Re-Grading Jacksonville Jaguars' Past 5 Drafts

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

Re-Grading Jacksonville Jaguars' Past 5 Drafts

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The NFL draft hasn't exactly been kind to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the last five years. More precisely, the struggling AFC South franchise has made poor use of the league's annual selection meeting.

    There have been high-profile flops, such as a quarterback who was a major reach in 2011. He is joined by a wide receiver whose off-field issues have smothered his obvious talent.

    If there is one positive from the last half-decade's worth of drafting, it comes in the form of the team's 2013 class. At least four of those players have the chance to be major contributors in the coming seasons.

    Here is a re-grading for each of the Jaguars' draft hauls since 2009. Players are graded based on their impact in Jacksonville alone, not what they have done elsewhere.

    All selection information and statistics courtesy of

2009: Other Teams Are Feeling the Benefit

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    Terrance Knighton was a solid pick in '09.
    Terrance Knighton was a solid pick in '09.USA TODAY Sports

    The 2009 class featured a clutch of players now plying their trade in other cities.

    1. Eugene Monroe, OT: B

    2. Eben Britton, OT: D

    3. Terrance Knighton, DT: B

    3. Derek Cox, CB: C

    4. Mike Thomas, WR: C

    5. Jarett Dillard, WR: F

    6. Zach Miller, TE: E

    7. Rashad Jennings, RB: C

    7. Tiquan Underwood, WR: C

    As the eighth overall pick in 2009, Eugene Monroe quickly became a serviceable left tackle in Jacksonville. He was an accomplished starter until the team traded him to the Baltimore Ravens early last season.

    Eben Britton was quickly shifted inside to guard, but he never became a regular starter. He was shipped to the Chicago Bears in 2013.

    Terrance Knighton was a solid pick in the third round. The mammoth defensive tackle was a great fit for then-head coach Jack Del Rio's 2-gap 4-3 scheme.

    Knighton had trouble controlling his weight during four seasons in Jacksonville. But he still played some strong football in 2010 and 2011, when he helped the Jags rank sixth in total defense.

    He wisely reunited with Del Rio for the Denver Broncos last season.

    Derek Cox was a steady starter as a rookie. He became consistently opportunistic in Jacksonville, registering four interceptions in a season three times.

    But injuries slowed the third-rounder, who missed 17 games in his final three seasons, before signing with the San Diego Chargers. Cox joined the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.

    Mike Thomas was a solid, possession receiver in 2010, catching 66 passes for 820 yards. But that is as good as things got in Jacksonville for the current Houston Texan.

    Jarett Dillard has been in and out of football since he was drafted. Zach Miller never made the grade as a receiving threat at tight end, and he was a pretty mediocre returner.

    Despite gathering dust on the bench while Maurice Jones-Drew was running riot, Rashad Jennings has since managed to carve out a niche as a useful change of pace back.

    But like most of this class, other teams have benefited from Jennings' ability. He rushed for 733 yards with the Oakland Raiders last season, and he translated that production into a move to the New York Giants.

    Nobody is ever going to confuse Tiquan Underwood for Jerry Rice, but the seventh-rounder has found his calling as a capable special-teamer and occasional deep threat since leaving Jacksonville in 2011.

    The 2009 class is one defined by the exploits of its members away from Jacksonville. Monroe and Knighton start for serious AFC contenders.

    Meanwhile, Cox and Jennings are useful rotational players who should each be productive in their latest stops.

    This class yielded some solid pros, but was of little benefit to the Jaguars.

    Overall Grade: C-

2010: It's Never a Good Idea to Reach

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    Tyson Alualu has not lived up to first-round billing.
    Tyson Alualu has not lived up to first-round billing.USA TODAY Sports

    A defensive-minded head coach stocking up on defensive players should be a recipe for a good draft. Except it doesn't always work that way. It certainly didn't for the Jaguars in 2010.

    1. Tyson Alualu, DT: D

    3. D'Anthony Smith, DT: F

    5. Larry Hart, DE: E

    5. Austen Lane, DE: D

    6. Deji Karim, RB: C

    6. Scotty McGee, KR: F

    It's never a good idea to reach in any draft. But Del Rio was clearly enticed by the idea of partnering Tyson Alualu with Knighton at the heart of his 4-3 front.

    It was considered a major reach and an unnecessary gamble.

    The gamble appeared to pay off in 2011, but Alualu has never truly justified his status as a first-round selection.

    The rest of this forgettable draft haul was littered with D-linemen who have rarely seen the field as pros.

    Overall Grade: F

2011: The Same Mistake Repeats Itself

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    Blaine Gabbert never came close to making the grade in Jacksonville.
    Blaine Gabbert never came close to making the grade in Jacksonville.USA TODAY Sports

    One year after reaching at defensive tackle, the Jaguars made the same mistake at a more precarious position. They plucked ex-Missouri star Blaine Gabbert off the board with the 10th overall pick, a huge mistake.

