Gene Frenette: Jaguars' draft questions aside, home run picks of Trevor, Travis washes stains away

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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It’s understandable that reaction to some of the Jaguars’ post-first round draft picks might range anywhere from “Hmmm,” to “What are they doing?” and to “ill we have a tight end to catch passes?”

No draft for any form of NFL media or fan base would be complete without some healthy second-guessing. The Jaguars certainly made a selection or two, maybe three, that caused a bit of confusion, but it doesn’t mean Jaguars’ GM Trent Baalke and head coach Urban Meyer did the wrong thing. It just means they did their thing.

Trust the board, remember?

All that being said, it’s impossible to avoid the collective scratching of heads over the timing/health/positions of several acquisitions — grabbing Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell at the top of the second round (No. 33), taking a second rounder (Stanford tackle Walker Little) and third-rounder (Syracuse safety Andre Cisco) coming off knee injuries, waiting until the fifth round to pick a tight end (Ohio State’s Luke Farrell) who also happens to have tepid receiving numbers.

The Jaguars taking Clemson running back Travis Etienne (1) and quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) in the first round will wash away any potential stains or misses from the rest of the NFL draft.

But all quibbling aside, let’s not forget two impactful words that will resonate with the Jaguars' 2021 draft down the road more than any other: Trevor and Travis.

Really, are last names even necessary? Health permitting, the Clemson 1-2 punch of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and all-purpose threat Travis Etienne should do much to alleviate whatever concerns Jaguars’ fans have about existing roster holes or perceived flaws.

As Baalke astutely reminded us after three rounds were complete Friday night, and the Jaguars still hadn’t addressed the dreadful tight end situation: “You can’t fill every position with one pick.”

Certainly, nobody could rightfully expect the Jaguars to follow those two exceptional selections in the first round with home run after home run. If you look at this franchise’s draft history and gauge appropriate value for picks in the first, second and third rounds, it’s not a pretty sight the last decade beyond the 2016 Jalen Ramsey-Myles Jack-Yannick Ngakoue trifecta (and two of those guys are now gone).

Changing draft reputation

Let’s face this reality: the Jaguars have a earned reputation for whiffing like Dave Kingman at the plate and Elizabeth Taylor at the wedding altar.

Whatever imperfections ultimately emerge from this draft, you have to figure Trevor and Travis will do a lot to wash away the stains. The reinvigoration of the Jaguars’ deplorable offense starts there, with plenty of contributions from the likes of DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, James Robinson and maybe a to-be-determined tight end.

No doubt, the haul Baalke and Meyer accumulated in free agency and the draft should translate into a bare minimum win total jump of five games from a disgusting 1-15. It could even be an increase of six, seven, or eight games, but let’s not drink too much teal Kool-Aid until we see how these new players and first-year coaching staff begin to navigate the 17-game grind.

Looking at the draft class beyond the T-and-T factor, there’s at least a modest amount of eyebrow-raising. Taking Campbell No. 33 overall is not so much a value question because most projected him as a second-rounder somewhere. It’s just that the Jaguars already invested a top-10 pick last year on CJ Henderson and recently handed free-agent cornerback Shaquill Griffin a three-year, $44.5 million contract ($29M guaranteed).

Baalke insisted taking the 6-foot, 193-pound Campbell that high was more about looking for “height, length and speed” across the board with the Jaguars’ cover defenders, which may be totally accurate. But when you consider Henderson battled an ankle issue last season, then went on injured reserve in mid-November with a groin injury, and had offseason labrum surgery, it’s fair to wonder if Campbell’s selection was also about purchasing a CJ insurance policy.

“CJ’s a very talented young man, he just has to get healthy,” said Baalke.

The same thing can be said of incoming rookies Little, a 6-foot-7, 314-pound offensive tackle, and Cisco. There’s undoubtedly a high-risk, high-reward aspect to both these selections, which doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of being taken at No. 45 and No. 65, respectively.

But the Jaguars are clearly counting on both players to be starters, or no later than 2022 for Little, so you’d like those kind of investments to not be accompanied by medical issues.

Little has played just one game the past two years at Stanford, so the development for a player that may ultimately replace Cam Robinson at left tackle is somewhat of a question. Cisco is coming off surgery for a torn ACL in October, though the Syracuse safety was reasonably confident he’d be a full-go to start training camp.

“Yeah, I would assume that I’ll be ready for training camp,” said Cisco “Unless I have a setback between now and then, but we haven’t had any setbacks this far.”

Fixing tight end

Baalke, who had a reputation for drafting players with injury histories as GM of the San Francisco 49ers (2010-16), is clearly unfazed about taking risks. Apparently, that includes waiting forever to pull the trigger on a tight end.

The Jaguars’ previously most barren position remains the leader in the clubhouse, at least from the perspective of a proven pass-catcher. Meyer is plenty familiar with Farrell from his Ohio State days as a dependable blocker, but his four-year receiving numbers (34 catches, 380 yards, 4 TDs) over 44 games are no better than what the Jaguars’ James O’Shaughnessy (42 catches, 415 yards, 2 TDs) delivered in 20 games the past two seasons.

Miami’s Brevin Jordan, the most glaring pass-catching tight end left on the board, went two picks after Farrell to the AFC South rival Houston Texans. The Jaguars better hope Jordan doesn’t light them up for the next few years or Baalke/Meyer will never hear the end of that one.

As Meyer indicated, the tight end room needs a major upgrade and anyone hoping Tim Tebow’s one workout with the Jaguars will lead to them ultimately fixing it is probably kidding themselves.

“That’s a concern right now,” Meyer said. “You’re staring at that board, and that horizontal piece, and we just didn’t hit it today.”

What the Jaguars did hit, and out of the park, was their pair of first-round choices. A franchise turnaround starts with getting a true franchise quarterback like Lawrence, but the pieces around him matter as well. Etienne, one of the most dynamic, explosive backs since Maurice Jones-Drew and an upgrade threat as a receiver, has the look of a special piece.

“He’s much more than a running back, he’s a slash,” Meyer said of Etienne.

One free agency period and one draft class alone isn’t going to fix 1-15, but the Jaguars are a significantly better football team on paper than they were two months ago.

Football isn’t exclusively about winning. It’s also about the entertainment factor with fans, which usually means an ability to get into the end zone. The Jaguars averaged 19.1 points, 18.75 points and 15.3 points, respectively, the last three years. The defense was just as hideous.

But as the Kansas City Chiefs aptly demonstrate, having a franchise quarterback, along with electric offensive threats, is what makes an NFL product interesting and watchable.

This may not be the perfect Jaguars’ draft, but it will ultimately be judged plenty good enough. Trevor and Travis will see to that. (904) 359-4540

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