Jacksonville Jaguars Combine Preview: Targets, Sleepers and Prospects to Watch
The Jacksonville Jaguars braintrust should keep a close watch on every top pass-rusher and touted quarterback at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, as these are the two major areas of need on a rebuilding team otherwise featuring more talent than many acknowledge.
One of the Jags' top targets should be premier rush linebacker Anthony Barr out of UCLA, and a precision passer like Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater may be near the top of the team's list of franchise quarterbacks in waiting. Second-tier prospects at these positions include Texas rush end Jackson Jeffcoat as well as Fresno State's rocket-armed passer Derek Carr.
But beyond the group of highly touted and familiar names, there is room for clutch or intriguing sleepers. That group includes a scheme suitable defensive tackle as well as an unheralded workhorse running back.
Following is a collection of touted talents, prospects and sleepers the Jags should watch closely at the combine, starting with the pass-rushers.
Top Target: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
The need to boost an anaemic pass rush should mean that the Jaguars give Anthony Barr strong consideration. The former Bruins star is perfect for Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich's hybrid playbook.
As a standout rush linebacker, Barr has the speed and power to create pressure from a two- or three-point stance. Adding him to the front seven would give the Jacksonville defense even more flexibility.
Barr would work as the "Leo" roving rush end along the defensive line. He would also be a great fit as an attacking strong-side linebacker that would complement a frontline pass-rusher like end Andre Branch.
The Jags have hinted they may trade the third overall pick, according to ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco. That would allow them to move back in the first round and still be in a position to snag Barr.
There have also been hints that the team may stand pat at quarterback for another year, and according to Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union, re-signing veteran Chad Henne should be a top priority.
That could lead to the Jags bypassing the quarterback position in the first round, a move which would make landing a pass-rusher the new top priority.
Although Jadeveon Clowney will naturally be on the radar, a staggering lack of production in 2013 has to be a concern. Clowney only collected three sacks during his final season in collegiate football. Regardless of his overall talent level or the attention he faced following a stunning 2012, that is hardly the best endorsement for a sack-shy defense like the Jaguars. Furthermore, Clowney could be gone within the first two picks.
In sharp contrast, Barr spent his last season at UCLA as the bane of opposing quarterbacks' existence. He notched 10 sacks this past season and never stopped making plays in the backfield.
He offers production and versatility to a scheme short on the former, built on hybrid principles that depend on the latter.
Prospect: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Jackson Jeffcoat is a player the Jaguars may find too good to pass on. From a need perspective, the ex-Longhorns star is a dream fit.
Jeffcoat is a fleet-footed and dynamic edge-rusher who would bolster an almost non-existent pass rush. At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he has that combination of a lean frame, quickness and deceptive power on the edge.
In that sense, Jeffcoat is similar to Chris Clemons, a "Leo" rusher Bradley coached with the Seattle Seahawks. As Bleacher Report draft columnist Matt Miller notes in the above video, Jeffcoat fits in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, making him an ideal addition to a mixed front system like Bradley's.
Jeffcoat's CBS Sports draft profile projects him as a second-round pick. The Jaguars could snap him up at that stage and get tremendous value, regardless of whether they go pass-rusher or quarterback in Round 1.
Sleeper: Jonathan Newsome, DE, Ball State
If the Jags want an ideal sleeper candidate to help fix their pass-rush woes, they should give Ball State's Jonathan Newsome a long look at the combine.
Like both Barr and Jeffcoat, Newsome possesses the natural rush skills and hybrid potential Bradley covets. His NFL.com draft profile perfectly describes this potent combination:
4-3 open-side speed rusher ideally suited for an elephant end or 3-4 Jack linebacker role. Is at his best rushing the passer and has shown improved maturity since departing Ohio State before the 2011 season
"Elephant" in this context is much like what Bradley calls "Leo." Newsome will need to bulk up for the pros, so his performance in strength drills will bear close watching. But he has that knack for rushing the passer, which is always valuable.
Top Target: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The Jags may still re-sign Henne, but he is not the future, and owner Shad Khan has been clear that the team will target quarterbacks in this class, according to Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.
