Jacksonville Jaguars' 8 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

Jacksonville Jaguars' 8 Biggest Scouting Combine Takeaways

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    The combine will have shown the Jacksonville Jaguars that there is a plethora of talent available to boost their feeble pass rush. In particular, head coach Gus Bradley will have learned there is more than one hybrid pass-rusher capable of starring in his multiple-front defense.

    The situation is a little murkier at Jacksonville's other major position of need, quarterback. With both Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel opting not to throw, Blake Bortles managed to distinguish himself.

    But the Jaguars could be more intrigued by the efficient passing performances of a pair of less-heralded prospects. Here are the biggest takeaways from the combine for the rebuilding Jags.

The Jaguars Have 2 Great 'Leo' Rushers to Choose From

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    Bradley won't have failed to notice that the talent is high at perhaps the most important position on his defense. A pair of marquee rush linebackers would fit as the "Leo," the roving pass-rusher who acts as both a defensive end and linebacker in Bradley's schemes.

    UCLA's Anthony Barr or Buffalo's Khalil Mack would perfectly suit that role. Both enjoyed favorable showings at the combine.

    Barr's numbers were mostly solid, with his best work coming in cone drills, which he ran in 6.82 seconds. Most encouraging for Bradley was the way Barr matched that agility with straight speed.

    He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.66 seconds. That level of quickness, combined with a 6'5", 255-pound frame, makes Barr an ideal candidate to play the Leo.

    But as good as Barr was in Indianapolis, Mack was even better. He was clocked a fraction quicker in the 40 at 4.65 seconds. But Mack really impressed with his 40-inch vertical jump. His athletic range must intrigue the Jags.

    Jacksonville can't go wrong selecting either of these flexible playmakers for its sack-shy defense.


Pass-Rush Help Is Available Throughout This Draft Class

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    Perhaps the best news for the Jaguars is that they don't have to use prime picks to solve their pass-rush problem. The combine proved there are effective pressure specialists available at every level of this class.

    In particular, two small-school stars ought to have caught Bradley's eye. One of them is ex-Shepherd defensive end Howard Jones.

    He wowed scouts with a 4.60 40 time as well as a 40.5" vertical jump and 124.0" broad jump. Jones proved he is a player with the physical attributes to be a terror off the edge in the pros.

    But a slight frame and concerns about the level of competition the 235-pounder faced in Division II are sure to push this natural pass-rush ace to the middle rounds. Jones would be excellent value for the Jags at that stage.

    The same is true of Larry Webster, the Bloomsburg (Pa.) rush end identified by NFL.com reporters Chase Goodbread and Mike Huguenin as a combine standout:

    As for Webster (6-6, 252), he played just two seasons of college football after starting for four years at center in basketball. He had 26 sacks in his two seasons, which piqued the interest of a lot of scouts. Their interest was piqued again at the combine: he ran a 4.58 40, had a vertical jump of 36.5 inches, a broad jump of 10-3 and a 20-yard shuttle clocking of 4.4 seconds. He's raw as a football player but he also is a great athlete; as with Janis, he's a guy with a big upside.

    Both of these diamonds in the rough would make excellent situational pass-rushers in Jacksonville. Given the number of talented rush ends and linebackers throughout this draft, the Jaguars can't fail to upgrade their pass rush this May.

Khalil Mack Is a Legitimate Candidate for the No. 3 Pick

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    Following a superb showing at the combine, Khalil Mack can no longer be considered a reach as a top-five pick. That puts him firmly on the radar of the Jags with the third overall selection.

    What his combine showed more than anything else is that Mack has greater initial explosion than Barr. That speed, blended with his surprising short-area power, means Mack has the potential to be a prolific pass-rusher from Day 1 in the pros.

    In his post-combine mock draft, NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah has the Jaguars wasting no time snaring Mack with the third pick. Given the number of ways Mack would expand what Bradley can do with his defense, this is starting to look like a perfect match.

    Mack could line up at defensive end in base fronts. That option would allow Bradley to still field three interior linemen, nose tackle Roy Miller, 3-technique Sen'Derrick Marks and an "Elephant" end.

