There's one question (okay, there's probably more than one) on the minds of everyone who cheers for the NFL club from Jacksonville. What will it take for the Jaguars to remain competitive into December once again?
The big-spending part of free agency has come and gone, and the Jaguars were able to patch several holes on their roster. There are still starting-caliber players available on the market at positions of need. But if the Jaguars are going to become a team that competes week in and week out in 2020, they're going to need some amount of rookies to come in and have an immediate impact.
But how many young rookies will the Jaguars need to rely on in their starting lineup in 2020? Four. I believe that to become a competitive roster, the Jaguars need to find four starters early on in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
The team must find a highly-talented cornerback who is ready to start on the outside from day one. If the Jaguars land a cornerback in round one, specifically Jeff Okudah, CJ Henderson, Jeff Gladney, or Jaylon Johnson, they should be able to have a cornerback room that's good enough to help slow down opposing offenses. With one of those rookies starting opposite Tre Herndon and with DJ Hayden in the middle, they'll have enough talent on the field. And with Rashaan Melvin, Parry Nickerson, Brandon Watson, and perhaps another rookie, their depth should prove to be adequate.
The Jaguars' second most pressing need is up for debate. They could use a wide receiver to start opposite DJ Chark, a safety that can play deep zones and cover ground in a hurry, a left tackle to protect Gardner Minshew's blind side, a guard to sure up the middle, and even a pass-rusher to help take pressure off of ascending star Josh Allen.
Of those additional positions of need, offensive tackle and wide receiver could have the most significant impact in year one. There are at least five worthy offensive tackles that will likely go at some point in the first round. If the Jaguars can land one of Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton, Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs, or Josh Jones, they'll get an upgrade for Gardner Minshew and their offense at left tackle. Not only will Minshew get better protection from the league's nasty edge rushers, but drafting one of those talented tackles would allow the Jaguars to test Cam Robinson out on the interior of the offensive line. So, adding a highly-skilled offensive tackle could potentially give the Jaguars upgrades at two positions on the offensive line.
Looking at the rookie wide receiver class, there are reasonably 25-35 receivers who will make in the league. But how many of those will have legitimate day one impact? Likely seven or less. Still, that gives the Jaguars good odds of landing a day one starter, if they address the position on the first two days of the draft.
The Jaguars love their young strong safety Ronnie Harrison and will roll with him as a starter in 2020. The Jags also picked up the club-option on free safety Jarrod Wilson's contract. Still, Jacksonville could stand to upgrade free safety. Wilson is talented when rolling downhill, but he doesn't offer much in the way of coverage. Grant Delpit, Xavier McKinney, Antoine Winfield, Jr., and Ashtyn Davis all have the potential to start in year one and help the Jaguars out in coverage.
Fans of the Jaguars have seen Calais Campbell and Dante Fowler, Jr., traded over the last two seasons. Now, Yannick Ngakoue has demanded a trade. Fortunately, Jax still has Josh Allen. The young edge rusher played well beyond his years in 2019, picking up 10.5 sacks as a rookie. But opposite him, the Jaguars have guys that project better as role players than actual starters. There are plenty of pass rushers in this rookie class that could find their way into the Jaguars' starting lineup. Chase Young will be long gone when the Jaguars make their first selection, but K'Lavon Chaisson, Yetur Gross-Matos, and AJ Epenesa will all be available when the Jaguars make their first or second pick in the first round. One or two of them could even be available at the start of day two. Beyond that, there are a handful of other edge players that could help the Jaguars next season. Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga from Florida, and Josh Uche from Michigan would make sense.
The Jaguars need serious help at 5-6 positions. If they're able to land four rookies who can help make the team better in year one, this is a team — with a nucleus that includes Gardner Minshew, DJ Chark, Leonard Fournette, Jawaan Taylor, and Brandon Linder on offense, and Josh Allen, Taven Bryan, Joe Schobert, Myles Jack, Tre Herndon, and Ronnie Harrison on defense — that could compete well into December. Will the Jaguars land four or more such players? Having a draft haul that includes four day-one impact players is much easier said than done. But with three picks in the top 42, and Yannick Ngakoue likely to land at least another second-round pick if the Jaguars elect to trade him, Jacksonville could have four picks in the first two rounds, and nine more picks later.
Dave Caldwell needs some big hits in next's week draft, for his future and that of the Jaguars.
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