter rival in prime time on a short week, playing efficiently in Thursday’s 20-7 win over Tennessee.

Minshew is completing 74 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception since stepping in for injured starter Nick Foles early in the opener against Kansas City.

Minshew might be a franchise quarterback. At worst, he’s proven he’ll be a reliable backup for the length of his four-year rookie contract.

Minshew’s cap hits over the contract are: $542,000, $632,000, $722,000 and $812,000.

That’s incredible value in a league in which cheap veteran starters are paid $18 million per year and experienced veteran backups routinely make $4 million. The Jaguars can not extend Minshew until after his third season.

Minshew is on the fast track to becoming the best draft pick in franchise history. The pick would become one of the league’s best ever if Minshew can become a quality starter for a decade.

Minshew isn’t alone in his early success.

The Jaguars were fortunate when defensive end Josh Allen fell to them with the seventh-overall pick. Allen has been sensational, recording two sacks with a forced fumble and three tackles for loss. He has the look of an elite pass rusher who will annually be in the Pro-Bowl conversation.

Coughlin and Caldwell also appear to have made smart choices in selecting right tackle Jawaan Taylor in the second round and outside linebacker Quincy Williams in the third round.

Taylor has proven he can physically handle NFL defenders.

Williams was a pick that drew instant criticism (including from me) but he has made 20 tackles. Williams did a great job in helping the defense hold Tennessee running back Derrick Henry to 44 yards on Thursday.

That’s four players that look like stars or at least significant contributors headed for a second contract here. That’s incredible considering their careers are three games old.

Obviously, the other rookies in the 2019 class – tight end Josh Oliver, running back Ryquell Armstead and defensive tackle Dontavius Russell – could blossom as well.

The 2018 draft class is starting to sprout as well, despite the Jaguars drafting 29th that year after the AFC Championship Game appearance.

Coughlin and Caldwell took a long-term view with this class, selecting players with tremendous upside that might require more time developing than usual for being premier picks.

That gamble is paying off.

Second-round receiver DJ Chark is off to an incredible start, catching 15 passes for 277 yards (an 18.5-yard average) with three touchdowns. Chark has become a more reliable pass catcher to compliment his elite combination of size and speed.

First-round selection Taven Bryan is starting to show progress as well. The defensive tackle did little in the preseason and in the Chiefs loss, but has taken a step forward in the last two games. Bryan has recorded a sack with five tackles and five quarterback hits.

Third-round strong safety Ronnie Harrison leads the Jaguars with 23 tackles. He also has a sack and a pass breakup.

Fourth-round offensive lineman Will Richardson was the breakout star of training camp. He started the first two games at left tackle for injured starter Cam Robinson and now will battle A.J. Cann at right guard. His versatility is a huge plus, considering he was selected to play right tackle.

A pair of seventh-round picks in 2018 are making plays as well. Outside linebacker Leon Jacobs has a sack and recovered a fumble on a Titans punt return that led to the Jaguars first touchdown in the victory. Punter Logan Cooke is averaging 45.1 net yards, fifth-best in the NFL.

That’s 10 players from the last two drafts not just contributing but making an impact.

It’s fair to criticize Coughlin and Caldwell for some costly mistakes. Every front office has gaffes but theirs have been glaring.

However, they deserve credit for gaining ground on the NFL in the last two drafts.

The 2018 class is rounding into form.

The 2019 class might be an all-time great.

(You can email Hays at haysc@1010xl.com and follow him on Twitter @HaysCarlyon)