Options for Jacksonville at No. 3

Story posted March 19, 2014 in CommRadio, NFL Draft by Kris Rogers

The National Football League is one of the most unpredictable sporting organizations in the world. On “any given Sunday”, a shocking upset can happen. Every once and a while, a team will have a down year due to injuries, poor play, and bad coaching decisions. However, one bad season can spiral into a multi-year rebuilding process if a team’s front office does not address the problem in the proper way.

Coming off a 4-12 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars have missed the playoffs and have finished under .500 for the past six seasons since losing to the New England Patriots in the 2007 AFC Divisional round. After that 11-5 season, the Jaguars seemed poised to make the next step to Super Bowl contender. However one bad draft class after another returned the Jaguars to the basement of the AFC South.

Promoted to General Manager in 2009, Gene Smith spent four years in Jacksonville as one of the most unpopular executives in the NFL for his poor draft decision and mishandling of free agency before being replaced going into the 2013 season.

In the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Jaguars traded up six spots to number 10 overall to select Mizzou quarterback, Blaine Gabbert who was considered by many to be a developmental quarterback. He entered training camp as the third-string quarterback, but was moved into a backup role when it was announced fan-favorite David Garrard was released and Luke McCown would be the starter just a week before the regular season began. Two weeks later, McCown was benched mid-game and Gabbert was thrust into the starting lineup.

The NFL was not kind to Gabbert in his rookie campaign. In 15 games, his 50.8% completion percentage was the second-worst in the NFL behind Tim Tebow and had the worst yards-per-completion rate in the NFL at 5.4 yards. He also had a league-high 14 fumbles by a quarterback.

His second year was not much kinder to the former Missouri Tiger. In the middle of another struggling season, Gabbert tore his labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in a week 10 matchup against the Oakland Raiders and missed the rest of the season. His issues with turnovers also continued, throwing six INTs and fumbling five times.

Gabbert would come back for 2013, but only play in three games and continuing to struggle.
In 28 games over 3 seasons, Gabbert has completed 414 passes for 4,357 yards at a 53.3% completion percentage, 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, while also losing 20 fumbles. Gabbert was traded this offseason to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick in this years draft.

In the 2012 draft, the Jaguars would trade up once again, moving two spots to fifth overall to draft Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon. In his rookie season, Blackmon showed glimpses of dominance, but was largely inconsistent. He would finish with 64 catches for 865 yards and five touchdowns, with a large chunk of those totals coming in a seven-catch, 235 yard game against the Houston Texans.

However, much of that optimism surrounding the receiver was lost in 2013. While rehabbing offseason groin surgery, Blackmon was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The Jaguars receiver would play in 4 games in 2013 before receiving an indefinite suspension for a second substance abuse violation.

Blackmon finished 2013 with 29 catches for 415 yards and one touchdown. He is eligible for reinstatement for the 2014 season, but it is not yet known if the Jaguars will release him.

Other notable first round choices of the Jaguars haven’t struggled quite as much as Gabbert and Blackmon, but haven’t been anything to brag about. Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe each had decent careers playing for the Jaguars, but nothing worthy of a top-ten draft pick.

Smith also drafted punter Bryan Anger in the third round (highest punter drafted since 1990) with Nick Foles and Russell Wilson still on the board because, “he would rather draft a starter than a backup,” showing what a poor job Smith had done as a talent scout.

Not only was Smith bad at scouting college talent, but he struggled making economically smart decisions, giving inflated contracts to free agents at their peaks. Most notably was in 2012 when the team signed veteran wide receiver Laurent Robinson to a five-year $32.5 million contact. The Illinois State receiver couldn’t come close to matching his 11-touchdown 2011 season and only played seven games for the team after suffering four concussions in one season.

Smith’s free agency strategy was always a step behind the rest of the league. Instead of buying low and signing Robinson off the waiver wire after being released earlier in his career, he waited until his stock was at its highest.

Last season brought about new management in David Caldwell, and while the team struggled with a 4-12 record in 2013, there is a feeling of optimism moving forward among the Jaguars fan base. With the third-overall draft pick this year, the Jacksonville Jaguars have several options and are poised to learn from past mistakes to improve their team and get back into the playoff hunt.

1. Jadeveon Clowney – DE, South Carolina
The powerful defensive end would fit well into the Jaguars 3-4 hybrid defensive scheme. The scheme relies on fast pass rushers coming off the edge, which Clowney made a name for himself doing that as a bull-rushing end in South Carolina. Developing a defense that can pressure opposing quarterbacks is paramount when facing Andrew Luck and the rest of the AFC South twice a year.

2. Sammy Watkins – WR, Clemson
With the future surrounding Justin Blackmon uncertain, the Jaguars could use an explosive receiver in the passing game. Watkins’ presence would immediately upgrade the receiving corps featuring Cecil Shorts III and Ace Sanders. He also had great amounts of success catching screen passes, which can work as an extension of the run-game with running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s future free agency looming. Having a sure-handed target like Watkins would help an otherwise lacking offense pick up first-downs and keep their defense from getting winded.

3. Teddy Bridgewater – QB, Louisville
The Jaguars resigned backup Chad Henne to a two-year deal. While this may not be the most monumental signing, it gives the Jaguars someone to fall back on if their rookie quarterback is not ready to start opening week. Henne can “bridge” the gap, so to speak if he isn’t ready right away.
The former Louisville QB played in a pro-style offense and can make throws at various distances downfield with excellent accuracy, which was lacking in previous Jaguars quarerbacks. His quick release and mobility should make him an ideal quarterback for Jacksonville.

At the start of free agency, the Jaguars signed Vikings running back Toby Gerhardt to a three-year, $10.5 million contract with $4.5 million guaranteed. The 26-year-old Stanford graduate will likely become the feature back in the Jaguars offense if Maurice Jones-Drew cannot be resigned.

Jacksonville also signed Broncos guard Zane Beadles to secure the interior of their offensive line, which struggled in both run and pass blocking last season. Beadles and the Jaguars agreed to a five-year, $30 million contract ($13 million guaranteed).

The next step moving forward will be May 8 for the start of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Kristopher Rogers is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email klr5374@psu.edu.