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Commentary: Past is prologue for Jaguars draft

Will Coughlin's history predict Jags draft approach?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – To figure out what the Jaguars are going to do, the best barometer is what they’ve done in the past.  And you can go back to when Tom Coughlin was last making the decisions in Jacksonville.

“You want to take the best player available,” he said last week discussing how the Jaguars will make the decisions in 2017.  “At least in the first three rounds.  That’s how great organizations have been built.  Ideally ‘best player’ and ‘need’ meet when it’s your time.”

After winning three games last year, “need” is a relative term for the Jaguars since it appears they ‘need’ everything. With the fourth selection in the draft, Coughlin said, “We think we’ll get a good football player.”  And he’s right, but the draft is always fraught with potholes.

Looking at the first round, the Jaguars don’t think there are actually 32 ‘first-rounders’ despite the availability of 32 picks.  In 2017, their number is around players with legitimate first round talent.  So they have a shot at an impact player if they stay at four or even if they’re in a position to trade down a bit.

“It’s hard to make a trade in the top five,” Coughlin explained.  “It’s not hard to trade down, but it’s difficult for teams to come up that high because it’s so expensive.  A lot of teams just can’t afford it.”

A best-case scenario for the Jaguars is if a team below them covets a quarterback (say Mitchell Trubisky) and he’s still there after the first three picks.  Ideally the team that would covet Trubisky would still be in the top ten and the Jaguars would have a shot to select what they consider an elite player and gain some draft picks.

Over his career as a personnel evaluator, Coughlin has always liked big players over anything else.  Think of Tony Boselli, John Henderson and even the free-agent signing of Leon Searcy.  All big, physical players.  That’s why I just don’t see the Jaguars taking Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick.  Maybe he’s a ‘generational’ player but with an unproven offensive line, even last year’s breakout running back Ezekiel Elliott would have struggled.  If they’re looking for a running back, Joe Mixon or even Dalvin Cook will be available where they pick in the second round. (His off-field issue well-documented, the Jaguars wouldn’t confirm Mixon was off their board.)

One scenario not discussed is the Jaguars figuring out how to move up and get defensive end Myles Garrett.  If he’s the class of the draft, that’s something they’ve considered, especially if the Browns are thinking about a quarterback in the top of the first round and can get him in the fourth spot.  If Garrett is only slightly higher rated than either Jonathan Allen or Solomon Thomas then stay where you are and take one of those players. 

The difference between the two is projection.  Allen is considered NFL ready but he did have a small injury issue for the Tide.  Thomas doesn’t have the true size that everybody likes in defensive ends, but his speed and flexibility make him the kind of player the Jaguars don’t have on their roster.  That’s one of the reasons the Jaguars should take Thomas if he’s there.  He’s also a smart, high effort player who still hasn’t found his ceiling.  He’ll get better as his career develops.  With Allen you probably get more immediate help but in a nine-player rotation up front on defense, I like Thomas’ upside.

There’s no guarantee that Thomas will get past San Francisco or Chicago in front of the Jaguars so as Coughlin says, “You have to be prepared for anything.  My experience is that things happen in the draft where you say ‘Wow, where’d that come from.’”

That’s why after always saying opening weekend was the most exciting day of the year for Tom as a head coach, when I asked him if draft day will be that as a VP he said, “We’ll see.”