Jaguars Stuck in No Man's Land

As most Jacksonville Jaguars fans are aware of, their team is slated to make the 26th overall selection in this month's NFL draft. The good news about drafting that late in the first-round is that it usually means the team had a pretty successful season, and the outlook is usually very positive entering the following year.

That is certainly the case for the Jacksonville Jaguars as they peaked toward the end of the 2007 season, and are a chic pick by many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, or at least be a strong contender. Following an offseason in which they bolstered their offense, added a few pieces to their defense, and secured the backbone of their franchise by signing not only head coach Jack Del Rio to a five-year contract extension, but also starting quarterback David Garrard to an extension that could take him into his late 30's as a member of the franchise, the Jaguars proverbial arrow seems to pointing straight up.

Regarding their 26th overall selection, it doesn't appear as if player value will meet team needs, at least in round one. The Jaguars most desperate team need is at defensive end, in the form of a pass rusher. The team could possibly trade for a player such as the Dolphins Jason Taylor, but that will be only a band-aid, as Taylor will soon be 34 years of age. That band-aid could cost the team as much as a second-round pick, and the long-term solution for the problem will still not be addressed.

With defensive end Paul Spicer about to turn 33 years old prior to the start of the regular season, and fellow bookend Reggie Hayward being a major question mark due to his ruptured Achilles tendon (back in 2006), the Jaguars must get younger and more talented at the defensive end position to avoid a similar playoff fate that occurred just three months ago, when Tom Brady threw more touchdown passes than incompletions, while his uniform didn't need laundry service after the Patriots 31-20 divisional playoff victory in Foxboro.

Everyone knows that the draft is the best way to get young, cheap talent, but the problem for the Jaguars is that there will likely be no impact defensive ends available when it's their turn to run the draft card up to the podium. The three major impact ends, Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, and Derrick Harvey will all be long gone, and probably the next best player, Phillip Merling, will likely be history as well. That leaves two other ends, Calais Campbell and Quentin Groves who may or may not be available at pick #26, and even if they are, Campbell has some possible motivational issues following a poor workout and is dropping, and Groves is undersized, and appears to be a better fit for a 3-4 scheme, one in which the Jaguars do not currently employ. I asked NFL draft expert Chris Steuber about the situation--

"The Jaguars won't have an opportunity to select Chris Long, Vernon Gholston or Derrick Harvey, as they will be gone within the top-15 picks. But they could try to move up in the No. 17 – 25 range and target Phillip Merling or Quentin Groves. Although, if they stay at No. 26, Miami's Calais Campbell should be available and would give the Jaguars a young, enticing DE with a lot of upside."

So what's a team to do? Normally, the best philosophy is to select the best player available (BPA), but the BPA will either likely not match the team need at all, and they could still end up reaching for a player whose value may be worthy on the Jacksonville draft board, but is not in line with the overall selection (leaguewide), and thus cost the team some value. I asked NFL draft expert Chris Steuber about his philosophy–

"It all depends on who's on the board at the time when you make your selection. For instance, if you need a defensive end, and the fifth ranked defensive end on your board is the best player available, you may want to reevaluate your first round strategy. I believe in drafting the best prospect available, especially when you're drafting late in the first round. If a player who's projected to be a top-15 pick falls in your lap, you have to take that as a gift and select that player, regardless of the position he plays. You can worry about need later in the draft and identify players who fit your system."

If the draft plays out the way many believe it will, the Jaguars will have to make a move, either up or down. With their extra selections that they've gathered from the Marcus Stroud trade to Buffalo (#71 and #143 overall), Jacksonville could make a play to move higher in the draft to possibly acquire a Phillip Merling, assuming he falls. The Jaguars have the ammo to get up to the 16th or 17th selection if they were to package their extra picks, but with the Minnesota Vikings also in need of a defensive end and currently holding the 17th overall selection, a move may not be possible.

"It's something we'll definitely be looking for, but not to the point where we overvalue the position," said James "Shack" Harris, the Jaguars' vice president of player personnel.

Assuming that Jacksonville cannot move up to acquire one of the guys that are sitting high on their board, the only other possibility if value doesn't fit at pick #26 is to move down. The most likely trading partner would be the Atlanta Falcons, who are led by former Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith. If the draft were a game of monopoly, the Falcons would be considered to have Boardwalk and Park Place, as they have four selections out of the first 48. If Atlanta opts against selecting Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan with their third-overall pick, they could easily segue one or more of their three second-round picks to get back into the late first-round where the University of Delaware's Joe Flacco should be a good fit.

The way the draft appears to be shaking out, the Jaguars 26th overall selection should be worth more to another team than it will Jacksonville. It's more than likely that the Jaguars will end up moving either up or down, or at the very least exhaust every possibility attempting to get a deal done.

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