Jaguars will get up close with candidates for No. 1 pick at combine

From left to right, Alabama tackle Evan Neal, edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon and Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu. (The Associated Press, Associated Press)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jaguars hold the first pick in the draft for the second straight year and one of four players are likely to be their selection at the top of the draft: tackles Evan Neal from Alabama and Ikem Ekwonu from NC State or a defensive end, either Kayvon Thibodeaux from Oregon and Aiden Hutchinson from Michigan.

Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said Tuesday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis that he would consider trading the top pick, but he didn’t give away any thoughts on what position the Jaguars might favor at No. 1.

“You have to take the player that you think is the best fit for the organization as a whole and makes the biggest difference,” Baalke said. “If that’s the offensive tackle position, you do it. If it’s edge rusher, you do it. I’ve always been a big believer in ‘go big or go home.’ This draft has a lot of unique players in it. There may not be that clear number one but there’s a lot of very good football players at the top of this draft that we’re obviously going to be in position number one (and) have our pick of those players.”

The offensive line is a particularly interesting position group for the Jaguars.

By the time the draft begins on April 28, the Jaguars will have made decisions in free agency about left tackle Cam Robinson, a free agent and candidate for the franchise tag, left guard Andrew Norwell, set to be a free agent, center Brandon Linder, whose contract allows the Jaguars to cut him and save more than $9.5 million, right guard A.J. Cann, also a free agent, and right tackle Jawaan Taylor, who has not performed up to expectations. There is a scenario where the Jaguars could have a total reset of the offensive line.

Let’s say the Jaguars decide that they are going to pick Neal or Ekwonu to play tackle. They have Walker Little waiting in the wings to play one of the tackle positions. They re-signed Tyler Shatley to a two-year deal. He can play guard or center.

Guard Ben Bartch also showed some potential. If the Jaguars trade the top overall pick, they could come up with picks that would allow them to still take a tackle and perhaps also the best center in the draft, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum. In that scenario, Bartch and Shatley could play guard alongside the rookie center with Little and a rookie tackle, Neal, Ekwonu or Mississippi State’s Charles Cross. All will be at the combine, although Neal has stated that he will not be working out.

The general consensus is that the Jaguars need to draft help for Trevor Lawrence. Drafting an offensive lineman would certainly qualify.

“You’re always trying to protect an asset and obviously the quarterback is a huge asset to any organization,” Baalke said. “Anything you can do schematically and physically within player selection to protect him is advantageous to you.”

The Jaguars could certainly use help at wide receiver, but there isn’t a player who seems worthy of the top pick at the position. Ohio State’s duo of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, USC’s Drake London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, coming off an ACL injury, Arkansas’ Treylon Burks and Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore could all go in the first round, but several could also be available when the Jaguars draft with the first pick of the second round.

But what if the Jaguars opt for a defensive player? Hutchinson and Thibodeaux have both been considered possible top picks. Both would fit a need for the Jaguars who ranked tied for 27th in the NFL last season with 32 sacks, less than two per game.

What’s clear this year is that there is no consensus best player in the draft, as there was last year with Lawrence. The Jaguars’ selection is more likely to be influenced by the performances at the draft and during the pro day workouts than any in recent years.

About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.