In eight short days, the Jacksonville Jaguars will begin the 2021 NFL Draft with fireworks.
Not only do the Jaguars hold the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in franchise history, they hold 10 picks overall -- including a staggering five picks in the first 65 selections. As a result, there is a good argument to make that there has never been a more important draft in franchise history.
The two men tasked with leading the draft -- head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke -- addressed the local media Wednesday to discuss the No. 1 pick, how they will value their draft board and more.
"So, 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," Baalke said.
What did we gather from Wednesday's pre-draft press conference in full? We break it all down here.
Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke are meeting with Shad Khan this week, but the pick has essentially already been made
The Jacksonville Jaguars won't be turning in the draft card with the future No. 1 overall pick's name (spoiler: Trevor Lawrence) written on it until about 10 minutes after the draft begins, but that doesn't mean the pick hasn't already more or less been made. The Jaguars have done enough legwork up to this point that there is little to zero chance they are still mulling over their options at No. 1 overall.
With that said, the Jaguars will still do business as usual. As Meyer noted, he and Trent Baalke will meet with Jaguars owner Shad Khan within the next two days to allow Khan to give the duo the greenlight. While the group has likely already gone over the pick on other occasions, it is standard practice for a team's leadership to get approval from the team's ownership before making such a dramatic decision.
“We are knee-deep in the NFL Draft process. We’re going to meet with ownership tomorrow and Trent and I are working together, but ultimately, the owner’s going to pull that ticket on that one," Meyer said Wednesday. "So, we’re going to have a great meeting tomorrow and I imagine we’ll get closer to a decision. I’m sorry, not tomorrow."
Jaguars have zero hangups with Trevor Lawrence
While half of the sports scene went berserk over Trevor Lawrence's comments to Sports Illustrated in a story published last month, there has never been any reason to believe the Jaguars would take issue with Lawrence's even-keeled and laid back approach. The Jaguars confirmed as much on Wednesday, with Baalke going as far as to say the team hasn't found a single negative when it comes to digging into Lawrence and his background.
"Well, the easiest way to answer that is [there are] no negatives. [With] all the research we’ve done, you’re always looking for the stars to align when you’re looking at prospects, whether that be from a physical, mental, character aspect, whatever the case may be," Baalke said. "With his situation, like many others in this draft, the stars all align and that’s what you’re looking for.”
There are certainly things Lawrence has to clean up as a football player, but there have never been any indications that the Jaguars should be nervous about the type of person and leader they are set to draft No. 1 overall. Baalke made that even more clear on Wednesday. If the general manager himself is saying the stars align when it comes to a prospect, not much more has to be said.
Balancing the questions of opt-outs will be crucial to the Jaguars' draft plans
All 32 teams are forced to balance full-season opt-outs on a grand scale this season. Several top players who were among the league's top-15 prospects during the pre-draft process opted not to play during the 2020 season for a number of reasons, the primary one being uncertainty raised from the COVID-19 pandemic. While no player should be faulted as a competitor for opting out, it does create a situation most general managers have never had to adapt to, forcing them to go back several years in tape and implement more projection than usual.
"Well I think, as far as the opt-out question, it’s difficult. I think this has been a challenging year from that respect. You’ve got guys that should’ve played that didn’t play. You’ve got conferences that didn’t play at all, they didn’t have an option to play. So, how do you view that? Do you go back and use the 2019 film on guys? Because even the guys that played this year, their season was different, their preparation was different," Baalke said.
"So, I think you’ve got to use a combination of all the different avenues you can to evaluate these guys and make the best decision you can. But the opt-out has thrown a wrench into it. It has forced us to dig a little deeper. So, I think to the advantages of being able to really dig in and find out as much as you can about these guys and use all of that information. And again, if the stars align, then it’s easy. If the stars don’t align, if 2019 and 2020 don’t align, then you’ve got to make a best guess and that best guess is based on their culture, the mindset of the player, the competitive nature of the player and those things."
Essentially, the Jaguars are going to have to do even more fact-finding than usual when it comes to players who weren't on the field in 2020. Whether the Jaguars will actually draft any players who opted out of last year remains to be seen, but there are numerous players throughout this year's class whose last football game played came in 2019. If the Jaguars are going to navigate this year's draft smoothly, they will need to check every box possible.
Jaguars aren't afraid to add to a crowded offensive line room
The Jaguars have their 2021 offensive line already set for all intents and purposes. Cam Robinson was franchise tagged to be given one last chance at left tackle, guards Andrew Norwell and A.J. Cann will enter their fourth season as a starting duo, center Brandon Linder will once again anchor the unit, and Jawaan Taylor is set to start a third consecutive season at right tackle. For the most part, the Jaguars are set for 2021.
But moving into the future, the Jaguars have questions at essentially all five positions. Three players are on contract years, after all. As a result, it would be prudent for the Jaguars to ensure that they are still looking to add to the room. With this in mind, Meyer said on Wednesday that adding such competition in the short- and long-term is one of the team's draft goals, even if they like their current group.
"Competition brings out the best in everyone and the way I look at our offensive line is they’re very talented people. We made a decision to go with the starting five that we had, which you’re also going to get a guy named Tyler Shatley. We’ve got some other young players that I know [Offensive Line] Coach [George] Warhop thinks very highly of," Meyer said.
"And I feel like our offensive line could play much better and I believe we have the coach and I believe we have some excellent talent that we will play much better. And they’re still—our two tackles were young players, which are still coming to their own. We have some veterans inside that I feel good about. But to answer your question, we will try to help bring some competition to the offensive line with the draft; we’re planning on doing that.”
Lack of in-person visits could lead to Meyer leaning more and more on his college connections
Meyer made sure everyone knew how unhappy he was with the process of free agency since it meant the Jaguars and every other team were forced to make major decisions without formally meeting players. It is clear that Meyer sees the draft and its virtual process the same way, with Meyer noting on Wednesday how much of an adjustment it is compared to in-person meetings.
"This is a very unique time, this draft to be able to –maybe the first time in history, I’m not sure—where you can’t visit with the players. Even when you want on a Pro Day, you can usually go get so much information from not only the player—I remember when I was at Florida, Ohio State and even Utah, people would come in and visit and the amount of intel that you could find, not just from talking to the coach, but the weight coach, the trainers, everybody in the building," Meyer said on Wednesday.
"We’re being very creative on how we can find out that information and I’ve challenged our staff, I’ve challenged the personnel staff to be creative on how they can find it. Zooms are great, but that only takes you so far as well. So, I’ve had several with Trevor, he’s been great. And we’ve done—I mean, the one thing that—whatever the Zoom bill is, we have worn it out [over] the last couple of weeks.”
As a result, it wouldn't be surprising to see Meyer make it a priority to bring in prospects he and his staff already know. Relationships were key to how the Jaguars operated in free agency, after all. Players from Ohio State, Penn State, and Texas are all names to watch considering Meyer's connections and those of the coaches on his staff.