No NFL fan is happy with the fact that a labor dispute has caused a jumbled offseason and has threatened the possibility of professional football even being played in the fall. However, due to these circumstances free agency will take place after the draft, a situation that I feel is beneficial to teams and should be the way every offseason is scheduled.
Each team gets to draft the best player available to them, regardless of need with the comfort of knowing they can fill their needs in free agency by targeting exactly who they want. In a normal offseason teams target free agents at their position of need or gamble with the idea that they might be able to fill the need in the draft. This can cause teams to reach for players or potentially miss out on addressing a dire position altogether.
So despite the fact that the Jaguars didn't draft a player with their first three selections and took their first defensive player with the 124th overall selection in the 4th round, they will still have an opportunity to add talent and improve upon a defense that finished 28th in the NFL in 2010.
Prior to this weekend's draft I likely would've prioritized the Jaguars needs as follows:
Interior offensive line
Now following a draft that featured a quarterback, interior lineman, wide receiver and two defensive backs taken by the Jaguars, here is how I would prioritize the Jaguars needs entering free agency, whenever that may be:
The Jaguars finished with 26 sacks in 2010. Almost double the atrocious 14 sacks in 2009 that was an all-time franchise low and one of the worst totals in league history. Part of that improvement was due to the signing of former Packers DE Aaron Kampman who contributed four sacks and the emergence of Jeremy Mincey who added five sacks. Rookies Tyson Alualu, Larry Hart, Aaron Morgan and Austen Lane tallied a combined five sacks.
Despite the strong improvement between 2009 and 2010, the Jaguars still finished in a tie for the second fewest sacks for the year. The last time the team had a player with a double digit sacks for a season was in 2006 when Bobby McCray finished with exactly 10 sacks.
With the 31 year old, Aaron Kampman, recovering from an ACL tear for the second consecutive season the team can't rely on strong performances from him too much longer. Adding a player that can be an every-downs starter and rack up sacks for the Jaguars has to be high on the list of priorities for Gene Smith.
Justin Durant and Kirk Morrison, both starters at linebacker for the Jaguars in 2010, are scheduled to enter free agency in the 2011 offseason. Tania Ganguli reported a couple weeks ago that the Jaguars are expected not to re-sign Durant after four years with the team and that Morrison's future with the team is "unclear." Morrison believed prior to the draft that his future in Jacksonville was dependent upon the Jaguars luck finding a linebacker in the draft.
The Jaguars did not draft any linebacker in the draft, so if Morrison's prediction were correct he might be receiving a new contract from the team once the new league year begins. But even with Morrison and Durant in the lineup, the Jaguars linebacking corps have been underwhelming with the exception of Daryl Smith who is entering his 8th NFL season, all with the Jaguars. Adding a high quality player to the underacheiving linebacking group of the Jaguars would be extremely helpful for a team that would likely start Smith, Russell Allen and Jacob Cutrera if Morrison and Durant don't return.
The Jaguars addressed defensive back in the draft, but didn't do so until the 4th and 5th rounds. In those rounds they added Chris Prosinski who might compete for a starting spot at free safety and Rod Issac who is likely a nickel cornerback if he can beat out William Middleton. Despite these two additions, the Jaguars could still benefit if they find a starting quality defensive back to insert into their secondary.
Relying upon the winner of a camp battle between a 5th round rookie in Prosinski and 3rd year player Don Carey, who was possibly the worst starting safety in the league in 2010, would be a risky move for the Jaguars. Signing a player that can start right away at free safety and do so at a high quality of play would help bolster a defense that was shredded through the air.
Another strategy to improve the secondary would be to sign a starting quality cornerback that can take over for Rashean Mathis, who will be turning 31 in August. Mathis would be able to move to safety, which would in effect, improve both the cornerback and safety positions.
Sources told Tony Pauline in the weeks prior to the draft that the Jaguars were interested in adding a "bigger, possession receiver" to their offense. That made sense considering the impending loss of Mike Sims-Walker makes the 5'8 Mike Thomas the Jaguars leading receiver with the 6'0 Jason Hill penciled in as the other starter.
So it was a little surprising when the Jaguars drafted a receiver that measures in at just a fraction of an inch under 6'0 and expect him to compete for a slot receiver role. Needless to say, the Jaguars receiving corps lack size with the exception of the 6'5 special teams ace, Kassim Osgood. A large red zone target other than 6'6 tight end Marcedes Lewis would be helpful for the Jaguars offense.
Interior offensive line
The Jaguars probably drafted an instant starter when the selected Lehigh offensive lineman Will Rackley in the third round with the 76th overall selection. Rackley is a versatile lineman who could probably find playing time at any of the five offensive line spots, but is probably an interior lineman for the Jaguars. That could be center, but the most likely projection from me would be left guard where he can use his size as a guard, but also use his pass protection skills to protect the blind side of the quarterback.
With Rackley in the lineup, the Jaguars have four youthful offensive lineman that will likely start for the Jaguars for years to come in Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Uche Nwaneri and of course, Rackley. The last spot will most likely be filled by the 34 year old Brad Meester, the soon-to-be 31 year old Vince Manuwai or the oft-injured Justin Smiley. A player in free agency could likely be found to improve upon this final spot, whether that be at guard or center and create an offensive line that could be one the NFL's best.