Jaguars Draft: Executing and Not Trying to Be Cute
As members of the media hungrily consumed baked chicken and hot pasta Thursday afternoon, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2010 season quietly began. Even though the Jaguars’ scouts and coaches prepare for the NFL Draft every day, this was the first time in awhile that head coach Jack Del Rio and general manager Gene Smith – along with Director of Player Personnel Terry McDonough – had formally met with the media to discuss the draft. In nearly 38 minutes at the microphones, as sportswriters and radio personalities jotted down notes, the Jaguars’ Del Rio, McDonough and Smith opened the 2010 season with pre-draft talk.
As the pre-draft luncheon showed us, it’s a new beginning for the Jaguars. Smith began the press conference by giving his thoughts on this year’s draft. “Certainly a week away we feel very good about where we’re at. I like to say we try and do things chapter by chapter …. We’re just trying to get an A-plus on the test in player personnel. So this is a good time of year.”
After the 2009 draft by the Jaguars, there is a certain expectation that the organization can duplicate last year’s so-called A-plus selections. The lively Smith explained, “During the draft, we have players that we target, I guess some people call it a wish list, and in our minds we like to target players we covet; it’s not always possible to do. Sometimes you have high expectations.... but we feel like it’s a good overall draft, especially on the defensive side, so our goal is always to do our best and doing our best is setting the goal of trying to get an A-plus.”
Shooting for that A-plus, as Gene Smith clarified, means Jacksonville needs to stick to its value line on the team’s draft board. That line requires the Jaguars to draft the best-available player on their board and not spotlight specific positions. “We certainly put our coaching staff into the process with spring workouts and player evaluations, but there’s a narrowing down and there’s a process in place and hopefully we’re going into the draft with the mindset it’s not need-driven,” Smith said matter-of-factly.
When questioned again about achieving an A-plus draft for the second straight year, Smith explained, “Again, when I said A-plus, that’s our expectation on the inside. I wish I would have had that mindset in high school, getting A-pluses. But, in terms of the draft, we just want to make sure on our end there are standards of expectations of what we do.”
Besides those expectations, the Jaguars have been pinpointed as a team that is willing to move down in the draft to acquire more picks – especially a second-rounder since it was traded to acquire last year’s 16-game starting cornerback Derek Cox. On Thursday, the straightforward Smith said, “In any draft, it would be great to pick up more picks, but we won’t do that at the expense of being cute. We’ll try to execute and hone in on players we’ve done a lot of work on, that we feel in certain spots of the draft we can garner more value. A lot of times we will move and do things. I’m going to do things, in terms of the purpose behind it, that’s in the best interest of the organization.”
With Jacksonville’s best interests at the forefront, the organization has prepared tremendously. Interviews and meetings with players are on-going tools to evaluate new talent. At Thursday’s luncheon, McDonough spoke of how the staff gets ready for an upcoming draft – “The three of us [Del Rio, McDonough and Smith] sit in a room for months before the draft like we did this year. For Gene, it’s 4:30 in the morning, for me it’s seven, until about eleven o’clock at night, going over and going over it…. We watch it on film. After last year, at the end of the day, Gene formulated the value line and we follow it, and it worked last year. To answer your question, we look at film, and, at the end of the day, the film decides. We don’t disagree a lot, but when we disagree, we have discussions.”
Whether or not disagreements arose prior to the 2009 draft, it all worked out for the hometown Jaguars. After the draft, players fit into roles that needed filling. With the mindset of sticking to the team’s value line, Jacksonville also has reiterated time and again the importance of high-character athletes. Smith, commenting on behavior and character, noted, “We look for patterns; behavior, patterns of performance on the field and certainly patterns of behavior off the field when it comes to character. That’s how we build a case for whatever position we’re going to make. It’s not necessarily off just one incident. It can be multiple incidents, the timing of it. There are a lot of factors. We look at everybody case-by-case. I think you can ask them questions, you can write up the problem….”
As Smith wrapped up his statement, Del Rio politely interjected, “Just to follow-up on that, I think the thing you have to understand is we’re not just, Gene, myself, any of us, are sitting there trying to just ascertain from a player’s comments what we think about that player and formulate a grade based on that conversation. That’s just one small piece. Our scouts are out there, they’ve seen these players three, four years. There’s a body of evidence to suggest what type of young man he is as he comes into our building, from the exposure our scouts have, with the secretaries, all the different layers of people that you’re going to come across that you have had contact with the players. So it’s a lot deeper than just that individual conversation.”
Along with Jacksonville’s personal expectations, best interests and preparation, the team staff seems to be on the right track to locking up a solid 2010 draft. Not only can this new class of rookies be high-character players, but they will receive shots to enter the starting lineup in the upcoming summer. For the Jaguars, and to paraphrase general manager Gene Smith, it is about executing the draft board and not trying to be cute. Jacksonville isn’t trying to win a fashion show, but is setting the foundation for a playoff-caliber team by selecting players that create an A-plus draft.
Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio. Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show. Richard also hosts Inside the Game every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WBOB.
This Thursday, April 22, he is hosting a special edition of Inside the Game from 8 until 10 p.m. It is an NFL Draft Show covering the first round as the NFL takes the draft primetime. In-studio analysts will include NASCAR Andy, Coach Darrell Pasquale and former FSU superstar wide receiver Atrews Bell.
Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.
Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer.