The Jacksonville Jaguars were supposed to be ready for the next step in 2016. Blake Bortles was coming off of a huge sophomore campaign, Chris Ivory was brought in to give the offense balance with a stable running game and Gus Bradley’s defense was about as stacked as any unit in the league.
Instead of surpassing or even coming close to meeting expectations, the Jags fell on their faces with an ugly 0-3 start and save for a two-game winning streak to temporarily stop the bleeding, Jacksonville never really recovered.
When the dust had settled, Blake Bortles visibly regressed with poor mechanics and a litany of turnovers, while Gus Bradley lost his job. Not making sure Bortles and the offense took their game up another level was certainly part of the reason why, but Bradley’s defense also didn’t produce elite numbers and the most important aspect – wins – never arrived.
Jacksonville’s talented defense finished 25th in points allowed per game, 19th against the run and just 19th in sacks. That all led to some big changes, as the Jags brought in Barry Church to upgrade over the departing Jonathan Cyprien at safety, signed former Texans star cornerback A.J. Bouye to shore up their pass defense and also lured stud defensive end Calais Campbell away from the Cardinals to hopefully boost their pass rush and run defense.
The good news is the Jags are almost where they need to be defensively. They still were an elite unit overall against the pass, they still did a solid job against the run and the talent remains for the pass rush to churn out impressive numbers.
The Jaguars could still give themselves a serious boost with a few key offensive pieces, however, while adding fresh legs at linebacker (Paul Posluszny will be 33 in October) and beefing up their pass rush in general should be priorities. Jacksonville also could stand to improve a lot offensively, where options at quarterback, running back, tight end and every spot on the offensive line need to be seriously considered.
This all brings us to our full 7-round Jaguars mock draft, where we’ll sort through the available players at each spot and dictate how the Jags should handle business when they make their picks later this month:
Round 1 (Pick 4) – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The Jags are a toss-up at the four spot and it would not be overly shocking to see them trade down. A nice defensive piece like Jonathan Allen could make a lot of sense, but why get cute when this is still a team that struggles offensively and does not have an elite running back on their roster?
Fournette is an explosive, bruising force that can carry a full load and excel at a high level.
More importantly, he’s a special talent with that rare blend of size, speed and physicality. Chris Ivory is aging and injury-prone and T.J. Yeldon looks like a bust. It’s high time the Jags bailed out a struggling offensive line with a rusher who can get his own yardage and make them look good when they do make the right blocks.
Round 2 (Pick 35) – Taylor Moton, OG, Western Michigan
Speaking of that troublesome o-line, the Jaguars continue to have serious issues – specifically at guard. It’s so bad that the Jags let former draft bust Luke Joeckel leave for Seattle. They did address the interior of the offensive line by bringing back Patrick Omameh and landing Earl Watford, but another body that can provide an upgrade on either side would be ideal.
There should be a few quality guards ripe for the plucking in round two and Western Michigan’s Moton certainly is one of them. Moton has the ideal size, frame and and strength to provide the push at either guard spot, while he also has versatility, having played both guard and tackle in college.
This is a big, strong and experienced guard prospect that has the size and movement to project as a very strong starter. At the very worst, he provides depth and versatility right away for a line that desperately needs it.
Round 3 (Pick 68) – Duke Riley, LB, LSU
As we touched on, Puz is aging and eventually will hit a wall. He actually graded out more than fine in 2016, but it won’t be long before he’s a serious liability in coverage and the Jags will need someone to replace him. They could start preparing for that day with Riley, who flashed NFL speed and athleticism at the combine.
Riley’s game tape doesn’t exactly reveal such evidence, while he may not have the ideal size or length most GMs will covet. Still, Riley played at a high level against stiff competition and may have enough upside to warrant a selection in round three.
