JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Trent Baalke and the Jaguars are in an unfamiliar spot.
After years of making high draft picks (Jacksonville has had its own pick after the 10th spot just once in the past 15 years), the Jaguars find themselves in a far different position this time. When the NFL draft rolls around on April 27, the Jaguars will pick 24th in the first round, their latest selection since they chose Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan 29th in 2018.
The Jaguars are ascending after an unexpected run to the AFC South title and divisional round of the playoffs last season. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has emerged as a franchise player. Doug Pederson was a finalist for the NFL coach of the year honor. And Baalke, maligned during most of his first season as general manager in 2021, has shaped this roster into one that believes it can contend for a Super Bowl berth in a loaded AFC.
As difficult as it has been for the Jaguars to nail their first-round pick, missing and disrupting the team’s culture in the process is something that can’t afford to happen. Not with Lawrence still on his rookie contract and eligible for a lucrative extension after the season. And not with the momentum and good vibes that the team cranked out in the second half of the season. A wild free agency spending spree before last season has only reinforced the need to draft and develop. That’s why Baalke’s first-round pick this year is integral. Jacksonville may not realistically be one player away from a Super Bowl, but adding the wrong player could certainly tip momentum the other way.
“I mean, we got 127 names on the board right now that are draftable for us,” Baalke said. “So when you figure 230-plus guys are getting drafted … or whatever that number is, you look at that, your odds dwindle on having guys that are what you consider draftable as the draft unfolds. So, the culture is huge. We spend a lot of time looking at these guys. Do they fit us? Do they not fit us? And there’s a lot of guys that are taken off the board because they just don’t fit our culture. They’re good players, but they just don’t fit what we’re looking for.”
Baalke said the Jaguars feel good about their draft spot and how he thinks the board will go. He said the franchise has two or three players in mind with that pick and feels like it will be able to wind up with one of those targets.
“We take all that into consideration,” Baalke said of planning for the present and looking ahead. “But we still we still set the board on value, where we value the players, and we let the board speak to us on draft day, and have a plan regardless of which way the board falls.”
Pederson said the collaborative approach gives everyone a voice and ownership in the room.
“This is what I appreciate about how Trent handles this process with us. I mean, he involves us and he definitely wants everybody’s input,” Pederson said. “I mean, we’re the ones coaching the players. And so he wants us to have that input and that say on guys. And I think that’s, it just holds us as coaches more accountable to the guys in that locker room.”
From a roster standpoint, the Jaguars seem to have needs at four positions — defensive line, cornerback, tight end and offensive line depth. The pass rush needs the most help. Edge Josh Allen is entering the final year of his contract and has been up and down in his career. Travon Walker had an underwhelming rookie season after being the No. 1 overall pick last year. Dawuane Smoot tore his Achilles last year and remains unsigned. Arden Key left in free agency for the Titans.
In Baalke’s tenure as a general manager in Jacksonville and San Francisco, he’s selected defensive linemen with 12 of his 76 picks. Ten of those have been defensive ends. It just so happens that the Jaguars are in need of pass rush this year, too. Several mock drafts have pegged Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy to the Jaguars. Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson and Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee are also commonly mocked to Jacksonville. Secondary help could come in the form of Alabama safety Brian Branch, who would likely slide up and play in the slot as a rookie.
Tight end remains another position of concern, although both Pederson and Baalke said that it wasn’t a pressing need. Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Network have Utah’s Dalton Kincaid going to the Jaguars are 24. Jacksonville has just two tight ends under contract (Luke Farrell and Gerrit Prince).
“We don’t feel that that’s that it’s an absolute necessity to add to that room,” Baalke said. “But if there’s an opportunity to add to it we will.”
The Jaguars have had selections in the 20s eight times in franchise history. That doesn’t include selections that they landed in trades in situations like in 2020 (K’Lavon Chaisson) and 2021 (Travis Etienne). The results have been underwhelming. Safety Donovin Darius and tight end Marcedes Lewis would be the team’s best selections from their own picks in the 20s.
Jaguars selections in the 20s
|Pick No.||Position, Player||Year|
|21.||DL Renaldo Wynn||1997|
|21.||S Reggie Nelson||2007|
|21.||WR Matt Jones||2005|
|25.||S Donovin Darius||1998|
|26.||CB Fernando Bryant||1999|
|28.||TE Marcedes Lewis||2006|
|29.||DL Taven Bryan||2018|
|29.||WR R. Jay Soward||2000|
Baalke said that the team remains engaged with tight end Evan Engram on a contract extension.
“I think we’re trending that direction, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “And we’ll continue to work to get him signed to a long-term extension. And hopefully, we can get that done.”