Mock Draft Roundup: NFL.com Bolsters Jaguars’ Defense, Tight End Position in Latest Projection
'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 2020 NFL Draft on Apr. 23, we will be tracking how other national media outlets are projecting the Jacksonville Jaguars to attack the draft. With two first-round picks for the first time since 1998, the Jaguars are one of the most interesting teams to monitor throughout this offseason, and it is worth examining how different people view the team's needs and how to address them.
Jacksonville owns picks No. 9 and No. 20, with the former a result of their 6-10 record and the latter a result of the team trading Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams for a pair of first-round picks and one later round selection in 2021. With one of the weaker rosters in the AFC, the Jaguars have a number of directions they could take with their early picks that would make sense. It is ultimately hard to argue against more than two to three positions as positions of need for Jacksonville, so expect for mocks to continue to have wide-ranging results.
In a three-round mock draft released by NFL.com's Chad Reuter, we get a glimpse of what a Jaguars' draft could look like if they invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball with the majority of their early picks. Due to Jacksonville's defensive issues in 2019, and an exodus of talent on defense since the 2017 season ended, it makes sense to bolster that side of the ball with the Jaguars' most valuable picks, but the question of what to do on offense would still be prevalent.
So, how did Reuter map out the Jaguars' first round, and does it seem like a logical possibility for the draft to play out this way? We examined the picks to determine the answer.
No. 9: Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
"The Jaguars really missed Telvin Smith in 2019. Simmons is a similar player who could fill multiple linebacker spots," Reuter wrote.
This is a bit of a simplified way of looking at Simmons' potential role in a defense, but the point of the Jaguars missing Telvin Smith last year rings true. Smith had a down year in 2018, but before then he was one of the best weakside linebackers in the entire NFL. Without him, the Jaguars were forced to turn to Quincy Williams, Najee Goode, and Austin Calitro to fill the important role in the defense, with none of the three sticking as the short-term starter for 2019 due to either injuries or performance.
Simmons likely fits best as an overhang defender early on in his NFL career, giving him a chance to play off the ball and maneuver around the defense as he develops his instincts and strength vs. the run. But for the Jaguars, he could instantly slot in at Will linebacker and provide the Jaguars with a blend of size, speed, and playmaking ability they missed without Smith in the picture.
Simmons is a work in progress at linebacker, but he would be the Jaguars' answer to the mismatches that other offenses frequently deployed vs. Jacksonville, such as with Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Darren Waller, and others. He would also be key to defending mobile quarterbacks, such as Houston's Deshaun Watson, which has been a major issue for Jacksonville's defense for years.
No. 20: Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet
"Adding the pro-sized, athletic Kmet should aid Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew or whoever is Plan C at quarterback for the Jaguars," Reuter said.
The Jaguars have a massive hole at tight end that has reared its ugly head for the past several years. While other teams are making tight ends the biggest mismatch factors of their offenses, the Jaguars have struggled to get any production from the position.
For context, James O'Shaughnessy led all Jaguars' tight ends in 2019 in catches (14), yards (153) and touchdowns (two), and he only played in five games. Jacksonville needs to upgrade its tight end position at some point this offseason, whether it is via free agency or the draft.
But a tight end at No. 20? The Jaguars simply have too many other pressing needs to use their second-most valuable pick on a player like Cole Kmet. This year's tight end class is weak at the top, with potentially zero tight ends being drafted in the first round, but there is plenty of mid-round talent at the position. While Kmet may be the best tight end in the class, it would be a tremendously poor use of resources by the Jaguars in a year they can't really afford to waste picks.
Jacksonville needs tight end help badly, but it can get it outside of the first round. Most of the best tight ends in the NFL today were drafted after the draft's first night, and the Jaguars would be wise to adhere to this strategy.
No. 42: Auburn CB Noah Igbinoghene
No. 73: LSU DT Rashard Lawrence
Reuter didn't provide an explanation with non-first round picks, but the reasoning on these two picks is simple. Following Jalen Ramsey's departure and with a potential A.J. Bouye release looming, the Jaguars are going to need to invest in the cornerback position at some point during the draft. The team's cornerbacks produced only four interceptions in 2019, with three of those coming from Tre Herndon. Noah Igbinoghene's stock in the media has been rising as of late, and this is a landing spot that would make sense for both sides.
As for Rashard Lawrence, the stout defensive tackle (6-foot-2, 310-pounds) would be a solid fit on the interior of the Jaguars' defensive line. Jacksonville was gashed nearly every week against the run in 2019, especially when Marcell Dareus went down with a season-ending injury in Week 7. If the Jaguars opt to not bring back Dareus and don't find his replacement at No. 9, taking a player of Lawrence's caliber in the third round is logical.