JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Sometimes NFL franchises have an "Achilles Heel" position. For the Jaguars, it always seems like that problem is actually two positions: pass rusher and wide receiver. Under Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley, they're trying to make that a thing of the past.
Blake Bortles was an easy pick for this administration at the stadium. They believed Bortles was the best player in the draft, thought he'd be gone as soon as fourth to Cleveland if they waited (after the Jaguars took Bortles, the Browns immediately traded out of that spot, figuring they could get Johnny Manziel later in the first. And they were right) and believed he might be the best quarterback coming out in the next three years. (Including Jameis Winston). While often teams build with a quarterback as the last piece to the puzzle, the Jaguars thought he was too good to pass up, even if he sits for a year.
While they've added to the offensive and defensive lines through free agency, they needed somebody to get open and catch the ball and they knew it. So the priority was wide receiver with their second pick and they knew exactly who they wanted: USC's Marqise Lee. Problem was, they had the 39th pick overall, the 7th selection in the second round and with Lee being projected as a potential first rounder, they didn't figure he'd be there.
"I've told Gus to be ready to take somebody in the second round that he's going to be surprised is still there," GM Dave Caldwell said last week. He turned out to be prophetic because while Lee was available when the second round started, they didn't figure he'd be there long. "We tried to trade up to get him," Caldwell admitted. "But the price was too steep."
But in a bit of luck, and sometimes you need that, Lee was passed over by the teams in front of the Jaguars and was sitting there when they were on the clock in the second round. "I like his breakaway speed, his big play capability," Head Coach Gus Bradley said. Apparently Lee has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, thinking he should have been taken higher. It's an attitude the Jaguars want to take advantage of right away.
So as the second round waned and the third round rolled through, the Jaguars kept looking at Penn State's Allen Robinson, and wondering why he wasn't taken. "We had Lee and Allen ranked back to back on our board, but never thought we'd be able to get both of them," Caldwell said after selecting Robinson with the 61st overall pick. So in a matter of about an hour and a half, the Jaguars think they solved their wide receiver situation that hasn't been the same since Jimmy and Keenan retired.
Lee is a speedy, explosive, stretch-the-field player who scored 29 touchdowns in three years at Southern Cal. Robinson is tall, 6'2" and big with good body skills who can win jump balls and still get down the field. The Jaguars were hoping Matt Jones would be that guy, but we all know how that turned out. In fact, they've never really had anybody at that position like Robinson, a two time Big 10 receiver of the year. Maybe Ernest Wilford, but nobody this talented.
When it comes to Justin Blackmon, Caldwell said "We're moving on this year," when it comes to the suspended wide receiver. Bradley says he feels a little empty because it hasn't worked out the way he hoped. Blackmon is suspended by the league and would have to be re-instated before the Jaguars can have any contact with him.
That leaves pass rush, and perhaps they think they've addressed that in the short term through free agency. Ziggy Hood, Chris Clemons and Red Bryant will get an immediate chance to have an impact on the Jaguars sack total.
So late in the third round, the Jaguars saw a player they had valued pretty high who was going to come off the board. So using some of their extra picks, they traded them to the Patriots to select Brandon Linder. At 6'6" and 319, Linder started 42 of 49 games at the University of Miami and played two years with Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fish at the U. He's played, center, guard, tackle and tight end during his career and is projected to play guard in the NFL.
They're pretty happy at the stadium, amazed that the players they've wanted have fallen to them and the others they liked were available. So far, these guys running the Jaguars have proven to be smart, thorough, aggressive and a little bit lucky.
Not a bad combination.
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