Gene Frenette: Jaguars better remember to draft O-linemen as insurance policy
The easy thing for the Jaguars to do once the NFL draft starts Thursday night is to wait until Friday night, maybe even put it off until Rounds 4-7 on Saturday. Or, the scariest option of all, just ignore it altogether.
General manager Trent Baalke and first-year coach Urban Meyer have already declared five offensive line starters from last year’s 1-15 team as the leaders in the clubhouse to be Trevor Lawrence’s bodyguards for next season. Thankfully, they’re careful to include a caveat that young tackles Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor must make significant improvement.
In a media video call Wednesday, one of the more interesting things to come out of it was Baalke -- who drafted 14 offensive linemen, including three in the first round, in seven years of running the San Francisco 49ers' draft (2010-116) -- and Meyer made five combined references about “trusting the [draft] board.” The inference was they should stick to the game plan of the value/rankings that the Jaguars’ staff has put on players when it comes time to make each pick.
That’s easy to say pre-draft, but sometimes harder to execute when a team is on the clock and they get antsy about reaching for a player at a higher need position.
So let’s say it’s the 45th pick in the second round or No. 65 in the third round. Remember, Baalke insists they won’t stray from the board, but what happens if the Jaguars have yet to fill the black-hole position of tight end and an O-lineman of greater value is still on the board?
If tackles Samuel Cosmi (Texas) and Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame) or guard Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) have not been selected, are the Jaguars going to grab a tight end like Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth or Miami’s Brevin Jordan out of fear any decent one will be gone before their next pick.
In this draft, that’s the kind of scenario where how much the Jaguars trust their board will be put to the test.
One of the deepest draft positions after wide receiver is the offensive line, both for tackles and guards/centers. There should be a multitude of quality O-linemen available to the Jaguars in the first two days of the draft, and possibly even at the top of the fourth round, depending on what other teams do.
It’s imperative for the Jaguars to take advantage of that plentiful market. One of the biggest mistakes they could make, even with the starting O-line presumably set, is to wait until pick No. 130 (second fourth-round pick from the Los Angeles Rams) or next year to add quality depth.
The Jaguars can’t possibly fill all of their needs, including backups, in one offseason. Some areas will remain more barren than others, but it’s better to start planning for an O-line upgrade sooner than later. Don’t wait until Robinson, who is playing on a $13.745 million franchise tag this season, possibly has a medical setback or other issues come up along the O-line, then lament not having better backup options than Will Richardson, Tyler Shatley or Ben Bartch.
I’m not suggesting any of that trio couldn’t be an adequate replacement, and Shatley has proven his worth in starting 25 games at center or left guard the past five years. But this O-line will likely be recalibrating in a year or two, possibly undergoing major reconstruction, so the Jaguars better grab a building block(s) now.
Left guard Andew Norwell just restructured his contract, which expires after this season along with right guard A.J. Cann. With Robinson on the franchise tag, the Jaguars could be looking at replacing two or three starters next year. Furthermore, center Brandon Linder and Taylor are only signed through 2022.
Do the Jaguars really want to wait until free agency next spring before they start replenishing an offensive line whose future across the board is uncertain? They have to strike in this draft because there’s more players worth taking early.
That’s better than waiting for more expensive free agents in 2022 or whatever might be left over this summer from another team’s training camp cuts. The good news is it appears Meyer wants to do more than just pay lip service to the importance of restocking the O-line because he knows games are often won in the trenches.
“I feel like our offensive line could play much better and I believe we have the coach [George Warhop] and I believe we have some excellent talent that will play much better,” said Meyer. “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 bring some competition to the offensive line with the draft. We’re planning on doing that.”
Don’t just plan on doing it, but when the value is there during the first two days of the draft, pull the trigger. Yes, the Jaguars have a decent offensive line, and maybe Robinson and Taylor make the necessary improvement. But since Baalke and Meyer know that’s still an uncertainty, then at the very least, they need a Plan B for 2022.
So just invest now in an offensive line insurance policy. Trevor Lawrence’s health may very well depend on it.
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