Jacksonville Draft Stock Watch: 9 Players Rising and Falling Down Jaguars Board

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2014

Jacksonville Draft Stock Watch: 9 Players Rising and Falling Down Jaguars Board

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    A successful haul in free agency has altered the Jacksonville Jaguars' big board for the 2014 NFL draft. In particular, the team's need to find a hybrid pass-rusher has been diminished by the arrival of two skilled veterans and the retention of another.

    Head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell will have also taken note of the pro-day struggles of one prominent quarterback.

    After bringing back veteran passer Chad Henne, the Jags will be even more content to select a development quarterback in a later round. Thankfully, a late-rising prospect fits that plan.

    But the failure to land a cornerback or wide receiver in free agency will also see two players take higher spots on the Jags' big board.

    Here are the nine draft prospects who are rising or falling on Jacksonville's board.

Falling: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA

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    Anthony Barr would be a dream fit for the "Leo" role in Bradley's mixed-front defensive scheme. But when the Jags acquired ex-Seattle Seahawk Chris Clemons and retained veteran Jason Babin, they reduced the need for new pass-rushers.

    With Clemons, Babin and young pro Andre Branch available to collapse the edges, Bradley's pass-rush rotation is now well-stocked. That is enough to knock Barr almost clean off the team's big board.

    The former UCLA standout might have even been a reach to those who would prefer South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo rush end Khalil Mack.

    But the presence of the veterans means it's unlikely the Jaguars will be making a call to Barr on draft day. Expect the Jags to only add to their offseason haul of pass-rush talent if they just can't resist Clowney or Mack.

Falling: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

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    Teddy Bridgewater will have taken a tumble down several big boards after a mediocre pro day. But few teams would have been as concerned as the quarterback-needy Jaguars.

    NFL.com's Mike Huguenin cited draft analyst Mike Mayock, who dubbed Bridgewater's performance as "average at best."

    That's far from an endorsement of a player who was once considered a likely No. 1 overall pick this May. Of course, an indifferent pro day is not a certain indicator of a likely NFL bust.

    As Sports Illustrated writer Chris Burke points out, former Jaguars draft flop Blaine Gabbert wowed scouts at his pro day. But fans in Jacksonville were only wowed by how inept the 2011 first-round pick played once he saw an NFL field.

    Yet Gabbert's story can also work against Bridgewater. The Jags have recently been burned by using a prime pick on a quarterback. They likely don't need much motivation to steer clear of that course this time around.

    Bridgewater has provided the ammunition, especially after Henne was kept in town for two more years. Bradley has already pointed to the veteran as his starter once the 2014 season begins, per John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

    Caldwell and Bradley will likely still target a quarterback in early May. But at this stage, it looks as though they won't use the third overall pick to do it.

    That makes Bridgewater landing in Florida unlikely.

Rising: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinos

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    Jimmy Garropolo will be on Jacksonville's radar in Round 2.
    Jimmy Garropolo will be on Jacksonville's radar in Round 2.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    A below-par pro day from Teddy Bridgewater won't prohibit the Jaguars from looking at a quarterback or two in this draft.

    Team owner Shad Khan recently emphasized his belief in building around a quality quarterback to The Florida Times-Union reporter Ryan O'Halloran (h/t Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com).

    Gantt believes the Jags will supplement Henne with a quarterback, even if they wait until after the opening round. In that scenario, Eastern Illinois sensation Jimmy Garoppolo will certainly appeal.

    He has been rising up more than one draft board in the last few months. Sports Illustrated columnist Don Banks outlines how Garoppolo has come to prominence:

    So I can't help but notice that while the headline names are getting trashed, the most positive reviews for a quarterback coming out of the best-of-the-rest bunch in recent days all seem to have attached themselves to Eastern Illinios' Jimmy Garoppolo, an intriguing small-school prospect who has gained many admirers for his strong work in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, as well as his very solid showing at last weekend's NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

    When you add in NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock's assessment that Garoppolo projects to be a second- or third-round pick, and the fact that he has helped advance his prospects to be an NFL starter as much as any quarterback having taken part in the main events of this year's draft season, real momentum has gathered behind the player who threw for 53 touchdowns and 5,050 yards last season (with just nine interceptions) and was named the NCAA offensive player of the year at the FCS level.

    Being available at the top of the second or third round will put him within Jacksonville's reach. The team did its due diligence on the strong-armed passer at the Senior Bowl and was left suitably impressed, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread.

    If the Jags want a quarterback to groom behind Henne, they should have Garoppolo's name near the top of their draft board.

Rising: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama

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    Garoppolo won't be the only less heralded quarterback to move up a place on the Jags' board. Shrewd ex-Alabama signal-caller AJ McCarron is another second-round prospect who is sure to appeal.

