Most speculation in the weeks leading up to April's 2010 NFL Draft will revolve around value boards and teams' needs, with analysts ranking prospects in search of the "best player available" and probing holes in depth charts for clues.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, though, one of their best options with the draft's 10th overall pick—Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain—might not fit either of those methods, despite having a consensus first-round grade.
Firstly, McClain doesn't have much positional value. Just ask James Laurinaitis or Rey Maualuga, accomplished collegians and two of last year's top-ranked middle linebackers. On draft day, both slid into the second round, passed over for a slew of down linemen and offensive weapons.
Even Aaron Curry, perhaps 2009's most promising prospect, fell a few spots to the Seattle Seahawks' fourth overall pick. By and large, teams aren't fighting over players who don't impact the passing game on every down anymore.
At 6'3" and 254 pounds, McClain doesn't face concerns about his size as Laurinaitis did. Despite running the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds at Alabama's March 10 pro day, questions linger about his ability to have a sideline-to-sideline presence—the same knock that helped push Maualuga out of the first round.
With pass rushers Jason Pierre-Paul (USF) and Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) likely available for Jacksonville, as well as the possibility of Florida cornerback Joe Haden, McClain doesn't figure to be pundits' top-rated choice when the Jaguars go on the clock.
Looking over their depth chart, a linebacking corps of veteran Daryl Smith and young guns Justin Durant and Clint Ingram doesn't seem weak enough to justify a reach.
Why, then, should Jacksonville even consider McClain, much less use a top-10 pick to get him? Simply put—and sweeping aside the two clichéd approaches to drafting—he's everything the Jaguars want their football team to become.
Last year, in his first draft having final say, three of new general manager Gene Smith's first four picks were team-elected captains in college.
"To me that's very important, what their peers think of them," Smith told ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky.
"I think that tells a lot about how they conduct [their] business."
As the play-caller and leader for college football's second-ranked defense in 2009, McClain certainly meets that requirement. Far from suggesting that a rookie should step up to lead a group of NFL veterans, Smith's esteem for college captains reflects the Jaguars' goal of having as many smart, vocal starters as possible.
In 2010, Jacksonville must also become a better-tackling team. The Jaguars were heavily criticized for poor defensive fundamentals, particularly after lackluster performances in early-season losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans.
Enter McClain, perhaps this year's most hard-hitting prospect with picture-perfect technique. Even the most determined antagonist would be hard-pressed to find film or a scouting report to criticize McClain's pursuit angles, power, or wrap-up form.
There's nothing quite like putting players' jobs on the line against a first-round pick to show real commitment to addressing that issue.
Should Jacksonville choose to bring McClain on board, of course, Smith and head coach Jack Del Rio will be tasked with sorting out his place on a crowded depth chart. After sifting through an offensive tackle situation involving five potential starters at two spots in 2009, though, picking three linebackers from four shouldn't be too tough.
Rather than letting depth chart difficulties cloud their judgment, Jacksonville's brain trust could once again pick the rookie who fits the Jaguars' brand of football.
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