Round 4 (Pick 110) – Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
At some point the Jaguars will be making a long-term decision on Blake Bortles and if they decide to go away from him, they won’t want Chad Henne as their only viable option. Whether it’s to back Bortles up or replace him down the road, someone like Kaaya will be worth taking nearing round four.
Kaaya doesn’t flash amazing upside, but he’s a safe, calculated option in the middle of the draft.
Perhaps that’s exactly what the Jags will eventually need under center, especially with their upgrades at running back and the o-line already in this draft.
Round 5 (Pick 148) – Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
The Jags traded away athletic tight end Julius Thomas, effectively admitting to a failed signing two years prior. It also opened the door to former starter Marcedes Lewis and recently signed Mychal Rivera to carve out key roles in the offense. That, or it paved the way for Jacksonville to simply replace Thomas with another athletic tight end that can’t block in this year’s draft.
That could have the Jaguars targeting a high upside tight end prospect earlier than round five, but considering they do have two capable bodies on their roster, I doubt that happens. Instead, they’ll be eyeing a value prospect like Hodges, who has tantalizing size, speed and overall athleticism for the position. Lanky and raw, Hodges has a ways to go before he makes a consistent impact at the next level, but also has star potential and will right away be a factor in the red-zone if called upon.
Round 6 (Pick 187) – Shaquill Griffin, CB, UCF
Jacksonville could go homegrown in a few spots this year and defensive back may be one of them if UCF prospect Shaquill Griffin is still hanging around by round six. Corner isn’t a huge need after signing Bouye and drafted Jalen Ramsey last season, but rounding the secondary out with some solid depth could be a wise move.
Griffin will surely slide due to shaky instincts and consistency, but the size and speed combo is to die for. There is still work to be done for a rough around the edges prospect, but Griffin can run and he knows how to make plays on the ball. The Jaguars can work with that as they round out a vastly improved secondary.
Round 7 (Pick 222) – Jerry Ugokwe, OT, William & Mary
Jacksonville could continue to beef up their offensive line late in the draft, as landing an immediate upgrade isn’t essential, but bringing in some viable depth probably is. Ugokwe is just one of the many potential candidates at this point in round seven, but there’s no denying the physical attributes – great size and length.
Ugokwe will slide due to a lack of experience and a natural project mentality, while he also didn’t face elite competition on a regular basis. He has tantalizing upside, however, and could be a fun gem to mold for a team that certainly wouldn’t mind some good fortune on their offensive line.
Round 7 (Pick 240) – Ben Boulware, LB, Clemson
Capping the 2017 NFL Draft with a hearty linebacker may not be a bad play for the Jaguars, who look to be set just about everywhere else at this point in the draft. Boulware could be the perfect steal in round seven, too, as he brings terrific leadership, a high football IQ and tremendous passion to the table.
There are steep athletic limitations here and Boulware may be nothing more than a special teams ace long-term, but there is potential for Boulware to develop if the Jags can mask his lack of size or speed.
Overall, the Jaguars need to land a few impact players and just keep truckin’ on. This is not a team without talent, and with Tom Coughlin now calling the shots in the front office, it’s fair to assume the Jaguars will be going in the right direction from a personnel perspective.
A lot of what happens beyond the draft hangs on the continued development of Blake Bortles, and without a big leap from him, this team naturally won’t be going very far. The top Super Bowl betting sites like Bovada currently don’t have high hopes for the Jaguars, who at the moment carry just +10000 odds to win it all in 2017.
Even Bortles turning things around, Jacksonville getting Fournette and the defense improving across the board probably doesn’t make Jacksonville a legit title threat just yet, but all of that happening would surely get this franchise on the right track.
Worst case, the Jags finally realize Bortles isn’t the guy, someone like Kaaya learns enough to take over in 2018 and a well built defense combines with the addition of Fournette to stabilize this team for a playoff run two years from now.
Got your own thoughts on how the 2017 NFL Draft could shake out for the Jacksonville Jaguars? Tell us your take in the comments below!
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