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Dave Caldwell's draft history with the Jaguars a mixed bag

He's drafted four Pro Bowlers, but whiffed on 3 high first-round picks

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell has hit the highs and lows of the NFL draft. 

When the Jaguars pick at No. 7 overall in Thursday’s first round, the team is no doubt in hunt of a starter. That’s the expectation. But reliable starter has been the exception for the Jaguars in their 24-year draft history, and a mixed bag under Caldwell.   

His draft history is certainly up for debate, especially at the top of the draft. Three of Caldwell’s six first-round picks (selection Nos. 2, 3 and 3) are no longer with the team.

But numbers alone don’t tell the entire story. 

Caldwell has hit on several non-prime picks (outside of the first two rounds), starting with his second draft in 2014. He has picked four Pro Bowlers (defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, corner Jalen Ramsey, receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Telvin Smith) while his predecessor, Gene Smith, didn't have one. The Jaguars hired Tom Coughlin in 2017 as executive vice president of football operations, so he's had input over the last two drafts.

Caldwell said that he views draft classes in their entirety — not just first-round picks — when considering what’s been good and bad. 

“It’s a combination of those top 10 [pick] guys playing and the guys we’ve got in the second, third, fourth, fifth rounds that have become starters for us … kind of put the whole thing together,” he said.

First, the good, out of the non-prime draft spots. 

Center Brandon Linder (third round) and linebacker Smith (fifth round) both came out of the 2014 draft. Guard AJ Cann has been a solid player (third round in 2015). 

Third-round defensive end Yannick Ngakoue (2016) is one of the better young pass rushers in the league. Receiver Dede Westbrook (fourth round in 2017) and safety Ronnie Harrison (third round last year) are both on the incline of their careers. 

It's the first-round misses what fans tend to remember. 

Caldwell’s first three No. 1 picks, Luke Joeckel (offensive tackle at No. 2 in 2013), Blake Bortles (quarterback at No. 3 in 2014) and Dante Fowler (defensive end at No. 3 in 2015) were all underperformers for their lofty draft position.   

Only Bortles earned a second contract from the team, a widely panned three-year, $54 million extension in February 2018 that included nearly $27 million in guaranteed money. Bortles was benched during the season and released after the Jaguars signed Nick Foles in free agency. The upside was that Bortles was the guy under center when the Jaguars reached he AFC championship game two seasons ago.

Joeckel played 39 games with the Jaguars and is now out of the league. Fowler tore his ACL in rookie minicamp and missed the whole season. He started one game with the Jaguars and finished with 13 sacks before the team dealt him to the Rams in midseason.

It’s too soon to label 2017 and ’18 first-rounders Leonard Fournette and Taven Bryan as anything more than works in progress. Fournette showcased flashes of dominance during his rookie year before an injury-marred 2018 season, and incidents that called his maturity into question. Bryan wasn’t much of an impact as a rookie, tallying 20 tackles and a sack.

 

Dave Caldwell draft picks

A look at the NFL draft picks under general manager Dave Caldwell. An * indicates that player is no longer on the roster. 


2018

Round, Position, Player, Pick No.

1. DL Taven Bryan (29)

2. WR DJ Chark (61)

3. S Ronnie Harrison (93)

4. OL Will Richardson (129)

6. QB Tanner Lee (203)

7. LB Leon Jacobs (230)

7 P Logan Cooke (247)

Glance: Too early to make a projection on this class, although it was largely forgettable last year. Jacobs had three starts and played in 12 games as a rookie. Bryan was on the field, but didn’t make much of an impact. Harrison had 24 tackles, a sack and an interception before ending the season on injured reserve. Cooke ranked third in the league 37 punts downed inside the 20. 

2017

1. RB Leonard Fournette (4)

2. OL Cam Robinson (34)

3. DE Dawuane Smoot (68)

4. WR Dede Westbrook (110)

5. LB Blair Brown (148)

7. CB Jalen Myrick (222)*

7. FB Marquez Williams (240)*

Glance: This class still has a good bit of potential. Fournette looked the part early as a rookie, but has tailed off significantly since, and missed most of 2018 due to hamstring issues and a suspension. Robinson missed all but two games last year due to an ACL. Westbrook has developed into a solid No. 2 receiver. 

2016

1. CB Jalen Ramsey (5)

2. LB Myles Jack (36)

3. DE Yannick Ngakoue (69)

4. DT Sheldon Day (103)*

6. LB Tyrone Holmes (181)*

6. QB Brandon Allen (201)*

7. DE Jonathan Woodard (226)*

Glance: The best draft in the Caldwell Era delivered an elite pass rusher (Ngakoue), a first-round talent who fell to the second in Jack, and an All-Pro corner in Ramsey. Day was the only other member of this class to see the field in Jacksonville. He had 11 tackles over two seasons. 

2015

1. DE Dante Fowler (3)* 

2. RB T.J. Yeldon (36)*

3. OG A.J. Cann (67)

4. S James Sample (104)*

5. WR Rashad Greene (139)*

6. DT Michael Bennett (180)*

7. WR Neal Sterling (220)*

7. TE Ben Koyack (229)

Glance: Fowler showed glimpses of being an electric pass rusher, but he was a major disappointment as the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. Yeldon produced in spurts, but he’s a free agent. Cann was the best pick to come out of this draft. The team re-signed him this offseason. Greene had flashes 

2014

1. QB Blake Bortles (3)*

2. WR Marqise Lee (39)

2. WR Allen Robinson (61)*

3. C Brandon Linder (93) 

4. DB Aaron Colvin (114)* 

5. LB Telvin Smith (144)

5. DE Chris Smith (159)*

6. C Luke Bowanko (205)*

7. RB Storm Johnson (222)*

Glance: Take away Caldwell’s 2016 draft and this one ranks the second-best of his tenure. We all know about Bortles’ up-and-down five-year tenure with the team, a turnover-infested run that went to the AFC championship game, as well as a benching for Cody Kessler. Lee drew a second contract last year before ruining his knee in the preseason. Robinson was exceptional when he was here before leaving as a free agent. Linder signed a five-year extension in 2017 and has been solid when healthy. Smith was a steal in the fifth round and Colvin had 25 starts before striking it rich with the Texans as a free agent. 

2013

1. OT Luke Joeckel (2)*

2. S Johnathan Cyprien (33)*

3. DB Dwayne Gratz (64)*

4. WR Ace Sanders (101)*

5. WR Denard Robinson (135)*

6. DB Josh Evans (169)*

7. DB Jeremy Harris (208)*

7. DB Demetrius McCray (210)*

Glance: Caldwell’s first draft was the worst one. Joeckel broke his ankle during his first season and spent the remainder of his time in town playing both left and right tackle and left guard over his next four seasons. Not only was this class bad for the Jaguars, all of these players are out of the league.
 


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