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One Year Rebuild: Jacksonville Jaguars

Alas, after a battle of who is worse between the Jets and Jaguars, the Jaguars have come out on top despite a valiant effort from the Jets. The Jaguars pedigree of losing has landed them the first overall pick and the chance to select Trevor Lawrence. More importantly this means the return of my One Year Rebuild articles, a series of pieces I do where I break down my version of the ideal offseason for the league’s worst teams. 

For this series I give my opinion on what a team should do in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, as well as a plan for free agency and sometimes I offer transactions or trades that would be beneficial to the team. 

Disclaimer: The One Year Rebuild isn’t meant to give your team the Super Bowl right away, most rebuilds don’t end that way if we are being honest, all that I am trying to do is give my path for success to franchises that desperately need one.  

Background: The Jaguars have gotten rid of their GM and hopefully Head Coach Doug Marrone is up next. The team does have five draft picks within the first three rounds and upwards of $70 million in cap space this offseason. With a franchise remodel coming in the form of a new head coach, general manager and franchise quarterback the future is unknown, yet bright in Jacksonville. 

NFL Draft First Round Draft and Help Trevor:

Trevor Lawrence is one of college football’s greatest stars and a future franchise quarterback, but the Jaguars have to figure out how to build around the former national champion. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Jaguars have the first overall pick in this year’s draft and will be selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence because…. duh. 

Jacksonville also has the Rams first round pick that could climb into the teens or go deeper into the twenties depending on how the last week of the regular season ends, but right now it sits at the 21st slot and this is the perfect place to grab one of the premier tackles in this year’s draft. Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell sits on a tier by himself in this class, but the next tier of tackles, the foursome of Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrishaw, Texas’ Sam Cosmi, Rashawn Slater of Northwestern and Liam Eichenberg of Notre Dame all project to be first-round picks and productive starters at the next level. Any of these players would be great selections for the new general manager in Jacksonville. Getting protection for Lawrence is a must and getting a tackle in the first round is a good way of ensuring his protection.

If there is a run on tackles early in the draft, grabbing the best pass catcher on the board is worthwhile, especially if somebody falls further than expected. I have seen some mocks where Kyle Pitts or Jaylen Waddle falls to the Jags and if the tackles are gone and one of those players are sitting on the board then that selection makes a lot of sense. 

NFL Draft Second Round A pick for both sides:

Elijah Moore was one of the best receivers in college football and may be just as dynamic at the next level. (Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics)

For the second consecutive round the Jaguars have two picks and one way or the other I’d like to see the team address both sides of the ball.  If I were running the draft I would use the earlier of the picks, which is currently slotted at no. 33 to further support Lawrence, whether that be a dynamic receiver like Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore or LSU’s Terrace Marshall Jr. Even landing a tackle like North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz if he’s available or Jalen Mayfield of Michigan would be great picks if the team really wants to double down on Lawrence’s protection on the outside. 

For the latter of their second round picks a defensive player is completely necessary, the Jaguars can’t just ignore a defense that is giving up more than 30 points per game this season. Using last year’s first round pick, K’Lavon Chaisson as a 4-3 edge rusher, when he is clearly a 3-4 is a waste. I expect Jacksonville to go to a 3-4 look to get the best out of him and Josh Allen as a potentially fierce duo that can pester opposing QBs. Adding a defensive tackle with the athletic upside to be productive in the new 3-4 scheme, like Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Twyman or Alabama’s Christian Barmore, all of whom have elite traits and upside can be extremely beneficial to a team changing schemes and expecting to show patience in their rebuild.

This is a Jaguars team with a lot of holes, so adding secondary help isn’t a bad option either, whether that be a corner like Deion Kendrick from Clemson or a selection for either safety spot makes sense. Secondary upgrades are needed in Jacksonville and the Jaguars are lucky enough to have capital in a deep secondary draft. 

NFL Draft Round Three Address the Secondary Again-

Syracuse safety Andre Cisco is one of the NCAA’s best ballhawks and should be a turnover machine in the NFL as well. (Photo by Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Even if Jacksonville addresses the secondary in the second round they should do it again. The last regime left the back of the defense depleted once it traded Ronnie Harrison to Cleveland and it showed all season long, as a receiver going up against the Jacksonville secondary may have been the safest daily fantasy play in the entire league, maybe next to anybody going up against the Jets. This may seem like I’m saying go for a corner, but I want to give C.J. Henderson more time and expecting to fix a corner group that is young and inexperienced by rolling the dice on another corner doesn’t seem like the smart thing to do, which is why I say invest in the safety spot.

The safety group in this year’s draft has been hampered by injuries with potential first round talents like Hamsah Nasirildeen from Florida State, Andre Cisco from Syracuse and Richard LeCounte III from Georgia all falling victim to the injury bug. They all offer different skill sets and I’d expect one of the three to be available in this spot. 

Cisco is one of the NCAA’s best center-fielders in recent memory, grabbing 13 interceptions in 24 career games, but injury issues have plagued him in his time in New York. LeCounte may be my favorite fit for Jacksonville, he’s usable in single-high looks or cover 2, is willing to come up and hit, while playing with good intelligence. He’s also a known leader and a potential culture setter for a defense that will be in need of an identity. Nasirildeen barely got to touch the field in his last season as a Seminole, but he’s great close to the line of scrimmage and knows how to create turnovers, in all honesty he has a lot of similarities to Seattle Seahawks great Kam Chancellor. 

