Biggest Questions the Jacksonville Jaguars Must Answer over Draft Week
After going 4-12 in 2013, the Jaguars have a lot of questions to answer if they plan on building a contender in the AFC South.
With the 2014 NFL draft quickly approaching, the Jaguars will have an opportunity to take a step toward reviving a recently struggling franchise. With a strong draft plan and continued dedicated leadership, the questions surrounding the Jaguars can finally begin to be answered.
Let’s take a look at the top questions this team has to consider as we approach the NFL draft.
Who Will Start at Center?
The Jaguars offensive line took a hit when Brad Meester decided to retire after a long, productive career.
The departure of Meester has left the Jaguars with Mike Brewster and Patrick Lewis as replacement options. None of these guys have proven that they are ready to take on a full-time role. Brewster played 230 snaps and finished with a run-block grade of minus-6.2, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Additionally, Lewis hasn’t played a single snap in his professional career.
The draft offers a few NFL-ready centers that could immediately contribute for the Jaguars. The most notable prospect is Colorado State University's Weston Richburg, who CBS Sports ranks as the best overall center. Richburg is a powerhouse who can handle opposing rushers well. He would anchor this line not only in 2014 but for the foreseeable future.
The catch is that Richburg is likely a third-round selection, which might seem a little rich for a Jaguars team with so many needs. Other impact prospects that would be available in the later rounds are Marcus Martin, Travis Swanson and Gabe Ikard.
I give the team a strong chance to address this issue in the draft. They have 11 draft picks and should view this as a priority to improve a unit that ranked 31st in the league in sacks allowed.
Is Defensive Back a Priority?
Rookie Dwayne Gratz was a pleasant surprise for fans in 2013, but that was about it for a Jaguars pass defense that ranked 25th overall.
The Jaguars have some serious questions at the safety position. Johnathan Cyprien had a strong finish to his rookie campaign, but fellow safety Josh Evans didn’t fare so well. He has become a serious liability in coverage, and the Jaguars need to seriously consider an upgrade at his position.
This draft has a few players who could really upgrade this defense on the back end. However, considering the team’s needs, I have a problem believing that Caldwell will spend a high pick on a guy like Jimmie Ward or Deone Bucannon.
While I believe this to be a question that needs to be addressed, the Jaguars might not be able to get the quality they would like in the later rounds.
Barring a situation where a safety slides down the draft board, the Jaguars will be hoping Evans can develop and turn it around in 2014.
Who Will Replace Justin Blackmon?
Just recently, David Caldwell stated that they aren’t counting on a Blackmon return in 2014. Blackmon is serving an indefinite suspension for violating in NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
This is big news for a team who drafted Blackmon with the hopes that he could develop into a franchise-caliber wide receiver. On the field, Blackmon was beginning to look the part. In 2013, he was tearing it up, posting 415 yards over four games. However, off-the-field issues seemed to plague Blackmon and left the Jaguars with a big need at wide receiver.
Luckily, the 2013 draft is extraordinarily deep at the wide receiver position. Even better news is that the Jaguars will have a shot at the best of them all, Sammy Watkins. Watkins promises to be an absolute playmaker with great speed and natural pass-catching ability. The addition of Watkins would help take the pressure off of Cecil Shorts and make the Jaguars a dynamic offense.
Even if the Jaguars can’t land Watkins, they could land a list of other wide receivers who could seriously upgrade this unit.
Who Is the Quarterback of This Offense in 2014?
The questions surrounding the Jaguars’ quarterback position are certainly generating the most buzz around the league.
The team will have a few options with the third selection in the 2014 NFL draft. They will likely have their shot at Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles, who would certainly generate some excitement in Duval County.
Another route they could choose to take is waiting on a quarterback and landing a guy who could develop.
One popular prospect being linked to Jacksonville is Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has seen his stock fall recently but has had multiple workouts with the Jaguars’ coaching staff.
Bridgewater would be the perfect candidate for the Jaguars to take in the second round or even to trade back into the first round for. He would come with less pressure than a quarterback who is chosen third overall and wouldn’t necessarily have to start right away.
The Jaguars recently brought back quarterback Chad Henne on a two-year deal. Henne provides the Jaguars some insurance in case the team decides to take a guy who might need some development. While he isn’t the ideal option, he’s solid enough to take some pressure off whichever rookie they bring in.
Other strong candidates who the Jaguars could develop behind Henne are: Aaron Murray, A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger.
No matter what the Jaguars decide, they must start thinking about the future at the position. Expect the Jaguars to pick up a new, potentially franchise-caliber quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.
Who Will Be the Next Face of the Franchise?
Whether it’s Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor, Mark Brunell or Jimmy Smith, the Jaguars have had their share of great franchise players.
Now it’s time to find their next one.
As Bradley and Caldwell work to restore this franchise, they’ll need someone who can perform at en elite level for years to come and represent this team in a professional manner.
With their first pick, the team will have a shot at players like Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins and Jadeveon Clowney—all fit the criteria of a franchise player.
No matter what, the Jaguars have to hit big this year. Drafting a leader on and off the field is the first step to rebuilding this struggling franchise into a championship contender.
*All stats courtesy Pro Football Focus (subscription required).