2012 NFL Draft & Free Agents: Who the Jacksonville Jaguars Should Focus On
In 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished the season with a disappointing record of 5-11.
The defense, under returning defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, finished sixth in the league despite a wide variety of injuries.
The offense did not fair as well, finishing dead last in total offense, averaging only 259.3 yards of offense per game. The blame cannot be attributed to star running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who claimed the rushing title and the starting job in the Pro Bowl.
The responsibility for the Jags' offensive woes instead falls to their anemic passing offense led by rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who finished dead last among quarterbacks, averaging a 50 percent completion percentage and 147.6 yards per game.
Injuries and the possibility of departing free agents mean that Jacksonville needs help on both sides of the ball. More specifically, help is needed at wide receiver, defensive end, right tackle, right guard and cornerback.
It's a long list, but if Jacksonville makes the right choices, they may be much closer to being competitive than their record this past season may suggest.
With a new head coach and a new owner—Mike Mularkey and Shahid Khan, respectively—Jacksonville will be looking to make a splash this offseason.
DE Mario Williams, Free Agent
Free agency starts on March 13th, more than six weeks prior to the 2012 NFL draft, so we will start here, and with a bang.
Mario Williams is the most talented defensive player to become a free agent and would fill a major need for the Jaguars.
New owner Shahid Khan has already stated that he wants to make a splash this summer to prove that Jacksonville will be competitive and successful under his leadership. Obviously, a player of Williams' talent will be expensive, but Khan has the money and the team has the cap space to make it happen.
Jacksonville making a move like this would prove the team's commitment to competitiveness and that they are not just biding their time until they move to Los Angeles.
On the football field, Williams would provide an even greater impact. Jacksonville has failed repeatedly to acquire a successful pass-rusher both through the draft and in free agency.
Derrick Harvey, Quentin Groves and Aaron Kampman have all failed. Jeremy Mincey did come on late last year and played well despite being a relative unknown.
Pairing Mincey with an elite pass-rusher like Williams, who is a proven success and up until this past season had been injury-free, could finally give Jacksonville a defensive line that would rival the glory days of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud.
A line of Williams, Mincey, Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton would not be one opposing offensive lines would look forward to playing.
The only way that Williams will wear the black and teal in 2012 and beyond, however, is if Jacksonville blows every other team out of the water in terms of guaranteed money.
WR Marques Colston, Free Agent
“Those guys are [——] jokes,” Robinson said. “Those guys couldn’t get a [——] receiver if it hit them in the head,” he said.
He mentioned Matt Jones as one of their receivers who didn’t make it in recent years and added, “They haven’t had anyone decent since Jimmy Smith.”
Unfortunately, Robinson's right.
In 2011, no Jacksonville player had more than 460 yards receiving. Not one had more than three touchdown catches. Both Marcedes Lewis and Maurice Jones-Drew were in the top three in receiving yards on the team. Neither plays wide receiver.
To say that Jacksonville needs help at wide receiver would be a severe understatement.
If Blaine Gabbert stands any chance of being successful, he needs help. Badly. Mike Thomas is not a number one receiver, though he is not a terrible second option.
He was 14th in the league with over 1100 receiving yards in 2011, which, for those keeping score at home, is only slightly under the total amount of the top three Jaguars receivers' yards combined.
He is 6'4''—eight inches taller than Thomas—and 225 pounds, and he would easily be the most physical receiver on the Jaguars should they sign him.
Despite his talent, he alone might not be enough to completely redeem the Jaguars' abysmal lineup of receivers. If the Jacksonville picks up multiple receivers this summer, I doubt many people will be surprised.
WR Steve Johnson, Free Agent
Yes, Steve Johnson is crazy.
But he is also very talented.
The receiver finished 19th in the league in receiving yards. He still managed to crack the top 20, despite QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's struggles during the second half of the season.
He is not as big or as strong as Marques Colston, but his speed and his undeniable ability to get open makes him a very solid backup plan.
Talent alone may be enough of a reason for the Jaguars to sign Johnson, but this may be one of the rare cases where having a flamboyant personality can be a plus. Jacksonville needs any publicity they can get that doesn't involve them jumping ship to Los Angeles or how poor their offense performed this year.
