PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
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Former Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. is tackled by Indianapolis Colts safety Khari Willis during a 2022 home game. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

SPORTS | Zeroing in on the Jaguars’ draft targets

Published on April 22, 2024 at 11:39 am
Jacksonville Today seeks to include a diverse set of perspectives that add context or unique insight to the news of the day. Regular opinion columnists are independent contractors who are not involved in news decisions. Want to submit your own column on a matter of public interest? Email pitches to jessica@jaxtoday.org.

Once upon a time, you could get information about a team’s draft plan, or at least their philosophy, in the final weeks before the draft began.

It’s rare to uncover a meaningful hint these days, even as Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke and head Coach Doug Pederson answered reporters’ questions last week about their approach for this year’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday.

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Baalke was asked about prospects in what could be considered areas of need for the Jaguars. His answers about the depth of the wide receivers, cornerbacks and the offensive line were identical: They are full of good players, including some who will be drafted later but go on to become NFL starters.

Baalke, like most of the general managers in the NFL, has a way of speaking without revealing much information. But that doesn’t change the likelihood that those three positions will be the biggest targets for the Jaguars.

The Jaguars hold the 17th pick in the first round. Logic indicates that because the Jaguars said goodbye to cornerback Darious Williams this offseason, corner is a likely target. If a player who is graded highly at the position is there, the Jaguars will likely select that player.

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But here’s where some intrigue comes in. This offseason, the Jaguars changed defensive coordinators, replacing Mike Caldwell with Ryan Nielsen. In Atlanta, Nielsen’s previous stop, his cornerbacks were asked to play man-to-man coverage more than any other team. Nielsen wants his defense to be aggressive and attacking.

Will there be a man-to-man cornerback available to the Jaguars if they stay at 17 to make their first-round selection?

The top two corners according to most draft analysts, Alabama’s Terrion Arnold and Quinyon Mitchell of Toledo, will both likely be gone by the time the Jaguars pick at 17. Then there is Nate Wiggins from Clemson. While he needs to get stronger, he is very fast, running the 40-yard dash at 4.28 seconds. He could be tempting for the Jaguars to select.

Two other corners are projected to go in the first round: Iowa’s Cooper Dejean and Arnold’s college teammate, Kool-Aid McKinstry. Neither seem to fit the Nielsen prototype.

So, if the Jaguars don’t pick a cornerback, would Trent Baalke go against his history and take a wide receiver in the first round?

The receiver position is thought to be especially deep this year. Three players are likely top 10 picks, Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison, LSU’s Malik Nabers, and Washington’s Rome Odunze. Then there are four more potential first-round picks at wide receiver.

Nabers’ teammate Brian Thomas Jr., Georgia’s Ladd McConkey, and Bulldog-turned-Texas Longhorn Adonai Mitchell. All three ran under 4.4 in the 40. McConkey is smaller than the other two and projects as a slot receiver in the NFL. Thomas and Mitchell could develop into number one receivers for an NFL team.

But with the depth of the position (as many as 12 receivers could be drafted in the first two rounds), the Jaguars might feel more inclined to wait until the second round to select a receiver.

So what does it all mean? It depends on the Jaguars’ scouting of each player. Likely, at least one whom the Jaguars have ranked below 17th overall will be drafted before that spot, meaning the Jaguars will be picking a player they think is a great value.

That could leave the decision up to the player who best fits a need.

“Most of the time, there isn’t that big of a separation between a need and another position,” Baalke said. “When in doubt, you’re going to take the need, if it’s close. If there’s a great distance between the two, you’ve got to weigh that out. Usually, what we’ve done in the past, is stick with the formula and take the best player available.”


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.

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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