'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 six 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. 3 overall pick -- selecting behind only the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans. There are still six weeks to go and a lot could change, but the Jaguars seem to be in prime position to land another top pick to build around.
So, what is a potential scenario for the Jaguars at pick No. 3? This week, we take a look at how The Athletic's most recent first-round mock draft tackled that question, and weigh in with our thoughts on the selection.
No. 3 overall: OT Evan Neal, Alabama
It certainly feels like Evan Neal is going to become the chalk pick for the Jaguars this season, and it may be hard to dispute it after how the last few weeks have trended. Neal to this point looks to be the odds-on favorite to be the Jaguars' selection. As such, this was once again the projection, with Dane Brugler this time handing mock draft duties.
"Surrounding Trevor Lawrence with the support system to flourish should be priority No. 1 for Jaguars," Brugler wrote. "Left tackle Cam Robinson is currently playing on the franchise tag, and neither Jawaan Taylor nor Walker Little are established starters. Neal has played at a high level at three different positions (right guard, right tackle, left tackle) in his three seasons in Tuscaloosa and offers a unique blend of size, strength and flexibility."
The Jaguars saw both Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux go off the board at No. 1 and No. 2 overall, leaving them with options such as Neal, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley, NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd, Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton being drafted immediately after.
Considering how the board fell to the Jaguars in this scenario, it is tough to argue against taking Neal or Stingley. Stingley would provide better value, but it is hard to say cornerback is a bigger need for the Jaguars at this point in their rebuild than offensive tackle. Shaquill Griffin has been one of the team's best defenders and will return in 2022, while Tyson Campbell has gone from struggling rookie to encouraging building block in the matter of weeks.
As long as Campbell doesn't regress over the next month and a half, the Jaguars should feel comfortable with him as a No. 2 cornerback next season. That then creates the question of do you want to draft a potential slot cornerback at No. 3 overall (though he would move outside once Griffin's contract expires).
While adding an elite cornerback prospect would be ideal for a Jaguars defense that still hasn't figured it out in terms of pass defense, the priority likely should and would be to help Trevor Lawrence. With Cam Robinson playing on the franchise tag and right tackle Jawaan Taylor failing to take a step forward this season, it stands to reason for the Jaguars to invest in an offensive tackle early next year even with No. 45 overall pick Walker Little in-house.
Ideally, the Jaguars could start both Neal and Little on the outside of their offensive line and have Lawrence protected on the edges moving forward for the foreseeable future. Robinson and Taylor have had decent stretches of play, but Neal and Little provide a much higher ceiling and would come at a much lower price tag.
Considering the Jaguars rank No. 6 in sack % but No. 20 in pressure % allowed per TruMedia and PFF, the Jaguars can accept the fact that they need offensive line upgrades. Lawrence makes the line look better than it is, so adding a tackle like Neal to replace one of Taylor or Robinson could make the Jaguars' offense that much better in the short- and long-term.
The Jaguars need pass-catching weapons to surround Lawrence, but they also need to ensure the No. 1 overall pick isn't getting battered every week. With no skill player being worth the No. 3 overall pick, Neal is really the only way for the Jaguars to help Lawrence with this pick.