Jacksonville's favorite son was never going to be a Jaguar.
When asked about the selection of California defensive lineman Tyson Alualu 10th overall, general manager Gene Smith was unequivocal in his defense of the pick—no matter how many tickets Tim Tebow could've sold.
"We felt very strongly about Alualu at our selection," Smith told reporters in a draft weekend press conference, "and we felt very strongly about Tim."
Translation? No chance.
Though Tebow was drafted in the first round by the Denver Broncos, who traded up to the 25th pick to get "their guy," he's a project whose value didn't match the Jaguars' top-10 pick.
To judge Jacksonville's decision three or four years down the road, it'll be better to compare Alualu with any of several other 2010 rookies.
For starters, Gene Smith will probably always compare Alualu to two players the Jaguars never had the chance to pick.
From Thursday to Saturday, Jacksonville's 2010 draft weekend was defined by the search for a middle linebacker to put between Daryl Smith and Justin Durant. Before the Jaguars traded a fourth round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Kirk Morrison, they tried to move up for Penn State's Sean Lee.
Had Alabama All-American Rolando McClain lasted until the 10th overall pick, the phones in Jacksonville's war room might have gotten some rest.
Coveting a "thumper" to underline their renewed commitment to physicality on defense, the Jaguars watched as McClain—a smart, hard-hitting, 6'3", 254-pound specimen—was snatched from under their noses by Oakland with the eighth overall pick.
The Buffalo Bills, picking ninth, then added insult to Jacksonville's injury by nabbing Clemson track star C.J. Spiller.
Reportedly, the Jaguars were higher on Ohio State running back Beanie Wells in the 2009 draft than most. Not high enough, of course, to take him with the eighth overall pick, but enough to show that adding a blue-chip complement for Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew has been a consideration.
With Spiller, Jacksonville could have fused Jones-Drew's downhill, tackle-breaking "bowling ball" style and the rookie's smooth moves and sprinter speed to create the NFL's most dynamic ground game.
The Jaguars can't be judged too harshly for failing to come away with either of these players. Trading up to the Cleveland Browns' seventh overall pick would have been unreasonably expensive—so long as Alualu pans out, that is.
Tyson Alualu wasn't invited to New York City for Thursday's first round.
He didn't have legions of fans and media draft experts debating him ad nauseam. He wasn't at or near the top of any draft board made for ESPN or NFL Network, and he didn't get to shake commissioner Roger Goodell's hand or hold a Jaguars jersey onstage at Radio City Music Hall.
By drafting him with a top-10 pick, though, Jacksonville ensured that Alualu will be compared to fellow defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy throughout his career.
To his credit, striking similarities exist. Like Suh, Alualu has a "motor" that's beyond reproof. Even among those who grade him down for lacking pass rush technique, no film evidence exists of Alualu taking plays off or easing up until the whistle blows.
In terms of versatility, Alualu might even be ahead of McCoy, who spent time at five-technique end in Oklahoma's defense. As a 40-game starter at California, Alualu was used at every position in the Golden Bears' base 3-4 defense and, occasionally, as an end in four-man fronts.
Though an inch or two shorter than either of these consensus elite prospects, Alualu's 35-inch vertical leap matches Suh's and puts him ahead of McCoy in one of the NFL Combine's few telling tests.
In addition to the broad jump, where Alualu (9'8") and McCoy (9'6") showed better than Suh's 8'9" effort, a player's vertical is a raw measure of his explosive lower-body strength.
Judging by hype, of course, Alualu is miles behind, but the real competition between these three won't start in earnest until Week One.
Even after signing veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency, the Jaguars were still in the market for help with their pass rush in the 2010 draft.
Coming off a 14-sack 2009 season featuring losses and lucky wins against four teams drafting in the top 10, most analysts pegged Jacksonville as a likely landing spot for one of the several elite defensive end prospects in this rookie class.
Instead, the Jaguars opted for Alualu and a handful of late-round prospects on the defensive line. Alualu and D'Anthony Smith will be expected to collapse opposing quarterbacks' pockets up the middle, with Larry Hart and Austen Lane looking to contribute pressure off the edge.
None of the top three defensive ends fell far past Jacksonville. The Philadelphia Eagles traded up to the 13th overall pick for Michigan's Brandon Graham, the New York Giants took USF's Jason Pierre-Paul 15th, and Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech landed with the Tennessee Titans at pick 16.
If comparisons with McClain, Spiller, Suh, and McCoy will be slightly unfair because of their draft position, then matching Alualu against these three will be entirely warranted.
Along with standout rookie Terrance Knighton, much-maligned 2008 first-rounder Derrick Harvey did a surprisingly good job of beating his blockers. With Alualu in the fold, the Jaguars will expect those opportunities to turn into hurries, turnovers, and sacks.
Should one of Graham, Pierre-Paul, or Morgan start to pile up pressures, Jacksonville's choice of Alualu will be judged harshly.
Sure, the immaturity displayed by Dez Bryant at several points in his college career doesn't exactly recommend him to a Jaguars organization in the midst of overhauling its team's character.
From skipping classes and showing up late to practice as a freshman, to a season-long suspension for lying about his involvement with Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, to blaming his so-so timed speed at his pro day on a new pair of shoes, Bryant oozes chronic absent-mindedness at best.
But facts are facts.
Fact: Dez Bryant's 1.50-second 10-yard split in that 40-yard dash would have been the best overall at February's NFL Combine, even ahead of collegiate track stars like Clemson's C.J. Spiller and LSU's Trindon Holliday.
Fact: Bryant's 11-foot broad jump—perhaps the best test of a prospect's explosive lower-body strength—would've tied for tops, too.
Fact: At 6'2" and 225 pounds, Bryant has the size, strength, speed, and athleticism to dominate NFL cornerbacks for the next decade. He's the kind of talent Jacksonville's receiving corps has missed since Jimmy Smith retired, and the kind of athlete deserving of a top-10 pick.
Few will indict the Jaguars for putting a premium on character in Roger Goodell's NFL, where players are guilty until proven innocent if their conduct hurts the league's image.
Should he blossom in a professional environment with the Dallas Cowboys, though, Bryant's college conduct will likely be forgotten completely.
If Jimmy Clausen pans out for the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville won't be the only team feeling foolish.
Of the NFL's 32 teams, 30 passed on Clausen, who started 34 games since his freshman year in Notre Dame's pro-style offense and was considered this year's most NFL-ready quarterback prospect.
Considered a first-round lock by almost every analyst and an odds-on top-10 pick by most, Clausen's free fall into the second round was spurred by concerns about his footwork and the toe injury that plagued him throughout his junior campaign in 2009.
Until the Jaguars looked elsewhere with the 10th overall pick, though, his draft stock still seemed solid, if not bulletproof. The San Francisco 49ers, with a quarterback situation far shakier than Jacksonville's, then passed on Clausen twice with the 11th and 17th selections, making way for his slide.
In 2003, the Jaguars rushed to the podium ahead of the Minnesota Vikings to take Byron Leftwich in the first round. Despite Leftwich's 2007 release and current starter David Garrard's age (32) and on-and-off production, they haven't picked another rookie signal-caller since.
During that span, Jacksonville missed out on Ben Roethlisberger (2004) and Joe Flacco (2008), two players who'd offer more long-term security than Garrard at football's most important position.
As of 2010, add Jimmy Clausen to that list. Should he live up to the potential seen only, apparently, by ESPN's Mel Kiper and the Panthers, Tyson Alualu would need a Hall of Fame career to acquit the Jaguars.