NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from a less-than-scintillating round two and three of the NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall ...
• For a team that is being molded by a tough-minded, defensive-oriented coach in Gus Bradley, the Jacksonville Jaguars certainly didn't delude themselves about who they are: namely the most offensively challenged team in the NFL.
But maybe for not much longer. No team underwent a bigger offensive facelift in the first two nights of the 2014 draft than the young Jaguars, who averaged a league-worst 15.4 points per game last season. With its first three picks of this draft, Jacksonville slid its chips to the offensive side of the table and left them there, taking University of Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles at No. 3 overall in Thursday night's first round, and then doubling down at receiver in Friday night's second round, selecting falling USC star Marqise Lee at No. 39, and Penn State's dependable pass-catcher Allen Robinson at No. 61 (thanks to a trade up, back into the second round, with San Francisco). In the third round, Jacksonville traded with New England to get back into that round, and kept the focus on offense by taking University of Miami guard Brandon Linder.
Suddenly the Jaguars have some legit weapons that should all grow together and hopefully mature at the same time. And just as suddenly, the sad saga of the team's 2012 first-round pick, receiver Justin Blackmon, doesn't matter so much any more. Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL for substance abuse violations, and Jacksonville has made it clear that it doesn't expect to see him take the field in 2014.
But that now doesn't look like a crippling blow for the Jaguars, who have the makings of a greatly improved passing game, with a young franchise quarterback to groom and two of the draft's better receiving value picks in Lee and Robinson. The receiving depth chart in Jacksonville was a glaring weakness in 2013, but the two rookies will join Cecil Shorts, Ace Sanders, Mike Brown and Tandon Doss in a much-improved, much more dangerous receiver grouping. Yards after the catch will definitely again be part of the Jags offense with Lee and Robinson, who both were considered potential top-40 picks for most of this draft season.
No matter who will be throwing them the ball this season -- incumbent starting quarterback Chad Henne, the veteran, or Bortles -- Jacksonville receivers will be playing on a much more level field with the rest of the NFL. And opportunity knocks for either Lee or Robinson to emerge as the No. 1 receiver the Jaguars really haven't had in years.
"My goal is simple, learn the playbook as fast as possible when I get in there, so I can have the opportunity to become that receiver they are looking for,'' said Lee, who struggled as a junior in 2013, but still caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns in his three-year Trojans career.
The arrow continues to point upward for the Jaguars under Bradley and general manager David Caldwell, and some will undoubtedly tab them as an ascending team to watch in terms of playoff contention this season. I'm not ready to buy Jacksonville being ready to end the franchise's six-year postseason drought just yet, but its early draft haul helps build on the momentum of the Jaguars winning four of their last eight games in 2013 after a galling 0-8 start (4-12 overall record).
I've pointed this out before, but the Jaguars finally have a plan that has a chance to succeed, and they're starting to build a nucleus of talent that I believe will eventually be part of a pretty sweet turnaround story in Northeast Florida. The Jaguars aggressively attacked their weaknesses on the first two nights of this year's draft, and the makings of honest-to-goodness offensive strength are starting to show.
• Somebody needs to explain to me why New England's selection of second-round quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo rates as a wasted luxury pick when Tom Brady turns 37 in August, and will hit his 40th birthday while Garoppolo is still playing under the terms of his four-year rookie contract?
If anyone can accurately tell me how long Brady will play and whether he'll continue to stay healthy, I'll let you know whether the Eastern Illinois prospect really has a shot to be Brady's eventual successor or nothing more than trade bait for the Patriots. If Brady intends to play another five years or so, then Garoppolo probably will be dealt away at some point or deemed nothing more than a career backup.
But the Patriots obviously thought Garoppolo's upside made him starting material, and there are plenty of other teams in the league that currently share that assessment. If New England can develop Garoppolo -- something it doesn't seem to have done all that well with current backup Ryan Mallett, a third-round pick in 2011 -- and Brady successfully passes the torch some day, this story might have a very different ending than the way some framed it Friday night.
• I'm not sure there has been a more curious development in this draft so far than seeing Cleveland avoid the selection of a receiver in the opening three rounds. Especially since the Browns reportedly knew No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon faces a possible year-long league suspension for failing a drug test, after testing positive for marijuana.
Getting a solid No. 2 receiver to pair with Gordon was considered one of Cleveland's top priorities throughout the draft build-up, but without him this season, the Browns could really be hurting for more playmaking in the passing game. (In another dose of bad news, it was reported that veteran wideout Nate Burleson broke his arm -- again -- during Cleveland's first minicamp and is expected to be sidelined until training camp.) And to think that 12 receivers were selected in the opening two rounds of this draft, a modern-era league record.
