Trust the board.
When the plan goes awry and certain players are taken in unforeseen spots, when a top prospect in a position of need is drafted and the temptation to trade is dangling on the other end of the line…trust the board.
That’s the motto the Jacksonville Jaguars front office is living by as they prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, set to begin next week on Thursday, April 29.
“Trusting that board, that’s how you make a living. You have to trust it. When you don’t trust it, that’s when you make mistakes,” explained General Manager Trent Baalke, while meeting with local media on Wednesday to preview the upcoming draft.
The Jaguars are the lucky owners of the No. 1 overall pick in this draft, the beneficiary of going a franchise-worst 1-15 in 2020. Not only do they possess the first pick, but do so in a year when there is as sure of a prospect as many scouts and coaches have ever seen. So it’s been a near certainty for months that Trevor Lawrence would go No. 1 overall to some team—now the Jaguars.
The question for Jacksonville then becomes, what do they do with the remaining nine picks in the draft? The club has five picks within the first 65 picks; two in the first round (1, 25), two in the second round (33, 45) and one in the third (65). Every single one of them is likely to be used according to head coach Urban Meyer.
“I see that we not only have to make those picks, [but] we have to add immediate value to our team. That’s the way Trent, myself and our coaching staff look at it. That’s how important these picks are, so we’re looking at these picks to make instant impact, especially those first four picks.”
As mentioned, the club has two picks in the first round, courtesy of a trade in 2019 that sent Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams. With the Rams pick at 25 overall, the Jaguars could choose to replenish the backend of their secondary, add speed at receiver or put a big body in the trenches. And while Meyer indicated the desire to use them to find value, Baalke knows the pick at 25 overall is also available to trade for capital.
Whatever the Jags want to do with that pick at 25 though, it will be dictated by—you guess it—the board.
“Trust the board,” Baalke reemphasizes, even in relation to the specific No. 25 overall pick.
“That’s how me, in the position I’m in, have always operated. It all depends on what happens in front of you. You never know what’s going to happen, so your plan has to be fluid. If we’re in a situation at 25 where the board says let’s trade back two or three spots, and that becomes available, that’s an option, you pursue it. If not, you make the pick and you move on to the next pick.”
Baalke has oft spoke of value. The (admittedly somewhat) arbitrary quantification takes into account the teams need relative to monetary costs as well as current and predicted depth at the position. It’s what drove free agency and it’s what will drive the draft board, which as of Wednesday Baalke called 95% done. But for first time NFL head coach Urban Meyer—who has spent his entire career evaluating recruits purely on need and pure talent—this concept of building a roster solely on value is admittedly new.
“As a coach, I find myself always looking at need and that’s where you have to be cautious, you start chasing players. The whole idea of value is completely new to me,” admitted Meyer, while previewing the draft with Baalke on Wednesday.
“That’s something I relied on [Defensive Coordinator] Joe Cullen and [Offensive Coordinator Darrell] Bevell as coordinators and [Special Teams Coordinator] Brian Schneider who has extensive experience in the NFL, and obviously Trent and his staff. I’m a quick learner. I’ve been working at this now for about three months and the last three to four weeks, this has been our entire life in that room watching video, stacking the board.
“So, trusting the board is key. I’m at the point almost there that I will trust it, but as a coach, I can see where [you can say], ‘We need this, we need this, and we need this’ and that’s where you get yourself in trouble. It’s been a great learning experience for me and to answer your question, I’m nervous. I’m nervous about everything, I think you know that.”
Baalke is hoping that shaping the draft plan in a way Meyer can connect with though will put the anxious coach at ease.
“I think when you look at the amount of time we’ve spent organizationally from a scouting perspective, the personnel staff, the coaching staff, the amount of time we’ve spent together to build this board, I think it becomes very easy, no different than coaching,” described Baalke. “On Sundays, it’s easy to call plays when the preparation’s right. I think the same thing with the draft. I think we’re going to be very prepared, feel very good about where we’re at.”
The Jaguars are on the clock and have been since late last season. But that first pick is easy; it was made for them the moment the pick was awarded to the club. Now they have to prepare for what happens next. And no matter what happens next, it will come from trusting the board.
Said Baalke, “We feel very good about the preparation we’ve put into this, feel very good about where the board is. We’re about 95% there, we have about 5% more to get done, but we’ll be very trusting of the board come Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”