There is always a too early time to look forward to the NFL Draft. It is the most exciting and impactful three-day event on the NFL's calendar, but teams and fans alike are turning their eyes toward the 2021 NFL season.
But scouts and draft analysts have the luxury of being able to do both. As a result, there is already an abundance of way-too-early projections for next year's draft to give an idea of which prospects are currently being considered as top prospects.
The Jaguars and their fan base have as much of a reason as any team to ignore the 2022 draft -- Jacksonville just drafted Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall and new head coach Urban Meyer has breathed life into the organization. With that in mind, Jacksonville's future wins will be built through the 2022 draft, so it is always a worthy exercise to at least take a small look ahead.
With this in mind, what are the experts currently saying about the Jaguars when it comes to the 2022 NFL Draft, and what do we think of the early projections?
Todd McShay, ESPN: Jaguars select LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr., at No. 3 overall
Who knows what the Jaguars' needs look like entering the 2022 NFL Draft, but cornerback being the most pressing need would be ... surprising. Really surprising, even. Still, McShay sees it as the pick because Stingley is the best player on the board.
"The Jaguars took Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell in the second round this year, and they used the No. 9 overall pick on CJ Henderson in 2020. But Stingley is special and would be an immediate starter for the Jacksonville defense," McShay wrote.
Derek Stingley is a terrific player who was perhaps the best cornerback in all of college football as a freshman in 2019, but it is hard to wrap one's head around the Jaguars taking a cornerback with their first pick in 2022, even when looking from a year away. This doubt is even more magnified if the pick is as in the top-3 like McShay and ESPN slotted.
Few teams have invested more into the cornerback position in the last two seasons than the Jaguars. The Jaguars have a former No. 9 overall pick in CJ Henderson, this year's No. 33 overall pick in Tyson Campbell, and a big-money free agent in Shaquill Griffin. If even one of those players don't hit and aren't impact players by 2022, the Jaguars still have enough invested in the group in general to not pick a cornerback this early.
Stingley is a good player and the best strategy at the top of the draft is to take the best players on the board regardless of need, but the Jaguars and the cornerback position take that theory too far.
To make matters worse, here are the positions picked in the rest of McShay's top-10: OT, OT, S, QB, EDGE, OT, CB. The Jaguars won't need a quarterback at this point in 2022, but offensive tackle, edge, and safety all would have made a lot more sense than cornerback.
Jaguars fans likely wouldn't be in love with the idea of taking another Texas A&M offensive tackle in the top-5 due to Luke Joeckel busting, but that doesn't impact any actual draft implications for the Jaguars. As a result, Dane Brugler goes a safe route and mocks Kenyon Green to the Jaguars.
"An All-American at left guard as a sophomore, Green is expected to make the move to left tackle as the Aggies’ only returning offensive lineman. He is a balanced, explosive mover with the upper-body power and awareness that NFL teams covet," Brugler wrote.
It isn't hard to think offensive tackle is high on the Jaguars' priority list in 2022. They will have needs on the interior since A.J. Cann and Andrew Norwell are both on expiring contracts, but there could needs at tackle too. Left tackle Cam Robinson was franchise tagged in March and is only guaranteed to be on the roster in 2021. Meanwhile Jawaan Taylor, a former second-round pick and two-year starter at right tackle, likely has to make a leap in 2021 to impress Urban Meyer and his offensive staff.
If Robinson and Taylor both play poorly in 2021, the Jaguars would legitimately have two holes at offensive tackle entering Trevor Lawrence's second season. 2021 No. 45 overall pick Walker Little can fill one of those holes, but the Jaguars could still be looking for a player to fill the hole on the other side of the offensive line.
"Walker Little is going to push our tackles. Our tackles have to play better. I like how hard they’re working, I like their talent level, but the best thing you can do is create a little competition, and I’ve made that clear with Walker," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said on Saturday following the 2021 NFL Draft.
Out of these three picks, this one seems like the best fit as of this way-too-early moment. The Jaguars got zero production from the defensive tackle position in 2020 and that led to them making additions such as Malcom Brown, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Jay Tufele. Even with this group, the Jaguars could still spend an early-round selection on a defensive tackle because none of those three players came at a particularly large long-term investment, especially past 2021.
"Leal has shown inside-outside versatility at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds and earned himself an 88.3 overall grade for the Aggies as a true sophomore last year. He’s got the kind of twitch that warrants a top-five selection," Renner wrote.
Leal seems like an Urban Meyer-type player, too. He was the No. 16 overall recruit coming out of high school, a five-star player who was also ranked by 247Sports as the No. 2 defensive tackle recruit in 2019. He played as a true freshman in the SEC, recording two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.
Leal took a big step forward in 2020, setting him up for a breakout campaign in 2021. He started all 10 games and, according to Texas A&M, led the team in hurries with eight and ranked fifth in tackles with 37. He also added 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, one interception, one fumble recovery, and three pass deflections.