After many draft analysts pegged top-rated Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins for the Browns at No. 4, Cleveland instead wound up taking Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert at No. 8 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 22. Then, on Friday night, they added Nevada guard-tackle Joel Bitonio with the third pick of the second round, and later picked Iowa outside linebacker Christian Kirksey and Towson running back Terrance West in the third round.
• Packers fans, I predict, are going to be fine with the James Jones for Davante Adams trade the team essentially made this offseason. Jones is a Raider now, via free agency, but Green Bay has replaced him with a very similar big receiver from California in Adams. The Packers do as good a job as anyone in the league in finding the kind of players that fit their type, and Adams (6-0, 208) makes for a sizable and productive target for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers didn't really want to see Jones go, but he's going to get over that departure a lot easier with the ex-Fresno State receiver on hand.
• It seems fair, the Raiders taking Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr to eventually replace the newly acquired Matt Schaub. After all, Schaub in 2006 was dealt from Atlanta to Houston, where he then replaced Texans starter David Carr, Derek's older brother. Paybacks are, well, you know.
I've been fooled by Oakland drafts in the past, but there's a lot to like about this one. Getting maybe the best pro-ready defensive impact player in the draft in Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack at No. 5 was followed up by the selection of Carr, who many considered a first-round talent. Interestingly, both Mack and Carr were linked plenty to Houston in the past three months, but will now be Raiders teammates.
I endorse Oakland's third-round work as well. The Raiders landed Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson at No. 81, and he's a 6-4, 320-pound big body who can clear some room in the running game. Well played, Oakland. Well played.
• Hands down, the best draft anecdote I've heard -- this year and maybe any year -- was the one Derek Carr tells so well. As an 11-year-old on the NFL draft stage at Madison Square Garden in New York, where his older brother David had just been taken first overall by Houston, a confident Derek Carr turned to then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and quipped: "I'll be back!''
Carr almost made it, but he didn't spend his draft experience in New York, electing to stay home in Bakersfield, Calif.
• Atlanta took talented but inconsistent Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman early in the second round, at No. 37. Hageman seems well acquainted with what the critics say about his hot and cold game. Almost humorously so.
"I don't really care what they say,'' Hageman said. "At the end of the day, it takes a man to admit his flaws. I've known since Day 1 playing D-tackle my pad level sucks. Sometimes I take plays off. But those aren't permanent things. I can change.''
When a man starts talking openly and honestly about his sorry pad level, well, you just tip your hat and move on to the next Snap Judgment.
• I'm as guilty of overreaction as the next NFL pundit, but for a while there the death of the NFL running back <em>wasn't getting greatly exaggerated Friday night. There had never been an NFL draft in history without a running back being selected somewhere in the first 37 picks -- until no one in the rushing set came off the board in the first 53 picks of this year's draft. Then University of Washington's Bishop Sankey broke the streak, when Tennessee chose him as Chris Johnson's expected successor, at No. 54 in the second round.
That set off a mini-run on running backs, with LSU's Jeremy Hill going 55th to Cincinnati and Ohio State's bruising Carlos Hyde drafted 57th by San Francisco. There are still jobs out there for running backs in today's NFL. But it would seem nowhere near as many as there used to be.
• There was a whole lot of defense and linemen in general being drafted in the second round, for most of it anyway. Maybe that's why it didn't feel like there were many fireworks here Friday night. Of the first 19 picks of the second round, there were nine defenders taken, four offensive linemen and just six skill-position players.
But then the trend did shift, with the next six selections all being skill-position players, starting with Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas to Arizona at No. 52 overall.
• Tampa Bay took Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins at No. 38, in the second round, adding yet another tall pass-catching option for quarterback Josh McCown to shoot for. Seferian-Jenkins, first-round receiver Mike Evans and veteran No. 1 Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson are all at least 6-4.
Can you draft a team's "Hail Mary'' formation in fantasy football?
• Just wondering, but does anyone else find it somewhat odd that Washington helped out its bitter NFC East rival Dallas with a second-round trade Friday night? The Cowboys moved from No. 47 to No. 34, the second pick of the second round, via a trade with the Redskins, sending Washington its No. 47 pick plus a third-rounder, No. 78 overall.
Dallas took a player it desperately needed at 34 in Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence. The Redskins took Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy at No. 47 and Nebraska offensive lineman Spencer Long at No. 78. But if Lawrence wreaks havoc on the Redskins in years to come, will the deal have been worth it, or short-sighted?
• Nothing against Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, who's a very talented pass-rushing prospect. But Carolina taking him in the second round, at No. 60, was a case of the Panthers taking their strength and making it stronger, perhaps at the expense of much greater needs. The Panthers already have two strong edge rushers in Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. But Carolina general Dave Gettleman comes out of the Giants organization, where the mantra has always been you can't have enough pass rushers.