The 2023 NFL Draft is far, far away ... and yet, the dog days of summer make an event 10 months away worth pondering.
With training camp kicking off for the Jacksonville Jaguars on July 24, the full focus is on the 2022 season. We have seen the Jaguars practice together for spring workouts, seeing rookies and new additions mesh with veterans and returning players in OTAs and minicamp and other workouts.
The benefit of seeing the Jaguars practice this spring is we have a fuller and more complete idea of what the team looks like than we did even in the days after the draft. Talking about a team on paper is one thing, but seeing the team in person is a completely different perspective.
As such, we have a better idea now of what the Jaguars needs and areas for improvement may be for this upcoming season and next offseason. Naturally, this leads to mock draft speculation.
Looking at mock drafts a year ahead is always a bold exercise. Last year, it was impossible not to find the likes of Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell at the top of mock drafts. Travon Walker, the eventual No. 1 pick, likely wasn't found in any, while Rattler was benched before transferring and Howell became the No. 144 overall pick this past weekend.
But they do give us a solid baseline to look at the year ahead. For example, this mock draft from Bleacher Report from last offseason had 15 of its first-round selections become first-round picks last week. That is below 50%, but then you consider names like Andrew Booth and Breece Hall who were still high picks and it isn't the worst early barometer.
With all of this in mind, we take a look at a recent 2023 mock draft by ESPN to weigh in on where the Jaguars may need help and how that help may end up on the team.
So, what do we make of their pick and what could it mean moving forward?
No. 4 overall: CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
The Jacksonville Jaguars took a cornerback in the top-10 just three drafts ago, but Florida's CJ Henderson played just 10 career games for the Jaguars before being traded for Dan Arnold and the No. 70 overall pick. Since Henderson's selection, the Jaguars have brought in cornerbacks via big-money deals in free agency (Shaquill Griffin and Darious Williams) and drafting three cornerbacks, including Tyson Campbell at No. 33 overall last season.
Still, the Jaguars are slotted a cornerback by ESPN likely in part due to how the board fell. By the time the Jaguars were picking, Alabama EDGE Will Anderson, Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Georgia interior defensive lineman Jalen Carter were off the board. The next seven picks would consist of two cornerbacks and five quarterbacks, and the Jaguars clearly won't be taking a quarterback with this pick.
"Ricks, who played two seasons at LSU before transferring to Alabama for the 2022 season, is as good as any cornerback prospect in the past few draft classes. At 6-foot-1, he has a big frame and a ball-hawk mentality," ESPN said.
"If he hits the ground running and takes another step in his play after working under Nick Saban at Alabama, a Thorpe Award and top-five pick are possible. Ricks was arrested in May on charges of speeding, driving without insurance and possession of marijuana, so he needs to handle his business off the field too."
The Jaguars are set to have Campbell, Griffin and Williams open the season as their starting three cornerbacks. There isn't much of a question at those spots entering 2022, with the focus for now being on the cornerback depth and future of the room since Griffin and Williams are veteran free agent additions.
"Really when I look at the entire defense, it’s going to be competitive. No jobs are had right now. Everybody is out there competing, and with that room, that group, they are going to make each other better because everyone is pushing everyone to get better." Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said.
"The coaches are putting guys in different positions enabling them to learn the scheme. Competition breeds better teams. That’s what we want to do, let guys go out and compete and the best man stands up and he’ll play more than the guy behind him. The other guys will play.”
Williams and Campbell will still be on the roster in 2023 and will likely be locked in as starters as long as they play to their expected level this season. Griffin will be in the final year of his three-year deal with the Jaguars in 2023, though he is a potential release candidate due to potential savings if the Jaguars exited out of his deal a year early.
With this in mind, a player like Ricks isn't completely out of the question at No. 4 in this scenario. The Jaguars have made it clear the last two offseasons that they view having three starting cornerbacks as a key fundamental philosophy, so it wouldn't be outside of Trent Baalke's past tendencies to look into the position.