Jaguars hope to trade down in NFL draft
When asked what Jacksonville's top need is heading into the NFL draft, general manager Gene Smith was quick to respond.
"Talent," he said.
No doubt, the Jaguars are lacking it on both sides of the ball.
That makes this week's three-day draft, which begins Thursday night, pivotal for a rebuilding franchise that has missed the playoffs 10 of the last 12 years. The Jaguars have the seventh pick in the first round, their fifth consecutive year with a top-10 selection.
What they do with it is anyone's guess.
The Jaguars, though, have made it clear they would like to trade down from No. 7 and acquire extra picks. They have been fielding calls for weeks about potential swaps, but no deal will be made until draft night.
"We've already received more phone calls this year than any other year," player personnel director Terry McDonough said. "There's some jockeying going on."
If the Jaguars stay put, expect them to select a pass rusher or a receiver.
Although Jacksonville re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey in free agency, the team did nothing else to upgrade a D-line that has some glaring holes.
Defensive end Aaron Kampman has missed 15 games over the last two seasons because of knee injuries, a bad sign for a 32-year-old player. Defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith, a third-round pick in 2010, hasn't played a down in two years. Tyson Alualu, John Chick and Austen Lane also are coming off injuries.
Then there's defensive end Terrance Knighton, who will miss the majority of the offseason following unplanned eye surgery. Knighton, who has battled weight issues throughout his career, was struck in the face during a bar fight earlier this month. It's unclear if the 340-pounder will make a full recovery and how effective he would be after missing so much time.
"Our hope is that Terrance has a complete recovery, but there is a little uncertainty at this point," Smith said.
The Jaguars could draft South Carolina's Melvin Ingram or Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox to help bolster the D-line. Ingram is considered the best edge rusher in the draft, and Cox is considered the top tackle.
Smith believes the draft is the deepest at defensive tackle, so selecting one in the first round might not be as big a priority as other positions.
Jacksonville's biggest need after last season was receiver, someone who can help young quarterback Blaine Gabbert develop quickly.
The Jaguars had arguably the worst receiving corps in the league, with slot receiver Mike Thomas masquerading as a No. 1 guy. Thomas led the team with 44 catches for 415 yards. Fellow starter Jason Hill was released in November, and rookie Cecil Shorts, a fourth-round pick expected to contribute right away, had just to catches.
"Obviously we need to upgrade," Smith said. "I think that is one area we determined in our postseason roster evaluation, but it wouldn't force us into doing something that wouldn't be good for the organization."
Jacksonville signed Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans in free agency. Robinson and Evans looked sharp in the team's orientation camp last week. Robinson still has to prove he's more than a one-year wonder after catching 53 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 31-year-old Evans has to prove he hasn't lost a step since his numbers have decreased each of the last three seasons.
Even with those additions, the Jaguars are looking to upgrade the receiving corps. Jacksonville hasn't had a legitimate No. 1 receiver since Jimmy Smith retired following the 2005 season.
Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, considered the No. 1 receiver in the draft, probably would need to slip for Jacksonville to land him at No. 7. Other possibilities include Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.
Cornerback is another potential draft spot for Jacksonville. The team re-signed veteran starter Rashean Mathis and added former New York Giants starter Aaron Ross. They are expected to compete for the starting job in training camp, unless the Jaguars add someone early in the draft.
Despite all the speculation about who the Jaguars should take, Smith would prefer to trade down and acquire more picks - and more talent.
"It's a good draft to trade back," he said. "There are some players clearly in rounds 2 through 5 that could help us. Again, I'm probably a little selfish on draft picks because you put all that work in and you would like to have more draft picks. But I'm not going to move for the sake of moving unless it makes sense. I'm not about being cute, probably more about executing based on our plan going in."
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