    WalterFootball.com's Walter Cherepinsky has the Jags selecting McCarron 39th overall in his latest mock draft. It's a wise pick, given his naturally thoughtful and efficient style of play.

    After years of mistake-prone displays under center, the Jacksonville offense would benefit from a passer as accurate and steady as McCarron.

    Bradley and Caldwell will have to keep their options open at arguably the most important position on the team. So McCarron and Garoppolo will likely be near the top of their board once the first round concludes.

Falling: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

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    It was a smart call to mock a running back to the Jaguars this May. But after signing former Minnesota Viking Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville won't be in such a rush to find Maurice Jones-Drew's replacement in the draft.

    So a player like Carlos Hyde, who was mocked to the Jags in Round 2 by Bleacher Report analyst Matt Miller, will slide off the team's board. The ex-Ohio State power back offers the same qualities the Jaguars are hoping to get from Gerhart, another punishing runner.

    NFL.com's Marc Sessler recently reported Bradley expects Gerhart to be his "bell-cow back." Having Gerhart in the workhorse role rules out Hyde, who wouldn't provide the change-of-pace complement that Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson can.

Rising: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska

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    Stanley Jean-Baptiste boasts the size Bradley covets at cornerback.
    Stanley Jean-Baptiste boasts the size Bradley covets at cornerback.Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    Even after re-signing Will Blackmon, the Jaguars continued to look for additional talent at cornerback during free agency. They met with with one of Bradley's former Seattle Seahawks players, Walter Thurmond III.

    Since they missed out on Thurmond, who joined the New York Giants, the Jags will likely reinforce the position this May. Bradley's fondness for physically imposing press cornerbacks will put Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste in a prominent spot on the team's board.

    The 6'3", 218-pounder is mocked to the Jags in Round 3 in Matt Miller's post-combine draft. He would join Blackmon, Alan Ball and last season's third-round choice Dwayne Gratz to form a bruising rotation of cover men.

    In an AFC South ruled by the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck, the Jacksonville pass defense needs all the help it can get.

    So expect Jean-Baptiste to remain near the top of the team's board.

Falling: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State

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    Prior to free agency, the idea of drafting a hulking D-lineman to solidify last season's 29th-ranked run defense made a lot of sense.

    As one of the most formidable big bodies in this class, ex-Penn State behemoth DaQuan Jones would have been the perfect choice for a Jags defensive front that needs more size.

    But Bradley and Caldwell solved that problem when they signed 6'4", 323-pounder Red Bryant. He spent years anchoring the run defense for the Seattle Seahawks and will fill the "Elephant" position on Bradley's hybrid line.

    The Jags also added another 300-pounder for the inside when they acquired former Pittsburgh Steeler Ziggy Hood. This front now has the size and flexibility to execute Bradley's mesh of 3-4 alignments with 4-3 personnel.

    Having also brought back Sen'Derrick Marks, the Jaguars now have enough talent along the interior to ignore the position this May.

Rising: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State

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    Bradley recently declared bolstering talent along the offensive line to be a top draft priority, according to The Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran. Last season's offensive front was a mess, surrendering 50 sacks, per NFL.com.

    Bradley's declaration of intent will push a few beefy road-graders up the board. One player who is sure to intrigue the regime in Jacksonville is Mississippi State monster Gabe Jackson.

    O'Halloran identifies right guard as a position of concern. His concerns are well-founded following the release of Uche Nwaneri.

    Jackson could wedge his ample 6'3", 336-pound frame into that spot. He moves more nimbly than any man his size should.

    His blend of mass power and surprising footwork would help fortify last season's feeble front.

Rising: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

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    Wide receiver is another position that Bradley has promised to target, after missing out on free agent Emmanuel Sanders, per Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.

    Given the longstanding need for a dynamic playmaker on the outside, expect Sammy Watkins to merit consideration with the third overall pick.

    O'Halloran's report contains a glowing review of Watkins from Bradley, who cites his versatility and move skills as major plus points: "He's very explosive and dynamic. He can catch the the deep ball and take a bubble screen for a touchdown. He provides so many opportunities for you. You're looking for guys who can score points, and he can do that from any part of the field."

    In praising Watkins, Bradley has inadvertently described the type of player the Jags hoped they were getting when they drafted Justin Blackmon fifth overall in 2012.

    But myriad problems, culminating in an indefinite suspension, have robbed Jacksonville of Blackmon's talents. Drafting Watkins would be a great way to make amends and give a limp passing game the difference-maker it desperately needs.

    NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah believes that's exactly what the Jags are going to do. The need to add roving weapons to coordinator Jedd Fisch's scheme will leave Watkins in a prime position on Jacksonville's draft board.

    The fine work the Jaguars did in free agency has narrowed their focus in this year's draft. It means the team's big board can be front-loaded with the type of playmakers that the franchise has lacked for too long.