Few teams have spent as much money as the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, even if the team has brought in few marquee names. As a result, few teams had their draft priorities adjusted quite as much as the Jaguars have.
The first-year partnership between head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke led to the Jaguars taking a volume and value-centric approach to free agency. By doing so, the Jaguars have filled several needs and changed the team's major areas of needed focus heading into this month's draft.
But exactly how did free agency change how the Jaguars will likely operate in the 2021 NFL Draft? We have a few theories below based on the moves the Jaguars either made or didn't make.
A running back with speed is likely a major priority
The Jaguars' new regime hasn't shied away from their desires to improve the team's running back depth chart, especially in terms of speed and explosion. But so far the only addition they have made to the running back room has been veteran running back Carlos Hyde. Hyde is a tough runner with a track record of production, but nobody would mistake hm for a speed type (he has a RAS of 4.23 according to Kent Lee Platte).
As a result, the Jaguars will likely still want to find a home run threat in the draft. There are a number of athletic, pass-catching running backs with consistent histories of producing big plays that will be available to the Jaguars. To this point, they don't have that type of running back on the roster, even if James Robinson is one of their best players. As a result of not adding any explosive running backs in free agency, the Jaguars are likely to do it later this month during one of the draft's three days.
Jaguars are no longer forced to pick an offensive tackle at No. 25 overall
One of the most expensive moves the Jaguars made for 2021 was franchise tagging veteran left tackle Cam Robinson. While Robinson still has things to prove in 2021 and it remains to be seen if he is a long-term answer, the Jaguars would have been essentially forced to use No. 25 overall on his replacement if they didn't keep him under contract.
While there are still arguments to be made for the Jaguars to take a offensive tackle at No. 25 for future depth, the Jaguars at least have given themselves the chance to not be backed into a corner with the pick. They openly admitted they didn't like the left tackle market, and picking at No. 25 could mean picking the fifth or sixth offensive tackle drafted in this year's class. They can still pick one, but they now have a guaranteed starter in the event they can't. If the Jaguars hadn't signed Robinson, it would have been almost irresponsible not to take an offensive tackle early to protect Trevor Lawrence. Now the Jaguars can at least have more options open to them.
Tight end will require an early round selection
The Jaguars made two subtractions to the tight end position by declining the team option for Tyler Eifert and trading Josh Oliver to the Baltimore Ravens for a conditional 2022 seventh-round selection. The additions they made to offset these losses don't appear to be the Jaguars' final crack at the position, either. They did re-sign James O'Shaughnessy, who caught 28 passes for 262 yards in 2020. They also signed veteran blocking tight end Chris Manhertz, though he has just 12 career catches in 70 NFL games.
Ultimately, the Jaguars have made it clear that they aren't done building the tight end room. Perhaps the reinforcements come in the form of a trade for a veteran, but it seems more likely the Jaguars will draft a tight end with an early round selection to fill the team's glaring lack of a pass-catching tight end on the roster. Penn State's Pat Freiermuth makes sense since his college position coach, Tyler Bowen, is Jacksonville's tight end coach. Regardless of who the Jaguars select, the need for a tight end early in the draft is obvious unless the Jaguars are willing to enter 2021 with Manhertz as their top player at the position.
The Jaguars' options at No. 25 overall have opened up expotentially
Before free agency, the Jaguars could have justified really any position other than running back or quarterback being the pick at No. 25, but positions like defensive tackle, left tackle and cornerback easily took precedent. But due to the signings at those spots such as adding starters like wide receiver Marvin Jones, defensive lineman Roy-Robertson Harris, defensive lineman Malcom Brown, and safety Rayshawn Jenkins helped give the Jaguars much more flexibility at pick No. 25.
The Jaguars still have some clear needs on the roster; do not mistake these moves for them being a team that doesn't have an abundance of holes to fill. But the Jaguars made sure to find insurance options at really every position other than tight end, but tight end was never really considered by anyone externally as an option at No. 25 due to the lack of strength at the top of the draft class. Now the Jaguars can draft the true best player available at No. 25 and slot him in wherever they need him the most, a stark contrast from their pre-free agency draft needs at pick No. 25.