When looking at a team’s draft class I tend to combine it with the free agency period as well and after this weekend, I would give the Jacksonville Jaguars a solid B+/A- in 2012 . They entered the offseason with needs at cornerback, wide receiver, pass rusher and backup quarterback; The Jaguars filled most of these spots via free agency and entered the Draft with no major holes. The team added one of the top talents in the entire draft class, an explosive edge rusher, the top rated punter and some solid developmental depth types. Lets look at the 2012 Jacksonville draft class.
The team traded up 2 spots to select wide receiver Justin Blackmon with the #5 overall pick and he should start from day 1 for the greatly improved Jaguars' passing attack. This draft featured 6 elite players according to most draft experts - the two quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III), Left Tackle Matt Kalil , Running back Trent Richardson, cornerback Morris Claiborne and Blackmon, and after Jacksonville General Manager Gene Smith traded up the Jaguars added one of them when they entered the weekend on the outside looking in. Jacksonville helps last season’s #1 selection (QB Blaine Gabbert) and Blackmon joins free agent signee Laurent Robinson and returnee Mike Thomas to provide the Jags with 3 NFL level starting wideouts . These moves should make life easier for not only Gabbert but veteran offensive stars running back Maurie Jones Drew and tight end Marcedes Lewis as well. Blackmon is a physical, go up and get it type who should make an immediate impact. This is a great pick for Jacksonville and Gabbert should be smiling today.
With their 2nd round (#38th overall) selection, the team picked Clemson defensive end Andre Branch, one of the premier rushers of the edge in the Draft. Branch has pro-type size and looks the part, he also posted 17 tackles for loss (10.5 sacks) during his senior season in 2011. He should combine with Jags' defensive end Jeremy Mincey (8 sacks in 2011) to give Jacksonville a much improved rush group. Solid value pick that also fills a need. In the 3rd round (#70), the team picked punter Bryan Anger from California. The highest punter selected since 1995, he started 4 years at Cal and was rated highly by most kick analysts. He had a long of 76 and pinned the opposition inside the 20 yard line 90 times in 255 kicks in the Pac 12.
With the remaining 3 picks, the Jaguars added players with both special teams value and developmental possibilities. The team took Nevada OLB Brandon Marshall in the 5th round (#142) and he joins one of the Jaguars more talented units. He will start as a backup and provide size and toughness to the kick coverage teams. In the 6th round (#176 overall), Jacksonville drafted Florida State CB Mike Harris, who filled a variety of roles on the Seminoles defense and was one of the top special teams player on the roster. Harris is a candidate to play in the nickel and dime packages immediately, be a leader on special teams and could start in 2-3 years. With their final selection, the team selected Defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton in the 7th round (228 overall). A small school player from Ashland, he is a longterm project.