'Tis the season for mock drafts, a yearly tradition in which media attempt to project how the second-biggest day on the NFL calendar plays out.
As we inch closer and closer to the 2022 NFL Draft, we will be tracking how other national media outlets are projecting the Jacksonville Jaguars to attack the draft and build around 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.
The Jaguars still have a long way to go before they have to make critical decisions for the 2022 season -- including five more games on the 2021 schedule -- but it is never too early to take a peek ahead.
If the 2022 NFL Draft were to be held today, the Jaguars would hold the No. 2 overall pick -- selecting behind only the Detroit Lions.
So, what is a potential scenario for the Jaguars at pick No. 2? This week, we take a look at how Pro Football Focus and their most recent first-round mock draft tackled that question, and weigh in with our thoughts on the selection.
In this mock, authored by Mike Renner, the Jaguars are able to land a potentially franchise-changing pass-rusher -- but is it the right pick?
No. 2 overall: DE/OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
There was a minor surprise at No. 1 overall in this mock, with Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson being the first player off the board to the Detroit Lions. Considering his local connection as a Michigan defender and the fact that he just seems like a Dan Campbell type of player, this isn't a huge stretch. The notion that Hutchinson could or even should be picked over Thibodeaux has picked up a lot of steam in recent weeks, in large part due to Hutchinson's dominant performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes, and likely coupled with the fact that Oregon got blown out numerous times to end the season.
As a result, the Jaguars land the preseason consensus No. 1 overall pick for the second year in a row, this time drafting Thibodeaux and slotting him across from Josh Allen in their base defense.
"This isn’t giving up on K’Lavon Chaisson, but it is admitting they need to get after opposing quarterbacks better. Thibodeaux is still an athletic project, but he’s got the ideal explosiveness, length and bend combination to excel on the edge," Renner wrote.
The other candidates for the Jaguars at this pick were Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal (No. 4 to the New York Jets), LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (No. 5 to the New York Jets), Purdue edge defender George Karlaftis (No. 6 to the New York Giants), and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton (No. 8 to the Atlanta Falcons). In short, the Jaguars are in a position to get one of the two best defenders in the entire draft thanks to their current 2-10 record and four-game losing streak, neither of which looks to be improving anytime soon.
Drafting Thibodeaux would give the Jaguars their third first-round edge rusher in the last four drafts, following Allen (No. 7 in 2019) and K'Lavon Chaisson (No. 20 in 2020). While Allen has been a consistent producer with 18.5 sacks in 36 career games, the Jaguars have gotten just two sacks in 28 career games from Chaisson, who has played more than 50% of the Jaguars' defensive snaps just once in 2021 and hasn't recorded a sack or quarterback hit since Week 5.
In our eyes, this is the right pick for the Jaguars. The Jaguars need to turn their entire offseason focus into supporting Trevor Lawrence and giving him better coaching, weapons, and protection, but that doesn't mean the Jaguars should sacrifice value at No. 2 overall when they have a blue-chip pass-rushing prospect staring them in the face.
In the event the Jaguars pick with both Thibodeaux and Hutchinson off the board, then Neal should be the pick. But in the scenarios where the Jaguars have a chance to add a jet pack-like boost to a pass-rush that badly needs it, the Jaguars should leap at the opportunity.
The Jaguars have questions to answer at both tackle spots in 2022, but they at the very least have Walker Little waiting in the wings ready to take over for Cam Robinson at left tackle. Taking an edge rusher instead of Neal doesn't mean the Jaguars couldn't upgrade over Jawaan Taylor at right tackle, either. It simply means they would have to do so either in free agency or with one of their other 11 draft picks.
After finding ways to help Lawrence, the next biggest offseason task is to find defensive playmakers. Defensive coordinator Joe Cullen has done an admirable job scheming up pressure for the Jaguars' defense this season, but it is clear the Jaguars need more help when it comes to simply winning one-on-one battles, especially on third- and fourth-downs. As it stands today, Allen is the only Jaguars' pass-rusher who is able to do so, while Dawuane Smoot has been solid but may be better off as a No. 3 pass-rusher.
As things stand today, the Jaguars are No. 12 in pressure % per TruMedia and PFF, but the Jaguars' 20 sacks are tied for No. 27 in the league and their four forced fumbles are tied for No. 32 in the NFL. In short, the Jaguars are getting pressure in large part due to their scheme, but they lack the playmakers to turn these pressures into sacks and takeaways.
Thibodeaux isn't a finished product, but he has the traits to be an impact pass-rusher off the bat as a rookie and his three forced fumbles in college show that he is at least adept at getting the ball out of the quarterback's grasps when he bends the corner to finish for a sack.
The Jaguars need more blue chip talents, and Thibodeaux is exactly that player. Neal would be enticing simply for the Lawrence angle, but if the board falls this way then the Jaguars need to take the pass-rusher.