Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

April 29, 2018 at 10:44 pm.

2018 Jaguars draft: D-line rotation gets deeper

When you have the brunt of your team returning that only three months earlier came within five minutes of reaching the Super Bowl, you can’t be faulted for taking a surprise pick in the draft.

That applies to the Jacksonville Jaguars who may have stretched a bit in their first-round selection of defensive tackle Taven Bryant. Prior to Bryant’s last season at Florida – his redshirt junior year – Bryant had started just three games. Granted he played in 25 games the previous two years, but he had just one start as a redshirt freshman and just two the following season. That leaves his final year in 2017 as the lone basis to judge whether he’s NFL material. The Jaguars apparently felt he was.

“The value … the value,” said Tom Coughlin, executive director of football operations when asked about why the team selected Bryan in the first round over taking an offensive lineman that might have been able to step in and be a starter from Day 1. “There were a couple of outstanding offensive linemen that went real early in the draft and there were some people surrounded, some players that we would covet in that spot. This was the highest-rated player when it came time for us to pick. And so, as stated earlier, we certainly are going to be hopefully value-matched up. This is a good circumstance for us because we, again, gain strength with another outstanding player at defensive line.

“He showed his athleticism in Indianapolis at the Combine. He ran very well. He had a very good workout there. He is somebody that you cannot help but watch. Just put the tape on and sooner or later, he is going to pop out at you.”

Adding Bryant to a defensive line that was one of the Jaguars’ strengths last year could be classified as a head-scratcher. The Jaguars have four elite defensive ends in starters Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue along with backups Dante Fowler Jr. and Dawuane Smoot while three players on the interior – Malik Jackson, Marcell Dareus and Abry Jones – helped the Jaguars rank among the league leaders in stopping the run. The Jaguars have always wanted to have a two-man platoon at each of the four defensive line positions and they will now have that with the addition of Bryan.

If there is a knock on Bryan, it’s that he did not post eye-popping numbers in his only season as a starter with the Gators. In 11 games, he was credited with just 40 tackles including six for loss and with four sacks. He didn’t knock down any passes, he didn’t force a fumble nor did he recover one.

But the Jaguars are in a position where they did not have to have an instant starter, unlike previous years when a number of draft selections became immediate starters. Instead, team officials may have been looking down the road. The Jaguars have a number of players who will be in line for some serious increases in their contract in the next couple of years. Taking Bryan was more of a luxury pick for a defense that was pretty well set with established players.

What needs to be addressed is that the Jaguars are not likely to be able to retain all of their premiere D-linemen. Campbell and Dareus are due a combined $21.3 million in salary in 2019, none of which is guaranteed. Paying Bryan his rookie contract will be much more conducive to keeping the team’s finances in order.

Don’t look for big contributions from either of the Jaguars’ next two picks, second-round wide receiver DJ Chark or third-round selection Ronnie Harrison. Chark will fall into a pool of receivers, none of whom are Pro Bowl worthy, but all of whom have NFL experience. The addition of Donte Moncrief in free agency was needed following the departure of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, the team’s two leading receivers in 2016. Harrison isn’t destined to be a rookie starter either, not with the solid Jaguars secondary. No one will be able to dislodge corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye for at least five or six seasons. Replacing one of the two safeties in Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson won’t be easy either as both had strong seasons a year ago and have several good years left before they will likely give up their starting spot. Harrison will help and will get good experience backing up Church and Gipson while contributing on special teams play.

All in all, it wasn’t the banner year that the Jaguars have experienced the last two seasons where five players were starters last season and another five were contributors in a backup role. Going from picking at the No. 4 spot in the draft order to the No. 29 position can have that affect on a team’s draft picks. But Coughlin seemed pleased at the end of the day when assessing the Jaguars newcomers.

“We obviously had our priorities going in. Sometimes you have an opportunity (to meet those priorities), sometimes you don’t,” Coughlin said. “You try to match the value with your pick and in some cases we did. Is it different to pick at the bottom? Yes it is.

“We have quality football players (with our draft picks) and that’s what will make our team better. That’s what the consideration is always. We want the competition, we want as much as we can get. That’s the one thing in our game that makes everybody better. These guys were drafted to be football players whether it’s starter or whatever. At some time during the course of the season, God willing, health being a key factor, these guys will all make strong contributions as we go along.”