Cursed First?

With the ___ selection in the first round, the Jacksonville Jaguars select…. Don't do it, trade back! Please, no! That's what many Jaguars fans must be thinking in the backs of their mind, and if you don't quite think that way now, maybe you should. The Jaguars have seemed to have some kind of hex around their first round picks in the Del Rio/Harris era.

When the Jaguars take the field on opening day to play the Tennessee Titans, it is extremely possible that the team will have none of their first round picks over the five years starting for them. They would be the only team in the NFL to be in such a predicament on opening day.

Is it bad luck? Is it bad drafting? Is the front office completely inept? Perhaps all three? Lets look back at the last five players selected in the first round by the Jaguars. Byron Leftwich (2003)- released on Saturday; Reggie Williams (2004)- has yet to live up to his draft status, and there was some talk about his release earlier in camp; Matt   Jones (2005)- certainly not the player that the team thought they were getting; Marcedes Lewis (2006)- hasn't proven anything yet, and no one is certain whether he can be productive; Reggie Nelson (2007)- may not start in the opener due to a bad ankle.

Obviously, it's way too early to make any kind of judgments on Reggie Nelson especially, but with his preseason injury, it seems like there is a dark cloud over the collective heads of the Jaguars first round picks. Not only have the Jaguars first round picks been disappointments up to this point in their respective careers, they have all had to deal with some kind of injuries. Leftwich's chronic ankle forced him to miss 15 of the Jaguars last 21 regular season games before his release, and he never played a full 16 game season. Reggie Williams missed some time in 2005 with a concussion. Matt Jones has been battling chronic hamstring and ankle injuries, and Marcedes Lewis rookie year was hijacked thanks to a high ankle sprain in the very first preseason game. Since no one gets injured on purpose, this phenomenon has to be chalked up to bad luck.

To answer the questions of bad drafting, hindsight certainly tells us that the front office made the wrong choices. Drafting in hindsight is easy, so easy that there isn't an NFL position called hindsight drafting expert (I‘ve called the league office to apply). That being said, it would seem reasonable that the Jaguars would have at the very least hit on one of their first round picks, and it's possible that they might, because it's probably too soon to write off the last two guys taken (Lewis and Nelson). If we take a look back to 2003, the Jaguars were either going to take quarterback Byron Leftwich or defensive end Terrell Suggs. We know how that turned out, but imagine the pass rush with a guy like Suggs, added to Stroud and Henderson. In 2004, the Jaguars really rolled the dice and reached on Reggie Williams, who many had as a late first round pick. Defensive tackle/end Tommie Harris was available, and so was cornerback Dunta Robinson, as well as wide receiver Lee Evans. If either of those guys were picked, the Jaguars would've been able to save cap room on pricey free agent acquisitions to cover the positions of cornerback, defensive end, and wide receiver. Other options for the team in 2005 (instead of Matt Jones) would have been tight end Heath Miller, or guard Logan Mankins, or even quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers or Jason Campbell. In 2006, instead of Marcedes Lewis, the Jaguars could've selected linebacker DeMeco Ryans, or offensive tackle Winston Justice, who either would have likely been more productive for the team.

So does that mean that the Jaguars front office and talent evaluators are completely inept? Not when you look at what they've done in round two. In 2003, the team drafted first team All-Pro cornerback Rashean Mathis. In 2004, the Jaguars had two second round picks, and used them on linebacker Daryl Smith and Greg Jones respectively, both of whom are starters. In 2005, they found their starting left tackle in Khalif Barnes in round two. 2006 was one of the best picks, as Harris, Del Rio, and company snatched up running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who I understand has already been inducted in the "fantasy hall of fame." It seems as if 2007's second round pick, linebacker Justin Durant has his work cut out for him if he's going to be another in the list of second round hits.

So it appears as if they use a faulty "Magic 8-ball" in round one, and do their homework in rounds two and beyond. Is it just a coincidental anomaly? Do they follow a different procedure in round one than they do in all of the other rounds? Without being in the Jaguars war room we'll never actually know for sure, but we do know that first round picks get the most money, and take up a significant part of the salary cap. If the front office continues to miss on these selections, and the team doesn't qualify for the playoffs, perhaps an entirely new group of decision makers will be making the decisions in future drafts.


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