    1. Blaine Gabbert, QB: F

    3. Will Rackley, G: C

    4. Cecil Shorts, WR: B

    4. Chris Prosinski, DB: F

    5. Rod Issac, DB: F

    Trading up for Gabbert was a catastrophic error that set the franchise back three seasons. It threw a young and raw spread-style quarterback into a pro offense that didn't suit him.

    His 24 interceptions in three seasons, offered definitive proof that the Jaguars were one of the league's worst teams at preparing for a draft and adequately scouting top-tier prospects.

    Fortunately, 2011 did yield some value from mid-rounders Will Rackley and Cecil Shorts. The latter is a talented wide receiver, who despite some consistency issues with his hands, can still develop into a regular playmaker.

    But the spectre of Gabbert's failings will always loom large over this draft class.

    Overall Grade: E

2012: The Year of What Might've Been

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    Andre Branch can still be a success in Jacksonville.
    Andre Branch can still be a success in Jacksonville.USA TODAY Sports

    Hindsight can naturally be applied to any draft class, but it can be particularly painful in some cases. Such as thinking what might've been for the Jaguars in 2012.

    1. Justin Blackmon, WR: D

    2. Andre Branch, DE: B

    3. Bryan Anger, P: D

    5. Brandon Marshall, LB: F

    6. Mike Harris, CB: D

    7. Jeris Pendleton, DT: F

    On the surface, Justin Blackmon seemed an obvious fit for a team that hadn't had standout production at wide receiver since the days when Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell were dominating defenses.

    It's impossible to question Blackmon's talent, but his temperament has never been right since entering the NFL. Repeated substance abuse issues culminated in an indefinite suspension for the player the Jags used the fifth overall pick to select him.

    Blackmon became the third first-round selection in a row the Jags got wrong. While it's easy to look back and wonder, the mistake is compounded by the players Jacksonville missed.

    Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, or linebacker Luke Kuechly would have answered greater needs. But decisions made in the third round in 2012 should still have the Jaguars kicking themselves.

    The team opted for punter Bryan Anger. That's right a punter, and in the same round Russell Wilson was drafted. In fact, the Jags took Anger ahead of the quarterback who has since won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks.

    No punter, save for maybe Kyle Richardson with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, has ever made a notable impact for a championship team.

    Taking Anger so high stands as a symbol of Jacksonville's ineptitude this decade.

    The only player from this class history may treat kindly is Andre Branch. The ex-Clemson defensive end still has solid potential as a pass-rusher.

    He tallied six sacks last season and should benefit from having greater talent around him, such as free agents Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Ziggy Hood, in 2014.

    Overall Grade: E

2013: Hope for the Future

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    Johnathan Cyprien is the leader of an encouraging class of players taken in 2013.
    Johnathan Cyprien is the leader of an encouraging class of players taken in 2013.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    If head coach Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell turn the Jaguars into a winner, many might consider the 2013 draft class as the starting point for the revival.

    1. Luke Joeckel, OT: C

    2. Johnathan Cyprien, S: A

    3. Dwayne Gratz, CB: B

    4. Ace Sanders, WR: B

    5. Denard Robinson, RB: C

    6. Josh Evans, S: C

    7. Jeremy Harris, CB: D

    7. Demetrius McCray, CB: C

    The jury remains out on Joeckel after he lost most of his rookie season to a serious ankle injury. But a return to his favored left side should see last year's second-overall pick deliver.

    Johnathan Cyprien has already proved his credentials as a legitimate pro performer. The all-action safety can be a key figure in Bradley's defense. So can cornerback Dwayne Gratz, provided he stays healthy.

    Ace Sanders was a pleasant surprise on offense. Coordinator Jedd Fisch can take advantage of his versatility to add some creative wrinkles to Jacksonville's overall scheme.

    Fisch is likely to take a similar approach with converted running back Denard Robinson. If the position change sticks, Robinson will give the Jags some much-needed speed out of the backfield.

    Unlike in previous years, even late-rounders from this class have helped out and shown potential. Defensive backs Josh Evans and Demetrius McCray should stay relevant in the secondary rotation, as well as featuring on special teams.

    This class represents the only time in the last five years when a draft visibly improved the Jags.

    Overall Grade: B

Lessons for 2014

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    Gus Bradley must continue to deal in volume and value in the draft.
    Gus Bradley must continue to deal in volume and value in the draft.USA TODAY Sports

    Four putrid drafts out of five has obviously taught the Jaguars a thing or two. It is particularly telling that only Alualu, Rackley, Mike Harris and Shorts remain on the roster from the 2009-11 classes. 

    The other obvious lesson of note is to treat draft picks with more respect. Selections are vital tools for repairing a losing culture.

    Bradley and Caldwell clearly felt that way last year when they made eight picks. The pair have since traded both Monroe and Gabbert for additional choices.

    The Jags will have 11 picks this year. A skeptic would argue that provides a lot of scope for getting things wrong again.

    But as long as this regime avoids the reaches, refuses to be wowed in the first round and sticks to tailoring picks to the scheme, the 2014 draft can be a success.