    Alternatively, Mack could play strong-side linebacker and keep offenses guessing about whether he will rush or drop into coverage. That would let Andre Branch, a player with a lot of potential, continue as the primary pass-rushing defensive end.

    In this scenario the Jacksonville defense would resemble a 3-4 or 5-2 front while still utilizing 4-3 personnel. Then, of course, there is the tantalizing prospect of pairing Branch and Mack as ends in the nickel package.

    Taking Mack third overall would mean overlooking a quarterback. But the immediate impact and long-term value he would bring to Bradley's defense make it a risk worth taking.

Bradley Can Find the Right Cornerbacks to Fit His Bigger Secondary

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    In a year when colleges are meeting the NFL's demand for more size in the secondary, Bradley can snare at least one big corner to play the press-based techniques he favors.

    Goodbread and Huguenin identified bigger cornerbacks as a combine trend:

    The NFL is a copycat league, which means every team is going to look for big cornerbacks, a laSeattle. During NFL Network's coverage of the combine, NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock said the increasing use of the back-shoulder fade makes bigger corners a necessity. So, does that mean some corners will be overrated (and over-drafted) because of their height? Seven corners measured at least 6-0 at the combine, and another nine were at least 5-11½. Interestingly, the two fastest corners at the combine were at least 6-0: Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert (6-0½, 202) ran a 4.37 and Rice's Phillip Gaines (6-0 3/8, 193) ran a 4.38. Gilbert went into the combine generally considered one of the top three corners and might have put himself at the top of a lot of lists with his blistering 40 time. Gaines, though, was seen as a potential third-day pick, and his fast time likely doesn't change that. The biggest corner was Utah's Keith McGill (6-3 3/8, 211), who also played safety for the Utes and might end up there in the NFL because he can struggle in coverage. McGill ran a 4.51 40.

    Of course, Bradley knows all about the Seahawks' success with size in the secondary. He crafted that beefier defensive backfield when he ran the Seattle defense from 2010-12.

    He has been trying to replicate the formula in Jacksonville but with only modest success. Ex-Seahawk Will Blackmon and last year's third-round pick, Dwayne Gratz, are the best of the current corners.

    Bradley could still use an infusion of greater physicality at the position and should find it in this draft. He won't care as much about Keith McGill's issues, having helped refine 6'4", 221-pounder Brandon Browner's game in Seattle.

    Bradley might even overlook the 4.61 40 time posted by 6'3", 218-pounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Indeed, Bleacher Report draft writer Matt Miller has the Jags taking the towering ex-Nebraska corner in the third round of his post-mock draft.

    Bradley may not be able to finish crafting the "Legion of Boom" Mark II in this draft, but he will find cornerbacks big enough to fit his imposing coverage schemes.

Teddy Bridgewater Is Now Firmly Within Reach

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    For a long time Teddy Bridgewater was considered a lock as the top pick in this year's draft. But the post-combine landscape sees the Louisville quarterback firmly within reach of the Jaguars.

    As Bleacher Report columnist Mike Freeman has pointed out, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's stunning performance in Indianapolis makes him a stronger candidate to go first overall.

    If the Houston Texans do take Clowney, only the St. Louis Rams will stand in the way of Bridgewater heading to Jacksonville. But it doesn't seem likely the Rams will take him either.

    General manager Les Snead recently made it clear Sam Bradford remains the starter, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Snead also ruled out the idea of using the No. 2 pick just to find a quarterback to groom behind Bradford.

    Those words should be music to the ears of Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell. The Rams put the best pure passer in this class within his reach.

    Recently NFL.com reporter Mike Huguenin cited NFL Media draft analyst Mike Mayock dubbing Bridgewater the "most NFL-ready" of the quarterbacks coming out of college this year.

    This thought was echoed by former Super Bowl winner Kurt Warner.

    Bridgewater didn't do himself many favors not throwing in Indianapolis. But the film tells any team needing as much help under center as the Jaguars all it needs to know.

The Jaguars Can Trade Back and Get a Quarterback

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    The Jags should and will be tempted by Bridgewater. But they will also know they don't have to sit tight at three just to land a quarterback.

