Jimmy Smith, Ryan Kerrigan and Da'Quan Bowers top Jacksonville Jaguars' pre-draft prospect wish-list
It's been said that defense wins championships. And if that rumor holds true, then the Jacksonville Jaguars are in need of a serious overhaul.
Over the last few seasons, head coach Jack Del Rio has maintained some of the most atrocious defenses ever devised, and without a solid first-round pickup via this year's draft, they'll yet again be looking at a disappointing season on the defensive side of things.
So with just a few weeks left until the commencement of a highly-anticipated 2011 NFL Draft, here are 10 first-round prospects that can aid in Jacksonville's quest to reign supreme in the AFC South.
** Also, please note that I have implemented a "Confidence Rating" for each of the prospects featured on the list. This indicates the percent of confidence the Jaguars have in selecting the prospect with their first-round selection**
We'll begin with one of the most conventional first-round talents available, none other than Da'Quan Bowers.
Though his stock has virtually plummeted since the NFL Combine, Bowers still remains the most viable talent at defensive end for a needy Jaguars defense, and would become the face of the franchise if selected 16th overall.
Moreover, the Jaguars forced just 26 sacks last season (T-30th in the entire league), and Jack Del Rio knows that the only way to dethrone Peyton Manning and Indianapolis is with an unyielding pass rush. So with Bowers more than likely to be available from the eighth through 13th selection, don't be surprised to see Jacksonville trading up for his talents.
Confidence rating: 15%
The leader of the Boilermaker defense for the past three seasons, Ryan Kerrigan has everything a defensive coordinator looks for in a productive defensive end.
Weighing in at 6'4'', 267 pounds, Kerrigan is just a fragment below his fellow defensive ends in the physicality department; however his impressive showing at the NFL Combine (4.67 40-yard dash, 31 bench reps) should bode well with a handful of NFL teams in need of some serious speed off the edge.
Let it be known that Kerrigan's capabilities are such that both Chad Reuter and Rob Rang of CBS Sports have him going to the Jaguars in their latest mock drafts, and rest assured, Jacksonville will have their sights set on Kerrigan with the 16th overall selection.
Confidence rating: 65%
He may not be the most physically intimidating defensive end on the market, but he can surely pack a punch when given an opportunity.
I am of course talking about Missouri's blazing defensive end Aldon Smith -- a guy who has gradually moved into position as one of the draft's most complete talents at defensive end, and who is now a serious potential first-round pickup for the Jaguars.
Although his Combine workouts were average at best from what was expected (4.74 40-yard dash, 20 bench reps), Smith would become an integral part of a young Jacksonville defense on the rise.
Confidence rating: 30%
Probably the biggest reach featured on our list, Martez Wilson would eventually become Kirk Morrison's replacement at inside linebacker as early as 2012. But with a year's worth of experience under his belt, Wilson would be more than ready to be a full-time starter at inside linebacker.
Wilson's 6'4'', 250-pound frame enabled to account for four sacks and an unheralded 111 total tackles in his junior season with the Fighting Illini.
A future workhorse in the making, Wilson would be as solid of a pickup as any for the Jaguars, who are in need of some youth on the defensive side of the football.
Folks, there's a reason why he's the undisputed number one inside linebacker in this year's draft class, and it isn't solely based on his production.
Confidence rating: 10%
How much longer do you expect David Garrard to be the starting quarterback for the Jaguars? How about Trent Edwards?
Unfortunately for both, I can't see a scenario in which either Garrard or Edwards remain Jacksonville's signal-callers for the entirety of next season, much less the next few years.
So with the 16th overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, GM Gene Smith should have a good look at what TCU's proficient quarterback Andy Dalton brings to the table.
Although this may be a bit of a stretch with the 16th pick, Dalton would bring young confidence to a lagging offensive unit void of any reputable leadership. And let's not forget what he's done in college, either.
Dalton knows how to win, and has proved himself to be one of the top quarterback in the nation over the past three seasons.
If you can identify any negative in selecting Dalton with the 16th selection, I'd love to hear it.
Confidence rating: 15%
Once an afterthought amongst NFL Draft experts, Corey Liuget has made significant strides in improving his draft stock over the past few months, mostly due to his splendid Combine workouts in which he posted a 4.97 40-yard dash and 27 bench reps.
For the Jaguars, who are in serious need of an imposing force up-front like Liuget, now could be the time to turn things around on a dime defensively heading into next season.
In his junior season with the Fighting Illini, Liuget managed five sacks and 63 total tackles against some of the most physical offensive lines the Big Ten has to offer. Couple that with the fact that both Aaron Kampman and a vastly improved Jeremey Mincey off the edge, and the Jaguars could boast one of the top front-seven's the league has to offer in 2011.
Confidence rating: 25%
As you can clearly see, the Jaguars are in desperate need of talent at the play-making positions on offense.
Look around. Mike Sims-Walker and Marcedes Lewis make up practically the entire passing game for the Jaguars, and to be quite frank, that won't be enough to play with Peyton Manning -- even for the next few seasons.
Jacksonville comes into the draft with the goal of improving their defense, but they could certainly use a talent such as Jones downfield to help Trent Edwards (or whoever is calling the shots for the Jaguars offense).
It shouldn't surprise you to find out that Jacksonville has traded up for Jones' services on draft day.
Confidence rating: 5%
If the Jaguars plan to receive any production out of their slew of quarterbacks next season (and the future, for that matter), they'll need to upgrade in the trenches -- starting with offensive guard.
Last season, Jacksonville ranked 20th in the league in sacks allowed (38), but gave up 111 quarterback hits -- enough to be worst in the entire league. Can solidarity be attained up front before quarterback Trent Edwards becomes a walking bruise?
To start things off on a positive note, GM Gene Smith should take an extensive look at Florida's unyielding offensive guard Mike Pouncey to bolster an aging offensive line for future success.
Pouncey has proved to be one of the most consistent protectors on Urban Meyers' offensive line for the better part of four seasons, and at 6'5'' 303 pound, he'll do the same for Jack Del Rio as the replacement for Vince Manuwai, 30, up front.
Confidence rating: 15%
Another prospect that has seen his draft stock fall for the better part of two months, Akeem Ayers still remains one of the most complete outside linebackers headlining this year's draft.
What he lacks in Combine workouts, he makes up for in pure production on the field. And if the Jaguars are serious about getting to Peyton Manning, then they must be willing to take a player with Ayers' capabilities.
In fact, Ayers managed four sacks and two interceptions in his junior season with the Bruins to go with 68 total tackles.
With the knack for sniffing out the big play on a consistent basis, above-average tackling abilities and speed that's second to none off the edge, it's hard to imagine Jacksonville passing up on a player like Ayers.
Confidence rating: 20%
A draft chock-full of defensive play-makers is exactly what the Jaguars could have hoped for. And with the 16th overall selection, they could go in many different directions in order to upgrade in the trenches.
However, with the league's least fundamentally-sound pass defense by far and away, Jacksonville may want to upgrade off the edge before they take a chance on a hit-or-miss defensive end.
Insert Jimmy Smith.
Rated as the third-best cornerback in this year's draft, Smith has all the physical tools to make a serious difference for any needy NFL team. Still, the Jaguars are the most needy, and would be wise to pull the trigger on Smith's 6'2'', 211-pound frame.
Likewise, Smith would bring leadership and unquestioned talent to a Jaguars secondary that forced just 13 interceptions a season ago.
Confidence rating: 60%