Steve Johnson and his antics may be exactly what they need to garner more excitement for a team that certainly needs some.
GM Gene Smith usually tries to avoid players with any sort of character red flags, but the Jags have a solid locker room with vets who play the game the right way. Should Johnson decide to act out he would most certainly have little to no support from his locker room and his teammates would quickly make sure he gets it together.
CB Brandon Carr, Free Agent
Brandon Carr has flown under the radar on a Kansas City Chiefs team that played rather poorly in 2011. He also has been playing opposite a first-round draft pick in Brandon Flowers.
As a former fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State, his name may be a bit surprising on this list, but he could be a good fit on the Jaguars.
He may not have the talent or name recognition of fellow free agents Cortland Finnegan, Carlos Rogers or Brent Grimes, but he also will not be as expensive.
Jacksonville has some talent already in their secondary in Drew Coleman and Derek Cox. Re-signing Rashean Mathis and signing Carr would solidify a secondary that has been anything but good in recent memory.
Carr has eight interceptions in his career and had four this past year alone—more than any other free agent except for Rogers and Lardarius Webb.
He stands 6' tall and weighs over 200 pounds, and he is a solid athlete. He has also improved steadily since his rookie year, which holds promise for continued improvement.
He would be a value-signing for the Jaguars, with the potential to be low-risk and high-reward.
OG Ben Grubbs, Free Agent
To be frank, both guards on the Jaguars are awful.
Uche Nwaneri is not as bad as Will Rackley, although the abysmal offensive line play must account significantly for Blaine Gabbert looking skittish and playing poorly.
Maurice Jones-Drew would also welcome anyone who would make his job easier. Improving the offensive line is critical to both Gabbert's and Jones-Drew's futures.
Ben Grubbs is a big man. He weighs 310 pounds and is 6'3".
A guard of his caliber would go a long way to prolonging MJD's career and making sure he continues his dominance. Yes, the reason he won the rushing title was because the Jags had no passing game to balance the offensive attack. Nevertheless, he still managed to do it with an offensive line that is mediocre, at best.
It was noted time and time again how skittish Gabbert looked in the pocket. His offensive line was damaged by injury and lacked any sort of talent outside of Eugene Monroe.
With Monroe at left tackle, Eben Britton (injured in 2011) at one guard spot, Brad Meester at center and Grubbs filling in at the other guard spot, they would just need to find a right tackle to make a line that played poorly last season one with a lot of potential next season.
Improving the offensive line would also be extraordinarily helpful in calming down Gabbert and giving him the time to make good decisions.
WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Justin Blackmon might be the best pick for the Jaguars in this draft.
He tore apart Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl and dominated the Big 12. He has won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards. The first time he won, he had 1700 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns. In 2011, he had 1500 yards and 18 touchdowns.
To give you an idea of who he beat, last year's draft had A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Jonathan Baldwin picked in the first round. This past year, he beat out Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Ryan Broyles. Long story short, he is good.
There is debate on whether or not his college statistics will translate to the pros. My position is relies on the numbers.
Stanford had the 25th-ranked defense when it faced Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, and Blackmon posted 187 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Texas was ranked 14th, and he posted 74 yards and one touchdown. He had 95 yards receiving against Oklahoma in the biggest rivalry game of the season with the Big 12 championship on the line.
He is obviously capable of performing on the big stages.
As mentioned before, Gene Smith usually avoids players with any sorts of character issues, but this is a case where the reward far outweighs the risk. Blackmon was arrested in 2010 for a DUI, but other than that he has shown no signs of real character problems.
Certainly, if they have the choice, the Jags should choose Blackmon over Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd. Although Floyd is larger and more physical than Blackmon, he is not as talented and also comes with far more character red flags.
New head coach Mike Mularkey is going to want a physical receiver who is capable of blocking downfield. Blackmon fits the bill and would be the player who defines Mularkey's career in Jacksonville.
OT Riley Reiff, Iowa Hawkeyes
As mentioned before, Jacksonville's offensive line was bad in 2011, due both to injury and lack of talent.