    The team could trade back and still acquire an immediate starter. Caldwell has indicated a willingness to trade the No. 3 pick, according to John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

    One passer who should appeal in that scenario is Fresno State's Derek Carr. He did his prospects a lot of good with a positive performance at the combine.

    That certainly brought him to the attention of the Cleveland Browns, according to NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, cited by Marc Sessler. But as Jeremiah notes, the Browns are looking to target Carr at the end of the first round:

    Their guy is (Fresno State quarterback)Derek Carr and they're going to take a different player with the fourth pick and they want to take Derek Carrwith their second one (at No. 26). ... I heard that from several different places.

    If Jeremiah's report is accurate, the Jags could take the risk of trading back just far enough to snatch Carr before the Browns make their play.

There Are Plenty of Developmental Quarterbacks to Consider

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    If Jacksonville wants another year with Chad Henne at the helm, the team can certainly find a developmental quarterback in this draft.

    Alabama passer AJ McCarron has to merit consideration after the way he impressed in Indianapolis. Opting to throw for scouts did him a lot of favors.

    Andrew Gribble of Al.com, describes how McCarron managed to impress scouts and analysts:

    Yes, his first throwing session in front of hundreds of NFL scouts, general managers and coaches went well.

    'He looked today like he was just hanging out in the backyard and throwing it,' NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said to a group of reporters after Sunday's events. 'It was easy. He didn't seem like he felt any pressure. The ball comes out nicely. I don't think he's got a huge arm but he's got a good arm, and he's accurate.'

    Mayock said McCarron and UCF's Blake Bortles, who is considered a potential No. 1 pick, had the best days among quarterbacks who opted to throw. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater did not throw.

    McCarron passed on his first opportunity when he declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl. All along, McCarron said it was his idea to rest up, train and throw on this day.

    McCarron said a few teams asked one question about why he skipped the game and understood it. Others didn't mention it at all.

    McCarron was one of a few projected late-round quarterbacks who looked good in Indianapolis. Others include Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas. These players are likely to be on the radar for the quarterback-needy Jags.

    Florida Times-Union writer Ryan O'Halloran reported that owner Shad Khan expects to draft one or even two quarterbacks.

    But Vito Stellino of the Times-Union has been adamant that retaining Henne is the offseason priority in Jacksonville. Stellino also indicates those talks have already begun.

    If the Jaguars bide their time they can find an efficient passer ready to act as competent insurance behind Henne.

The Jags Can Find Maurice Jones-Drew's Replacement in This Draft

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    With Maurice Jones-Drew about to hit the market in free agency, the Jaguars will be encouraged by what they saw from running backs at the combine.

    Several prospects showcased the potential to replace Jacksonville's veteran workhorse. In particular, two bruisers proved they have the quickness to match the power needed to carry the load the way Jones-Drew did.

    Oklahoma's Damien Williams, a thick-bodied 222-pounder, ran the 40 in 4.45 seconds. Having thrived as a power-based runner for the Sooners, Williams would be a good fit in Jacksonville.

    But Caldwell and Bradley would likely perform extensive research on a player who was booted off the program in Oklahoma following numerous violations.

    Former Boston College star Andre Williams is another power back with tremendous size and solid quickness. The 230-pounder is punishing between the tackles, and the 4.56 time he clocked in the 40 is evidence of decent speed for a runner that size.

    But West Virginia's Charles Sims could be the impossible-to-ignore prospect for the Jags. The 6'0", 214-pound all-rounder ran a 4.48 40 as well as showing off good cutting skills in cone and shuttle drills.

    Sims is a more complete, every-down style back than Gaffney or Williams, thanks to his receiving skills. After dismissing doubts about his quickness, Sims has the versatility to tempt any team looking for a featured runner.

    Jacksonville can afford to stay patient and still find a running back ready to start.

    The Jaguars should have left the combine knowing that they can significantly upgrade at least one of their major needs along with adding some useful options in both the secondary and running game.


    *Combine results provided by NFL's official combine website unless otherwise noted.