JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - What a difference a year makes when it comes to the Jaguars draft. Obviously the people inside the draft room are different but the whole situation has changed when it comes to acquiring players.
Last year in Shad Khan's first draft as an NFL owner, the Jaguars were trying to fill some holes to be competitive.
"I was told last year that we were just a few players away from competing for the playoffs. We got some players but didn't get there," Khan said when making some moves at the top of the football hierarchy at the end of the 2012 season.
Prior to the 2013 draft Khan had no trouble admitting the Jaguars were in a rebuilding year. "It makes me think that we should have started this process a year earlier. But we're on our way."
Standing in the middle of the Jaguars locker room two weeks ago it was eerily empty. With the number of cuts made by the team since the first of the year, the roster was under 60 players.
"Not only isn't there anybody in here," one veteran player told me, "I don't know anybody's name!"
Which means an entirely different mind-set was in place for the Jaguars to begin anew in acquiring players: Get the best ones available. Most teams go into the draft with specific needs, holes they're trying to fill or looking for players who can shore up one side of the ball or the other.
In 2012 they were looking for a wide receiver and jumped up to get Justin Blackmon. They dabbled in free-agency to keep Jeremy Mincey, and sign Aaron Ross, filling immediate needs. In 2013 in a stated rebuilding process the draft process and consequently the free-agent process as well were simple: figure out who you think the next best player is on the board and pick him.
Taking Luke Joeckel was simple in 2013. He was the best player available in that spot, so they picked him. "When best player available and need matchup," Gus Bradley said on Day Two of the NFL draft, "You're on to something special."
That's where the Jaguars were with their second and third round picks. It just so happened that Johnathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz were the next best players available AND they played positions of need for the Jaguars. Easy picks. And those two, along with Joeckel, will be expected to start in 2013. No projects here. Picking Ace Sanders in the 4th round is another "best and need" situation for the Jaguars. Their woeful return game gets somebody who is expected to contribute immediately and without using a high pick to fill that spot.
Taking Dennard Robinson is a bit of a novelty choice but he has something the Jaguars lacked last year: speed. He instantly makes them faster no matter when he ends up on the roster.
The rest of the draft, Josh Evans, Jeremy Harris and Demetrius McCray, are special teams additions or late bloomers whom you hope develop into something they're not right now.
But that's still only 8 players and they need more than that. So some of the 23 undrafted free agents need to be good enough to not only make the team but contribute somewhere, especially on special teams.
Add in some free-agent acquisitions as we move toward the 2013 kickoff (and beyond) and you have the "ground floor" of a rebuilding project.
Jaguars fans hope that the draft picks will help immediately because in one way, it was the easiest draft ever.
Whomever they picked, they needed him!
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