PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
External general view of the NFL football Jacksonville Jaguars' stadium, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

SPORTS | Jags ‘cautious and safe’ with 2023 draft picks

Published on April 30, 2023 at 9:13 pm
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As the Jaguars drafted 13 players during the 2023 NFL Draft, how they approached this year’s draft tells us more about how the team’s brass sees the roster than anything else.

General manager Trent Baalke said that the Jaguars tried to trade up with 15 or 16 teams on the final day of the draft, but no team was willing to trade with the Jaguars. So instead, the team drafted eight players who were primarily defensive players in college. Baalke mentioned special teams approximately 428 times during the post-draft press conference. 

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What does it mean? 

It means that the Jaguars are not expecting any of the third-day picks (and truth be told, perhaps any of the second-day picks) to assume a starting role with the team in 2023. 

Typically, that’s not a good sign in the draft. But this year, it seems just fine.

That’s because of the success last season and the culture built by Doug Pederson. 

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Doug Pederson led the Jaguars to a 9-8 record and the AFC South title in his first season as Jaguars football coach. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

The Jaguars are ahead of schedule. Last year was supposed to be the season Pederson started to turn the franchise around. He didn’t get the memo. Instead, he turned it completely around, changing the culture and leading the Jaguars to a divisional championship and a playoff win.

This year’s draft may have netted a first-year starter. First-round pick Anton Harrison could be in the starting lineup on opening day if veteran left tackle Cam Robinson is suspended for the start of the season, as has been reported. Beyond Harrison, it’s hard to see any of the other 12 Jaguars draft picks earning a starting role. The roster is just too set for that kind of impact to be made.

When the Jaguars selected Anton Harrison in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft it marked the fourth time in franchise history the team devoted its first pick to acquiring an offensive tackle. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

It’s the first time since the golden age of the Jags, back in the late 90s, that such a statement could be made. 

So much of the Jaguars’ draft philosophy this year seemed to be centered around, “Don’t mess it up.”

While Pederson said that the locker room was cohesive enough that it could absorb a “trouble” player, Baalke drafted players with traits like toughness, passion and leadership. They fit in the Jaguars locker room.

“All these guys are high-character guys. They’ll be great fits on our roster right now,” Pederson said Saturday after the draft. “These guys on this list are football players. They love football. They are good people first.“

Baalke’s comments back up the head coach. 

“You never go wrong adding guys that love to play the game, that are smart, competent guys,” Baalke said. “Versatility, we use that word a lot, but a lot of the guys you can see, as we add these pieces, they have versatility.”

Perhaps that was the reason the Jaguars had only 127 players on their draft board. For starters, this was not a strong draft, top to bottom. Additionally, the Jaguars didn’t have gaping holes to fill. 

This was a cautious and safe draft. It’s the kind of draft you can have when you are the favorites in the division. All of the AFC South teams drafted a quarterback early. The Jaguars didn’t have to. They have Trevor Lawrence. 

Jaguars quarteraback Trevor Lawrence delivers a pass during a September 2022 game. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

It may sound unusual to say, but the Jaguars are no longer competing for the AFC South. They are competing for the AFC championship and a Super Bowl berth. Will this year’s rookie class help? Maybe in limited roles in 2023. But the-long term success of the Jaguars is likely to lean on some of the 13 players drafted last week.

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Cole Pepper has covered sports in Jacksonville since 1996, most recently for News4Jax. He is currently broadcast director for Sporting Club Jacksonville and has called play-by-play for a number of teams, including the Suns, Tomcats, Jacksonville University, Sharks and The Bolles School football. He also served as the studio host for the Jaguars Radio Network.

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