Guest Column

These Jaguars

Posted

I think it’s reasonably apparent that these Jaguars are not those Jaguars.

And by these Jaguars I mean that bunch that looked like those Jaguars for most of the first nine weeks of the 2022 season but found traction in November when quarterback Trevor Lawrence found his NFL form in come-from-behind wins against the Raiders, Ravens and Cowboys.

There is an expectation that these Jaguars will win the AFC South. Those Jaguars talked about competing for the division title in years past but lacked in enough areas that what they were really talking about was getting lucky.

There is an expectation that these Jaguars will contend with the Bills, Chargers and Bengals and perhaps find a way past Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

There is an expectation that these Jaguars will from now on be one of the best teams in the NFL and not those Jaguars who always seemed to be at the forefront of free agent spending and the top five picks of the draft every spring.

That change is already underway. The Jaguars had very little choice in allowing free agents such as right tackle Jawaan Taylor and edge rusher Arden Key to leave this spring, which has never really happened for this franchise but is part of the free agent lifecycle. The presence of Lawrence and the best free agent classes in team history in 2021 and 2022 set up 2023 to be a more moderate process in Jacksonville. You’ll take it when you have Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram in your line-up … all three arrived in 2022.

The Jaguars 2023 NFL Draft Class is the best indicator of where the franchise actually is. Picking No. 24 and outside the top 10 picks for the first time since 2018 they played the long game waiting to see how the board would unfold and then when it fell their way, they played it even longer. General Manager Trent Baalke moved back to No. 25 with the New York Giants and then again to No. 27 with the Buffalo Bills and still ended up with offensive tackle Anton Harrison. They loved the player and the person, and it obviously filled a critical need with the loss of Taylor to Kansas City. As important they added more draft picks, which helped them fill out their roster with guys they wanted in Jacksonville.

On days two and three of the draft they plowed forward with a franchise record 13 picks and found other future starters in tight end Brenton Strange from Penn State and safety Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M.

They also added players who will fill a role in running back Tank Bigsby from Auburn, edge rusher Yasir Abdullah from Louisville, defensive lineman Tyler Lacey from Oklahoma State and slot receiver Parker Washington from Penn State.

Look, that’s a good draft haul all by itself, not sexy, but solid. The 2021 class that added Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne, cornerback Tyson Campbell and left tackle Walker Little was the sexy class. Everything now is to build around that foundation and this 2023 class accomplishes that mission.

Baalke and head coach Doug Pederson weren’t finished though, taking flyers on six more players including offensive tackle Cooper Hodges from Appalachian State who will move inside and play guard, cornerback Christian Braswell from Rutgers and Derrick Parrish who played defensive end at Houston but will transition to fullback in Pederson’s scheme.

These Jaguars added a lot of quality football players in last month’s draft. Is it a star-studded class? Probably not. Let’s face it, few are that don’t add a quarterback. But it has a few starters, a few role players and a few swings for the fence and that’s what these Jaguars will attempt to do every spring as long as they have their franchise quarterback.

It’s too early to tell what this class will be but it sure looks like it will offer depth across the roster, which builds the competition level on the field and makes a team better.

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