Hit Or Miss: Grading the Jaguars' 2018 Draft Class

After three years, one can begin to evaluate a draft class...so with that hindsight in mind, we grade the Jacksonville Jaguars 2018 NFL Draft Class. Who was a hit, who was a miss, and who are we still wondering about even three years later?
Author:
Publish date:

It’s been three years since the Jacksonville Jaguars brought in their 2018 draft class. Seven players total—one in each of the first four rounds, none in the fifth, and two in the seventh—ranged positions and subsequent production.

With the class now preparing to move into their fourth year in the league and with the club, we evaluate each selection, the overall impact on the team and whether each player proved to be a good choice for the Jaguars.

TAVEN BRYAN, DEFENSIVE LINEMAN, 1ST ROUND, NO. 29 OVERALL

For a franchise that had/has perpetually been at the bottom of the league standings, this selection at 29th was tied as the latest the Jaguars have ever picked in the first round. Now one has to wonder if it was still too high. At the time, it was labeled as a “luxury pick” because the Jags wouldn't need Bryan for a while, what with Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, Marcell Dareus, and even Yannick Ngakoue. His immense talent would have an opportunity to grow alongside one of the best defensive line units in the NFL.

Of those mentioned, Bryan is the only one who suited up in a Jaguars jersey this past fall. Even that didn’t make a huge difference, because by season’s end his snap count had dropped low enough to be on life support. In the 2020 finale against the Indianapolis Colts, Bryan played 12% of the defensive snaps, eight total.

What happened? Well for starters, as much as Bryan may have been considered a luxury at the time, it’s easily arguable that the Jaguars were drafting him with hope versus homework. Taven Bryan entered the draft with one good year of college tape. He was a bright spot on a 4-7 team in a down SEC East and the club’s fascination with defensive linemen from Florida won out, meaning Bryan was perhaps a beneficiary of past draft picks more than his own merit.

Taven Bryan (90) was seen as an embarrassment of riches alongside guys like Marcell Dareus (99). Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Taven Bryan (90) was seen as an embarrassment of riches alongside guys like Marcell Dareus (99). Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Wyoming Wildman had a savageness to his play that made him appealing. But after three years, his play hasn’t risen, it’s plateaued. Yes, he’s technically still “learning” but compared his first three seasons to that of others. We won’t even do him the disservice of comparing him to the greatest defensive tackle, who had 164 tackles and 81 quarterback hits in his first three years in the league.

Just compare Bryan to his fellow (and/or former) teammates, the ones whom he was supposed to enhance. In Malik Jackson’s first three seasons, he had 89 tackles and 28 QB hits. Marcell Dareus had 153 tackles, along with 32 quarterback hits.

Taven Bryan? He just wrapped year three with 71 tackles and 17 QB hits.

Don’t discount coaching, because it could make a huge difference this upcoming offseason. But for now, three years in, this pick is a miss.

DJ CHARK, WIDE RECEIVER, 2ND ROUND, NO. 61 OVERALL

It’s fairly tempting to just write, “if you’ve watched a game recently, you know this is a hit” and leave it be. But alas, let’s explain all the reasons why.

Chark, like Bryan, didn’t have a ton of tape to bring to the draft process. He didn’t even record a reception his first two years at LSU. Where the receiver made his money was in the offseason. He was named MVP at the 2018 Senior Bowl and continued to impress at the NFL Combine and in workouts. Scouts began to anticipate his ceiling and as such, he rose to a second-round pick.

Three years later, with hindsight, even being taken as high as the second, Chark seems like a steal. He stretched the field for the Jaguars offense and has become WR1 in his three years. Even in 2020, a season in which Chark was dealt three different quarterbacks, he still led the team in every receiving category…for the second year in a row.

The Pro Bowler has accumulated 1,888 yards on 140 catches (plus 20 rushing yards) for 13 touchdowns. He has a 57.6% catch rate and averages 13.4 yards per touch.

The math adds up. DJ Chark is a hit.

RONNIE HARRISON, SAFETY, 3RD ROUND, NO. 93 OVERALL

The safety was an exciting prospect at the time. Any Nick Saban defensive product is able to come into the league and adapt pretty easily. After a modest rookie season, Harrison flourished in his second year. In 2019, he started all 14 games, nabbed two interceptions, notched 71 tackles, and even added two sacks from the safety position.

Yet before the 2020 season began, former General Manager Dave Caldwell traded Harrison to the Cleveland Browns. At the time, Caldwell explained Harrison was neck and neck with Josh Jones and Daniel Thomas for the strong safety spot. When the Browns called about Harrison, Caldwell said he saw good value for a player that might not have even been a starter again.

Whether that’s actually the case versus his relation to another former Jaguars defensive back can be debated. And while Harrison wasn’t able to mimic his 2019 production with the Browns in 2020, his play in Jacksonville was a good return on investment of the original pick. We’ll call it a hit but one that was fielded at the wall and thrown to third in time to tag up for the out.

WILL RICHARDSON, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, 4TH ROUND, NO. 129 OVERALL

After not playing in a single game his rookie season with a knee injury, Richardson started two games in 2019, primarily in replacement of an injured Cam Robinson. In his third season, Richardson played in all 16 games, either on special teams or in replacement of Robinson again.

According to Pro Football Focus, in 2020 Richardson allowed two sacks, three hits, and eight quarterback pressures on 74 total offensive snaps. Given his role as a depth player, in relation to the mid-round pick, this could be considered a hit but nothing franchise-changing.

TANNER LEE, QUARTERBACK, 6TH ROUND, NO. 203 OVERALL

Lee spent the majority of his rookie season on the practice squad, recorded no stats the one time he was activated, and was waived the next offseason.

It’s a miss. Moving on.

LEON JACOBS, LINEBACKER, 7TH ROUND, NO. 230 OVERALL

The Wisconsin product spent his rookie year learning the ropes, his second year on an upward trajectory (42 tackles, three quarterback hits) and by the time the 2020 season had kicked off, Jacobs had worked his way into a starter at outside linebacker. Then, in the third game of the season, he was carted off the field with an ACL tear. The injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

What Jacobs (48) does after his return from an ACL injury will really determine his impact. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

What Jacobs (48) does after his return from an ACL injury will really determine his impact. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

For a seventh-round pick late in the draft, Jacobs had followed the path you want a project pick to do, even surpassing some expectations to become a starter by his third year. His injury kept us from fully evaluating his impact. But thus far, we feel it’s safe to call Jacobs a hit.

LOGAN COOKE, PUNTER, 7TH ROUND, NO. 247 OVERALL

The seventh-round is typical for where a punter is drafted, if not signed as an undrafted free agent. For all that Cooke has meant to the Jaguars in recent years, he could’ve justifiably been taken even higher. We won’t go so far as to call him the special teams MVP during his past three years, because he did share a unit with kicker Josh Lambo; but Cooke was and is close.

Cooke punted 56 times in 2020 for 2,669 yards (47.8 yards per punt). He had 19 punts within the opposing team's 20-yard line and 11 inside the 10-yard line, the latter of which was tied for second-most in the NFL in Week 17.

On a team that hasn’t had an offense to depend on the past three years, and a defense that has had trouble stopping much of anyone, Logan Cooke at least did his part to help as much as possible, flipping the field and pinning opponents deep. He’s a huge hit from the 2018 draft. 

Three hits, two misses, and two that are in the eye of the beholder; with three years of playing time by which to judge them, we grade the Jaguars 2018 draft class at a solid C.