Throughout the 2020 NFL Draft process, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Doug Marrone made it clear that they wanted to bring in the right kind of players.
The Jaguars had drafted and signed countless talented players in the past, but the locker room eventually grew toxic and boiled over throughout the past two years. This resulted in an 11-21 record over the last two seasons, broken relationships with star players, key members of the roster being jettisoned, and Tom Coughlin, a Jacksonville football legend, being fired by owner Shad Khan before the 2019 season ended.
Moving past the drama-filled years of 2018 and 2019, Caldwell and Marrone knew they needed to overhaul the culture and locker room of the franchise. They wanted to ensure they brought in not only talented players but high-character young men who would help the team move in the right direction within the confines of TIAA Bank Field.
And in selecting cornerback C.J. Henderson No. 9 overall and defensive end/linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson No. 20 overall, the Jaguars believe they did just that, in large part because of the reviews they got on the duo from those who knew them in college.
"I personally spoke to assistants on both staffs and (Florida Head) Coach (Dan) Mullen and (LSU Head) Coach (Ed) Orgeron, who I have a relationship with," Marrone said after the Jaguars selected the duo.
"I think as a coach, you feel really comfortable. You can see the athlete and you can see what they do on the field and you love it with the skills that they have, but to talk to their coaches and to find out what type of people they are, what motivates them, how they are in the locker room, I couldn’t be happier about where we are right now. Our team is excited. I talked to a couple of the players on our team, [and they’re] excited about the direction that we’re [headed] in. They’re excited about their new teammates. I think that’s important. Who we’re bringing in, we still have that responsibility trying to create this locker room."
Aside from getting the inside scoop from Mullen and Orgeron on his newest first-rounders, Marrone also leaned on the insight from a few players already on his roster. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor, a second-round selection in 2019, played with C.J. Henderson at Florida for two seasons, and wide receiver D.J. Chark, a second-round selection in 2018, was Chaisson's teammate at LSU in 2017.
"I really feel like we’ve hit a homerun with those two, and I feel like our players – Jawaan Taylor, he knows C.J. That was a big thing for me. I can’t speak for scouts, coaches or anything else. Their relationship -- and they had been teammates -- and what type of teammate C.J. is. It was great to hear from Jawaan," Marrone said.
"DJ Chark [Jr.] with K’Lavon, what type of person, what kind of teammate he’s going to be. There’s [some] players in our locker room that know these players, and that’s important for me to get a sense of, ‘Hey, are these guys going to fit? Are they what we’re looking for?’ They understand the challenges we have as a team. ‘How are they going to be there?’ I was very comfortable with that, and I think we hit on everything, like you said.”
Marrone leaning on Taylor's opinion of Henderson as a teammate isn't overly surprising considering both the time Taylor spent around Henderson and the fact that the second-year right tackle admitted earlier in the month he was pushing for the Jaguars to select Henderson.
“First off, he is a great kid. He works extremely hard. Of course, everyone knows how athletic he is and how good he is on the field, but he is also very good mentally, and he knows the game of football," Taylor said on April 14. "Of course, I am pushing for him. I played two years with him in college, and I’m looking forward to hopefully suiting up with him again. I am pushing for him a lot.”
As for Chaisson, he is close not only with Chark but with 2019 first-round pick Josh Allen, the defensive end he will be lining up across from on Sundays for the next few years. Having those kinds of support systems is huge for any player, but especially for a young rookie beginning his career.
"That’s my guy. Actually before the draft we talked, just wishing me the best of luck and just telling me how patience, obviously it’s the draft and it can start looking real quick and things can get out of hand, but we speak a lot," Chaisson said of Chark.
"He’s somebody who I trust his opinion and everything he does with a high character and high leadership that he brings to the team, even back then to being the guy who he is now.”