Free Agency: 

Even into his thirty’s Trent Williams has been a consistent star and is the offensive line anchor the Jaguars need. (Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

The most surprising piece of the Jaguars roster may be the effectiveness of the interior offensive line. Guards Andrew Norwell and A.J. Cann, center Branden Linder,  along with backup center/guard Tyler Shatley have been effective and all four grade in the top-25 of their position this season, according to Pro Football Focus. Linder is the standout of this unit, grading as the third best center in the entire NFL. 

Only Shatley is scheduled to be a free agent and should be the first priority of business for the Jaguars. Shatley can likely be brought back for a cheap contract to back up Norwell, Cann and Linder. Also, don’t be shocked if you hear rumors surrounding Linder’s release. At 28 years-old Linder has only played 15 or more games twice in his six year career and the Jaguars can save $9 million by releasing the veteran this offseason, however he is still elite for his position and considering the Jaguars currently have the most cap room in football and have Lawrence coming in, keeping Linder is a luxury the Jaguars can afford and is still beneficial for them. 

If the team grabs an offensive lineman in the first round I wouldn’t blame Jacksonville for being comfortable with their offensive line going into the season, but grabbing a veteran mentor for their first-round tackle has a lot of advantages. Trent Williams and Russell Okung are both veterans who have had productive seasons. Let me rephrase, Okung has had a very good season in Carolina and has proven he can still be a more than reliable tackle, while Williams looks like a rejuvenated player after departing Washington for San Francisco. Williams has been everything the team can ask for and more and may be named an all-pro at the end of the season. 

Williams may get a lot of money on a short-term deal and with so many offensive contributors like Lawrence, James Robinson and D.J. Chark on rookie deals they are in perfect position to take on that financial burden, but if they can’t land Williams, Okung would be a more than fine option. Either way the addition of one of these tackles, plus a first-round pick and an already competent interior would give the Jaguars a complete and reliable offensive line. 

With Keelan Cole hitting free agency the Jaguars will need a third receiver and shouldn’t be opposed to bringing back Cole or adding in the draft, why not do both as a matter of fact. My ideal addition would be Green Bay’s Allen Lazard, but he will likely be back with the Packers, so I turn my attention to Cleveland’s Rashard Higgins, who has a decent frame at 6-foot-1 nearly 200 pounds and has shown a good catch radius grabbing throws from Baker Mayfield. He might be more of a depth receiver, but Higgins has had a catch percentage above 70% twice in his four year career, meaning he produces at an efficient rate. No longer being stuck behind both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. could allow Higgins to shine in Jacksonville. 

Even if they add Higgins the Jaguars need to decide if they are fine with Tyler Eifert and James O’Shaughnessy being their tight end duo. I personally like the two, but Eifert’s injury history is bound to catch up with him and adding a younger more durable tight end will be beneficial. Gerald Everett is my top option to catch balls from Lawrence out of the tight end slot. He’s not the biggest name on the market, but he has consistently been one of the league’s best backups and more than sufficient when needed to start, being given a chance to show his talent and getting an upgrade at quarterback may be enough to sell Everett on joining the Jags. If they do want to splash on a tight end Jonnu Smith is extremely well rounded and has been key for Ryan Tannehill’s step forward in Tennessee. The Titans will have to pay Derrick Henry this offseason and there is only so much money to go around. Chargers star Hunter Henry may be the biggest name on the market, but Smith and Everett will be the best bang for their buck in this free agency class. 

As I said before giving up on C.J. Henderson after one year of inconsistency is ludicrous, he has flashes of great play and has talent that is still worth exploring, but the team does need to add a corner opposite of him. The ideal fit is William Jackson III from the Cincinnati Bengals who is one of the league’s most underrated corners. The former first round pick doesn’t have flashy turnover numbers, but is one of the few standouts on a struggling Bengals defense. Cincinnati is expected to make an effort to keep Jackson in town, but if he hits the market the Jaguars financial might should be felt in this situation. A safety option if they can’t sign Jackson is San Francisco’s  Jason Verrett. After years of struggling with injuries Verrett finally broke out under Robert Saleh’s tutelage this year. The former Chargers first rounder would be a gamble, but doing so on another one year deal or a two year deal with only one guaranteed is a calculated risk that fans would be in favor of. 

My last investment would be another defensive lineman to fit the new 3-4 scheme. I am a big fan of DaVon Hamilton and would let him develop alongside whichever defensive end/tackle the team drafts in the second round. But, the perfect fit in free agency may come from the NFC East and the New York Giants. Both Dalvin Tomlinson and Leonard Williams are hitting free agency and the Giants likely can’t retain both. Williams, who has experienced a career renaissance with the team has always been talented, but his true abilities have finally been unlocked this year and his price tag may be too big for the Giants. Williams has 8.5 sacks this season and Jacksonville could use his pass rush prowess to go along with Allen and Chaisson on the outside. That trio has the upside to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and could give relief to a developing secondary. Williams may be the most important signing for the Jaguars, even if risky because he has the upside to be a leader and difference maker on a transitioning defense. 

If the Jaguars follow the hypothetical blueprint I laid out for their next general manager they won’t be an overnight Super Bowl contender, but it won’t be too long before they are competing with the Titans and the Colts for the division title. 

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