Bookend tackles are something Jacksonville does not have, and they—along with every other NFL team—want and need them in order to succeed. Riley Reiff playing opposite Eugene Monroe would be a perfect definition of bookend tackles and could protect Blaine Gabbert and Maurice Jones-Drew for the next decade.
Reiff stands at 6'6" and weighs 300 pounds. He is exactly the type of big, physical player that would mesh perfectly on the Jacksonville squad.
Gene Smith firmly believes in building from the inside out, meaning solidifying the offensive and defensive lines first, and then moving to the skill positions like cornerback and wide receiver.
Reiff is the kind of player Smith would love to have. He is free of any character concerns, is a hard worker and has little chance of being a bust.
WR Brian Quick, Appalachian State Mountaineers
For those of you not familiar with Brian Quick, please watch the video at left and forgive me for the Nickelback knockoff playing in the background. Quick's talent is more than enough to compensate for it.
Quick is from Appalachian State, one of the more well-known FCS schools, and he is very likely to be the first player from the FCS level picked. He projects to be picked in the second or third round.
Quick has talent that will translate to the pros as he is 6'5", 220 pounds, and he runs like the wind. Should he have a standout combine, there is a chance he may not make it to the second day of the draft.
He is exactly the kind of small-school player that Gene Smith loves taking after the first round. In the past two years, he has picked players from Middle Tennessee State, Mount Union, Lehigh, Southern Illinois, Murray State, Central Arkansas and James Madison, just to name a few. In comparison, he has only selected four players from FBS schools in the past two years.
Quick's size and speed will also have Mike Mularkey drooling over him.
As mentioned before, Mularkey wants his receivers to be physical and block downfield. The offense he was running in Atlanta had playmakers like Julio Jones and Roddy White who did just that—both big, physical players in a similar mold as Quick.
He may the be the perfect pick for the Jaguars if they can get him at the right time.
CB Morris Claiborne, LSU Tigers
Morris Claiborne may be the best player in the draft not named Andrew Luck.
He might have been the best LSU cornerback two seasons ago, even with Patrick Peterson on the team. And, while Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu stole the spotlight in 2011-2012, Claiborne's level of talent must be addressed.
He won the Thorpe Award for best defensive back. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He was named as a first team All-American. He has the hardware to back up the talent.
He had 11 interceptions in his career, which is sixth all-time at LSU. He is 6' tall and 185 pounds. His combine will probably knock people out of their seats.
Jacksonville is in need of a cornerback, and there is a chance that a player of Claiborne's talent could fall them simply because of the needs of other teams ahead of them. It happened to Peterson last year as he fell to No. 5.
This year, it wouldn't be shocking if Claiborne fell No. 7. Despite the fact that GM Gene Smith has stayed away from drafting SEC players after Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves were busts, it's hard to imagine the Jaguars passing on Claiborne unless Blackmon is still available.
DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina Tar Heels
Quinton Coples is the player most mock drafts have Jacksonville taking. Then again, every year mock drafts have Jacksonville taking a defensive end early.
Last year, it was Ryan Kerrigan, and the year before that it was Jason Pierre-Paul or Derrick Morgan. It's a common occurrence, and with good reason, as the Jacksonville pass rush has been less than elite in past years.
In some ways, Coples does make sense. He would help to solidify the defensive line and would make fit in with GM Gene Smith's concept of building from the inside. He is clearly talented and is the best defensive end in this draft.
He is 6'6" and weighs 285 pounds, and he has speed that normally doesn't come with a person of that stature. He had 23.5 sacks in his time at UNC, a staggering number.
However, in other ways, seeing Coples in black and teal may be less likely.
Jacksonville has bigger needs than defensive end, despite what most people are saying. This will be a make or break year for both Blaine Gabbert and Gene Smith, and spending a pick on a defensive end who has a history of character issues may not be the wisest thing for either.
North Carolina was plagued with improper benefits allegations in 2011, and Coples' teammates Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin were at the center of that investigation.
Coples was seen at a draft party with the duo and while he was cleared of any wrongdoing, that may be enough to steer Gene Smith away from selecting him.