There are a lot of moving parts for any NFL team when it comes to the yearly college draft.
This year there will be even more moving parts as the NFL will conduct the draft virtually with everybody, from GM’s, scouts, coaches, medial staff and anybody else with input to a team’s pick meeting via video conference. NFL organizations will use Microsoft Teams to communicate. The Jaguars expect to have everybody who is normally in the draft room on that call. From there, all thirty-two teams will use WebEx to be in touch with the league. If it all crashes, they’ll pick up the phone.
So it’ll be a complicated process, seven rounds over three days with the first round this coming Thursday. There was some lobbying for more time in the first round and even more picks and honestly in this environment, it sounded like whining.
Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell wasn’t part of that carping chorus. He said he’s pretty comfortable with the mechanics of how it will happen this week. There won’t be any time problems making trades in the ten minutes allowed in the first round according to Caldwell but he did say, “I might have to see if my left hand is as good as my right to get something done in the later rounds.”
Teams have all kinds of questions as they go into the off-season and prepare for the draft. Decisions made in the draft can impact franchises for years.
What did they do in free agency? What specific needs to they have? Do they want to get younger? Can they fit players under the salary cap? Are they rebuilding or just reloading for a playoff run?
That’s why when Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell said, “We want to hit on all twelve,” when asked about the big number of draft picks he has on Thursday, he might have been giving a standard answer but he might also be thinking that’s exactly what the Jaguars need to happen to be competitive. “We want to make every one of them count,” he added.
The Jaguars don’t have one of those questions to answer. They have all of them. And not much time to find solutions.
“If we went to play right now and Gardner Minshew is our guy, I’m excited about that,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said. So they appear to be confident enough in Minshew that quarterback with their ninth pick doesn’t seem like a possibility.
While saying he feels like he could line up and play with the guys on the roster right now, Marrone was excited about the draft possibilities.
“Do we want to add players? Absolutely,” he said. “We are going to have a great opportunity to do so in this draft with 12 picks. My personal philosophy is you can never go wrong with taking who you view is the best player.”
Marrone was also open to developing a team based on the talent available, and not the other way around.
“We want to get playmakers and make them make plays,” he said. “When you put a player on the field as a starter, you’re saying ‘I have confidence in that player.’ Am I happy with Gardner,? Absolutely.
A lot depends on how Gardner progresses. If he’s hot, we’ll roll with him.”
And he hammered home the point of what kind of team he expects the Jaguars to be in 2020.
“We’re going to be a younger football tem. Team concept, not a lot of drama,” he said, emphasizing the ‘no drama’ point again. “Great teammates and guys in the locker room.”
As you might imagine, teams rehearse what is going to happen on draft day, coming up with all kids of scenarios in their own mock drafts leading up to that day. They feel like they’re prepared for any eventuality.
Last year though, was pretty unique.
“We ran over a hundred scenarios in our draft room,” one senior Jaguars personnel official told me, “and not once did Josh Allen fall to us.”
Perhaps that was a bit of hyperbole since Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell denied that this week saying, “There were a few scenarios where Josh fell to us.”
Either way, they were surprised, and fortunate when the player they considered one of the top two in the draft fell in their lap.
You can tell when that happens for a team by the amount of time it takes for the previous pick announcement to be made and when the “pick is in” graphic comes up on the screen. Last year, it was almost immediate.
This year the number of players in the draft the Jaguars consider elite is a little higher.
“Four,” Caldwell said without hesitation when I asked him how many players in the top nine this year he wouldn’t hesitate to take if they’re still available when the Jaguars are on the board. You’d figure that Joe Burrow and Chase Young would be two of them.
Overall, the Jaguars have the draft split by offense and defense.
“Offensively you can get a good player late,” Caldwell said. “Defensively there’s a big drop off and there’s not as much depth.”
It’s apparent Alabama Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is the lynchpin to what happens in the first 20 picks in this year’s draft. Some teams covet him; others aren’t convinced, based on his injury record that he can hold up under the pounding an NFL quarterback must endure.