The top name on any list of targeted passers has to be Teddy Bridgewater, as he is simply the best player at his position in this draft. He is the most accurate passer in this year's class, which is something that should be the starting point for analyzing young quarterbacks.
Concerns about his less than robust physical frame can be dispelled at the combine. Caldwell and Bradley will pay strict attention to his arm strength during throwing drills.
By staying put at No. 3, the Jags could land the franchise quarterback they need now. Bridgewater has long been linked with the Houston Texans, owners of this year's top pick, by many experts.
But that landscape is now changing. Walter Cherepinsky of WalterFootball.com lists Blake Bortles as the Texans' passer of choice in his latest mock draft, but he also notes that Houston general manager Bob McNair is "smitten" with South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
WalterFootball's draft rumors page cites several sources, including ESPN insider Todd McShay, who believes Bortles will be the choice if Houston goes quarterback first overall.
That would put Bridgewater firmly in Jacksonville's range, as St. Louis is unlikely to draft a quarterback (of course they could still trade the pick, though). Building around the position is a decent-sounding phrase, but sanity must prevail.
Sooner rather than later, the Jaguars need a franchise quarterback. If Bridgewater is there at No. 3, Caldwell has to take him.
Prospect: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
If they are prepared to be patient and a little shrewd, the Jaguars could land Derek Carr. That would give them a quarterback that is maybe not as starter-ready as Bridgewater but certainly one who could be groomed for a year behind Henne.
NFL.com writer Andy Fenelon noted that while Carr impressed during Senior Bowl week, he is not a certain first-rounder. If he slips to late in the first round, or even tumbles to the second, the Jaguars could pounce on him, assuming they like what they see from him at the combine.
They won't fail to be wowed by his obvious arm strength. A quarterback who can launch deep strikes is something offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch needs to help expand his playbook.
But coaches will want to see how accurate Carr can stay once he is put through his paces during drills. If he passes the inspection in that area, the Jaguars will have to be tempted.
If Jacksonville trades the third-overall pick, Caldwell can nab Carr in the latter stages of the opening round, or he could wait and snag his quarterback of the future at the top of Round 2.
Sleeper: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
Logan Thomas is the very definition of a project. A converted tight end, he boasts a massive physical frame and enticing mechanics for the quarterback position.
In particular, the former Virginia Tech ace displays solid footwork and a nice touch on his passes. The main gripe about his game concerns consistent production.
That is natural for a player who is so new to the position, but it still rates as a concern. It is what makes Thomas an ideal prospect to develop.
If he learns some refinement and a few nuances for the position, Thomas has the physical traits to overwhelm defenses. That is what makes him perfect sleeper material for the Jags.
Sleeper: James C. White, RB, Wisconsin
With Maurice Jones-Drew likely heading for the exit door via free agency, the Jaguars need another workhorse in the backfield. Wisconsin's James C. White is an excellent sleeper candidate.
He is not the brute force, sledgehammer that Jones-Drew is at his best, but White is an intelligent runner with above-average, one-cut acceleration.
White would fit well with some of the zone-blocking concepts Fisch tried earlier last last season.
A less than prototypical frame will unjustly push this highly competent 5'9", 206-pounder to the lower rounds. But if the Jaguars are impressed at the combine, they have to make sure White's name is on their final big board.
Sleeper: Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
Jay Bromley is a defensive lineman who would fit along the interior or on the outside in Jacksonville. The former Orange star is a real bruiser up front.
Bromley shows good technique when shedding blocks to stop the run. He also has ideal size at 6'3" and 307 pounds, which suits the demands of Bradley's multiple fronts.
Bromley's NFL.com draft profile stresses his flexibility:
Well-built, inconsistent interior defender with enough strength, athleticism and pass-rush ability to contribute in a rotational role. Best fits as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but could appeal to teams running a hybrid scheme given his potential to be used as a five-technique.
Aside from providing solid depth at defensive tackle, Bromley would work as the "elephant" end in the base defense, a position Tyson Alualu failed to make his own in 2013.
As a physically imposing lineman with this much flexibility, Bromley is a true sleeper who would be a steal for the Jags on the draft's third day.
Be sure to keep a close eye on these eight prospects as the Jaguars navigate the combine.
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