Jacksonville Jaguars' Top Remaining Offseason Priorities
As we move along through the 2014 offseason, it's clear that the Jacksonville Jaguars still have work to do if they want to contend in the AFC South.
So far, Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has done an impressive job restructuring this roster with quality signings in free agency.
From a coaching perspective, there's no questioning this team's desire to win football games.
When Gus Bradley was first brought in to rebuild this program, Don Banks of Sports Illustrated talked about creating a culture centered on "accountability."
A year after his arrival, that culture is now in place.
Bradley has already started to lay the foundation needed to turn around a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2007.
As we draw closer to the 2014 NFL draft, it's time to check out the top remaining priorities Bradley and Caldwell need to address this offseason.
Draft a Wide Receiver
Aside from pursuing a franchise quarterback, adding another dominant wide receiver to the mix is one of the biggest needs this team has right now.
It's been brought up a million times before, but Justin Blackmon's undetermined future with the team has left a glaring hole at the position.
The obvious candidate to assume the role of being the team's No. 1 wide receiver would of course be Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
Though he may not have the size that Texas A&M's Mike Evans does, Watkins is the definition of a playmaker. On film, he can attack a defense downfield, shred defenders with his speed and create pockets of separation.
CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler detailed what he believes makes the Clemson wide receiver such a force of nature on the gridiron:
Good patience before bursting to top speed and sets up his routes well - veteran at playing the ball and the defender. Dangerous catch-and-go pass catcher and will create yardage on his own, forcing poor angles by defenders. Tough and will lower his pads to initiate contact. Active blocker and gets the job done in this area.
Projected to go in the top 10, the Jaguars would more than likely have to snag Watkins with the No. 3 pick if they believe he can help their offense grow by leaps and bounds.
Moving outside of the first round, this year's draft class has an inordinate number of quality options that could serve as integral components to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's attack.
In an email exchange I had with Bleacher Report's National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder, Ole Miss standout Donte Moncrief was brought up:
"I really like Moncrief, he's got good hands and a nice long speed that helps him get on top of defenses. As he improves in route-running he'll continue to be a problem for opponents because he can scoot when the ball is in his hands. He can take the top off a defense, isn't afraid of traffic and has shown the ability to high point the ball."
Currently ranked behind some of the other "top-tier" prospects, Moncrief is projected to fall between the second and third round.
If the Jaguars decide to go after a defensive player in Round 1, there are a plethora of wide receivers out there to choose from who can blow the top off a defense.
Continue to Improve the Offensive Line
Pairing the former Pro Bowler with second-year left tackle Luke Joeckel is a good start to strengthening the core of this offensive line.
However, that doesn't mean adding more linemen should be swept under the rug until next offseason.
Looking at some "mid-round" options, the Jaguars front office will have no problem bulking up in the trenches.
Focusing on the guard position, Brandon Thomas out of Clemson is one name worth remembering.
While at Death Valley, Thomas was a big part of the rousing offensive attack head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris created.
As a guard, Thomas showed excellence pulling into free space and springing big runs in much the same way evaluators saw Thomas—at left tackle—executing similar tasks at the second level when asked to engage and neutralize athletic linebackers in the open off of combo blocks. Thomas’ very impressive upper-body power coupled with his speed, mean streak, motor and long arms all point to great things in the future.
Using the draft to bring in long-term solutions on the offensive line is the best course of action for a Jaguars team in the midst of a rebuilding process.
Keep Adding Pass-Rushers
Pass-rushers are one commodity in this league you can never have enough of.
Adding blustery guys who can blow through the line of scrimmage and disrupt the timing of an offense is the best way to propel a defense to the next level.
Having the third overall pick in the upcoming draft makes South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney a distinct possibility for the Jaguars.
Hands down the most physically dominating defensive prospect to come along in years, Clowney gave this team something to think about at his pro day.
B/R's Tim Daniels wrote about the South Carolina Gamecock's stellar showing:
Once the drills got underway, Clowney's athleticism was on full display.
He looked smooth in all of the short-area quickness work. His explosiveness out of the set position was evident. And if somebody ever drops a tube of tennis balls on the field during the game, he proved he's ready for the cleanup in a rather bizarre agility drill.
Clowney is a freak of nature. You can't get around that fact. During his pro day workout, NFL Media Analyst Mike Mayock and various scouts in attendance were left more than impressed.
Even if Clowney winds up rocking a Jaguars uniform, the expedition to find pass-rushers doesn't stop after the first round of the draft.
Talking to B/R's Michael Felder once again, he pointed out one player who could potentially be a nice fit for the aggressive 4-3 scheme Coach Bradley runs:
"I really like Marcus Smith out of Louisville. Played a lot of 4-3 end in 2012 and then spent much of 2013 as a 3-4 rush player.
"He's comfortable with the hand down or standing up, something people are often having to guess on for other college players."
Smith is a guy who could jump in right away and contribute as a "Leo" pass-rusher—a role that is prominent in Bradley's defensive scheme.
Decide What to Do at Quarterback
The decision to re-sign veteran QB Chad Henne was a smart move for the Jaguars in the short term because of his familiarity running Coach Fisch's offense.
But the 800-pound gorilla in the room is going to be whether or not they should sign a QB in this year's draft.
If we change the conversation and look outside of the first round, there are a handful of appealing prospects who should be available in the latter stages of the draft.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger is one guy who has been picking up steam as we get closer to May 8.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski (Insider subscription required) ranked Mettenberger as the second-best quarterback in this year's draft. Explaining his reasoning behind that decision, Jaworski said:
At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he has the size teams want. I want to see more at his pro day, but he has a big arm on tape. He can make every throw from the pocket. That said, he's a little inconsistent and he struggles at time with his footwork. But I can see him working with Brunner and with Tigers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron down in LSU, and I see a guy who can work the play-action game and the isolation routes to the outside, just like Flacco can. Mettenberger has a good three-step drop, good five-step drop, and those are pro concepts.
That being said, the Jaguars will have to analyze each prospect with a microscope and decide whether bringing in a rookie quarterback to sit behind Henne is worth it heading into the 2014 season.
Have a Successful Draft
It goes without saying that a successful offseason for the Jaguars hinges on what they are able to do on draft weekend.
Building on a strong offseason, Caldwell, Bradley and the rest of the Jaguars staff will need to figure out which players make the most sense for the future of this franchise.
In a conversation with ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco, Coach Bradley talked about the importance of doing well not only in the early rounds but also in Round 4 through Round 7:
The first round, obviously, and the second round you have to do some things there. But this draft will be determined by how well we do in those rounds. Example: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, guys like that can make a big difference there. We focus on all areas, but that's an area that we've got to concentrate on, too.
If the current regime wants to turn things around, putting together an intelligent, concise draft that addresses all of the team's remaining needs has to become priority No. 1.
All 2014 draft projections provided by NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) unless noted otherwise.