One thing seems certain: If there’s a run on quarterbacks in the top six or seven, one of the four players the Jaguars would like to have at nine will still be there.
With two picks in the first round the Jaguars have plenty of options and lots of possibilities. Caldwell said he’d let it play out in front of him. If all of the players they like are gone early they could trade back.
Or if the exact opposite is happening, the Jaguars could go in the other direction.
“If you are sitting there at No. 9 and No. 20 and there is only one guy you like left at pick No. 5,” Caldwell said. “You might have to use some of that ammo to go up and get the guy that you want.”
He added that the Jaguars have worked some scenarios to trade up or back and have been in touch with GM’s across the league to discuss some of the possibilities.
Just a couple of years ago, Caldwell didn’t hesitate to call Jalen Ramsey when the FSU cornerback fell to the Jaguars with the fifth pick in the 2016 draft. The Cowboys had the pick in front of the Jaguars and as soon as Roger Goodell in Chicago announced “Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio State”, Caldwell was on the phone. It was a situation the Jaguars knew was a possibility, but considered it very remote. When a player like Ramsey falls in the draft, some teams might pass but others will snatch him right away, and that’s what the Jaguars thought about Ramsey that spring.
That’s why when a player of the talent level Josh Allen has does fall, some teams start to wonder why and pass while others have such high marks on him they can’t say no.
You might remember Dan Marino’s Hall of Fame career started with him falling all the way to the second to last pick in the first round in 1983. He was the sixth quarterback taken after drug rumors scared teams off. It’s why the Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the first round with Hall of Famer Brett Favre still on the roster. Rodgers could have been the number one pick but when the ‘Niners took Alex Smith he started to fall. Green Bay didn’t need a quarterback but they couldn’t pass on him.
In 1995, he Jaguars did the same with Rob Johnson. They didn’t need a quarterback; they already had Steve Beurlein and Mark Brunell. But after the first day, Johnson was the only player left on their board they thought would be picked in the first three rounds. Tom Coughiin considered him borderline first round talent. They took Johnson, who won an important game for them a couple of years later in Baltimore, then traded him to Buffalo for the draft pick that eventually became Fred Taylor.
One thing that wasn’t evident during their pre-draft conference call was panic. Neither Caldwell nor Marrone seemed under undue stress or pressure although Shad Khan seems to have given both men one year to get this right. They didn’t have and telltale paranoia that usually shows itself when decision-makers are under the gun.
So good for them, and let’s hope they have a little luck. They could use it.
I wanted to just take a second here to give you a sad update on two people you might have read about in this column over the last year.
My friend of nearly forty years, Sharon Siegel-Cohen lost her battle with ALS last week. Sharon was a newscast line producer when I first arrived in television here in Jacksonville in 1981. We became friends right away as I got my feet wet and she helped me learn about the city. She was so talented, she was promoted out of that position quickly and moved on to stations in Atlanta and Tampa before coming back to Jacksonville in a management role. Because of her promotions and moves we didn’t work closely together at our jobs but we became close friends. Sharon was about the kindest and most easygoing person I’ve ever met who also kept one foot firmly planted in reality. I don’t know that I ever heard a cross word out of her and she was such a superb judge of character that just one tilt of her head was all you needed to know. Her fight with ALS seemed supremely unfair but I never heard her complain and she always kept her wry sense of humor. As said in her obituary, which she wrote, “I am lucky to have had a wonderful life. My final wish is to find a cure for ALS. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939. It’s time to find a cure.” Sharon was only 62 years old and I’ll miss her terribly.
We also lost Jim Frey last week. Frye had a lifelong career in baseball with a storied minor league playing career and even more success as a coach, manager and GM during stops in Baltimore, Kansas City and Chicago. Frey spent most of the year in Ponte Vedra near his family after retiring and when he found out I was from Baltimore, we spent a lot of hours talking baseball and the Orioles. An avid golfer, Frey shot his age (88) at Marsh Landing last summer. It was the 500th time he’d done that in the last 20 years. Jim was smart, a great storyteller and fun to be around. I’ll miss him as well.