As we race towards the end of the NFL regular season, fans of teams that have fallen by the wayside, like the Jaguars, are beginning to look ahead to free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. I've already entrenched myself in college tape from many of the top prospects, and my biggest takeaway so far is this: I believe EDGE prospects Aidan Hutchinson from Michigan and Kayvon Thibodeaux from Oregon will go first and second overall. The Jaguars currently hold the third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, which would leave them on the outside looking in when it comes to landing one of the premier pass rushers in this class.
But all is not lost — there's are several upper echelon prospects the Jaguars could add to their roster in hopes of supporting Trevor Lawrence and giving Duval something to cheer for on Sundays. I recently conducted a poll on twitter dot com asking you a simple question: If the Jaguars pick at three, and both Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are off the board, who would you want them to pick?
Today, I'm going to break down the results of the poll.
Alabama OT Evan Neal came in at 43%, LSU CB Derek Stingley finished with 27%, and Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton received 21% of the vote.
I've already studied each of these three prospects extensively.
I wrote about Evan Neal a few weeks ago. He's a mountain of a man that possesses great strength, surprising athleticism and flexibility, the versatility to play tackle or guard, and plays a disciplined yet physical brand of ball.
Kyle Hamilton is a 6'4", 220-pound safety with versatility, range, length, playmaking ability, instincts, and smarts. He should excel in a variety of areas in coverage and has the physicality to play in the box.
Derek Stingley is a prodigy at the cornerback position. What he did at LSU during his freshman season in 2019 is nothing short of remarkable. The 6'1", 195-pound cornerback has tremendous athleticism, good length, natural feet and hips, and a nose for the football.
So, which prospect makes the most sense for the Jaguars? Of course, free agency will help inform some of the team's top needs, but when it comes to the top of the NFL Draft, team needs should take a back seat to a best available player approach. The Jaguars can not afford to miss on another early first-round pick. The only positions that should be entirely off the board for the Jaguars early are quarterback and running back. Fortunately, Neal, Hamilton, and Stingley all play positions that could help the Jaguars improve in one way or another.
The Jaguars' offensive line appears to be in flux. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson is playing under the franchise tag in 2021 and is not under contract after this season. Guards Andrew Norwell and AJ Cann both have expiring contracts as well. And third-year right tackle Jawaan Taylor continues to disappoint. The Jags selected left tackle Walker Little in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but we've seen very little of him to this point. It's unclear where he fits in with the future plans of the team. The previous regime took offensive Guard Ben Bartch in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft. With so many unknowns, inserting a versatile player like Evan Neal into the lineup, whether that be at left tackle, right tackle, or either guard spot, would immediately improve the performance of this squad. Beyond Neal's unmistakable blend of size, strength, athleticism, and skill, we have a disciplined offensive lineman that commited just one penalty in 2021. He's also a "leave it all on the field" type player. He will sacrifice life and limb to protect his quarterback. Neal surrendered just one sack all season and averaged one QB pressure allowed per game, despite playing left tackle for the first time in his career.
Kyle Hamilton's length, speed, and smarts burst off the screen. He has rare range and closing ability combined with a huge tackle and deflection radius. His versatility and potential as a pass defender and run defender have teams salivating. In eight games in 2021, Hamilton picked off three passes, deflected three more, allowed a completion percentage in primary coverage of 50, picked up eight stops, and 34 total tackles. So what can he do for the Jaguars? He can play eraser in the deep third, line up in split zone looks, cover tight ends, play the big nickel, and line up as an extra box defender. He would be an immediate upgrade over both Rayshawn Jenkins and Andrew Wingard. Pairing Hamilton with Andre Cisco could give the Jaguars a highly talented and dynamic duo of safeties long term. Hamilton is currently sidelined with a minor knee injury.
Derek Stingley might be the most naturally gifted of the bunch, but injuries have slowed his progress over the last two seasons. He's out with a foot injury and hasn't played since week three. Stingley has such a great feel for the position with fluid hips and mirroring skills that he might be the top prospect on my board if he were healthier over the last two seasons. But any team that targets Stingley will need to clear him medically. When talking about a massive investment in the top five of the NFL Draft, an oft-injured player is a serious concern. Still, adding Stingley to a cornerback room that already features Shaquill Griffin, and improving rookie Tyson Campbell could give the Jaguars one of the best cornerback groups on the planet.
As of this writing, the player I'd take at three, assuming Hutchinson and Thibodeaux were off the board, would be Evan Neal. He's rock-solid in so many ways and has Pro Bowl potential at four offensive line spots. He's the only one of these three prospects that can directly help Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars' offense, which is in need of some serious love. It sounds ridiculous, but Evan Neal's intangibles are just as impressive as his stature, athletic ability, and skill. He'll sell out to protect his QB and will bury defenders in the run game. His discipline and versatility make him the total package. And his desire to improve as an athlete and technician year over year has been well documented.
The Jaguars could always trade down. Perhaps a QB needy team will make them an offer they can't refuse. But to pass up on the opportunity to land one of these three, the Jaguars better be getting a king's ransom.
Follow Jordan on Twitter.
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