Gene Frenette: How Jacksonville Jaguars, GM Trent Baalke can maximize a dozen draft picks

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Thankfully, the guessing game and spin cycle associated with who the Jaguars might take with the first overall pick is almost over.

We can stop paying attention to NFL mock drafts — the most overdone exercise in American sports media — and everybody’s annoying 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 versions.

Instead, the focus will soon turn to the more pleasant task of figuring out how the Jaguars’ No. 1 choice, along with their remaining selections, will actually fit into the franchise mission of a return to respectability and sustained winning.

So, with seven rounds of the NFL draft commencing Thursday night and ending Saturday, here are seven suggestions for the Jaguars as they navigate through a process where the team’s track record has been mostly dreadful:

Gene's previous three columns:

Mean genes: Childhood hockey experiences of coach Nick Luukko paying off for Icemen

Sports smorgasbord:: Potential new home for golf HOF, Jaguars draft, UF chasing big recruit

Dedicated to the craft: Draft guru Dane Brugler balances life with researching thousands of players

Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke must take advantage of having the No. 1 pick and 11 other selections in the NFL draft for this franchise to get on a path of sustained winning.
Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke must take advantage of having the No. 1 pick and 11 other selections in the NFL draft for this franchise to get on a path of sustained winning.

Tune out armchair GMs

Especially in a year where several players — Aidan Hutchinson, Travon Walker, Ikem Ekwonu, Kayvion Thibodeaux, Evan Neal — have taken turns as the consensus favorite or hot trend to be the No. 1 pick, it's imperative for Jaguars GM Trent Baalke and head coach Doug Pederson to ignore the collective noise on this subject.

They have enough information on these prospects, and done enough film study, to reach their own conclusions.

Why pay one second of attention to anybody masquerading as a scout or war-room adviser?

That rings true even more so with a first-year coaching staff. Not trying to cast aspersions on the impressive work of draft analysts like Mel Kiper, Lance Zeirlein, Daniel Jeremiah, Dane Brugler and the rest, but they would only be guessing at how a versatile weapon like Walker might be used in first-time coordinator Mike Caldwell’s defense.

The overall point here is the Jaguars’ front-office and scouting department have collectively spent more time judging how any of the No. 1 draft pick contenders will fit for their scheme, so value that work.

Last week, what Baalke said at a pre-draft media availability about their approach resonated big-time: “We worry about our board and how we have players valued. I really don’t pay attention to what other people are thinking or saying because you don’t know. You don’t know what’s fact. You don’t know what’s fiction at this point.”

There are no draft guarantees, so the best thing any NFL organization can do is trust its own instinct. If that team is wrong, then at least it’s not somebody else’s miscalculation.

North Carolina State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu would be a safe pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
North Carolina State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu would be a safe pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Greatness at No. 1 a must

Pederson has repeatedly said he wants to play the five best offensive linemen to open holes and protect Trevor Lawrence.

If that’s truly the case, then it’d be hard to second-guess taking North Carolina State’s Ekwonu with the No. 1 pick, even if tackle Cam Robinson signs a long-term contract.

The dilemma for Baalke, and everybody else projecting the top of the draft, is whether edge rushers Walker, Hutchinson or Thibodeaux will have consistently higher production as their careers move forward than an O-lineman. That’s the most important criteria when deciding who will follow Trevor Lawrence as the NFL’s first draft choice.

The Jaguars have failed on way too many top-10 first round picks. Whoever ends up going No. 1, it’s not enough for Ekwonu, Walker, Hutchinson or whomever to just be a good player. The Jaguars need a great one.

Prioritize impact over need

Any team’s draft preparation has to include identifying where the biggest holes are on its roster, but it should never let a depth chart dictate which area gets priority at the time of a pick.

In no particular order, the Jaguars have a ton of needs in varying degrees — offensive line, pass-rusher, receiver, linebacker, running back, defensive line, safety, tight end.

But since 20-to-40 percent of most NFL rosters turn over each year, it’s always best to put a premium on stockpiling better talent over filling a position of greater need. If they happen to match up, that’s a bonus.

For example, let’s say the Jaguars are on the clock with either third round pick at No. 65 or 70. Wouldn’t they be better off in the long run drafting a tight end with a 7.7 rating than a receiver with a 6.9 rating, even though receiver might be the greater need?

“You’re hoping that need and best player available come together, but when they don’t, you take the best available player,” said Baalke.

Hold on to that thought as the draft unfolds. Baalke and Pederson should be thinking about what this team is going to look like in two or three years, not just the needs in 2022.

Put on Trader Trent hat

Seven of the Jaguars’ 12 draft picks are currently in the fifth round or later. If team history is any indication, a large majority of them will either be wasted choices or used on players that last no more than two seasons and have minimal impact.

Bad drafting has been a Jaguars trademark for too long, which includes an inability to find draft picks on the final day who become consistent starters or a special-teams weapon.

From 2006-20, the Jaguars had 67 choices in the fourth round or lower and only five — Uche Nwaneri, Cecil Shorts, Josh Evans, Telvin Smith and current punter Logan Cooke — were truly significant players.

With the Jaguars having seven selections Saturday, there’s little point in hanging on to all those picks. Use them as trade capital to possibly move back up into the first round from the 33rd slot, which Baalke acknowledges is an ideal trading position.

Remember, teams can pick up a fifth-year option on a first-rounder, which is a nice benefit if that player lives up to his value like pass-rusher Josh Allen (2019).

Since many believe the depth quality in this draft can produce a lot of potential starters in the third or fourth round, Baalke has a ton of flexibility with those picks at No. 65 and 70. So be a wheeler-dealer.

“My history’s usually to trade back, not up, but we’re certainly going to look at anything we can relative to making this team better,” Baalke said.

The Jaguars have the draft capital to acquire players they covet in the first four rounds by trading up. Use that leverage.

Georgia wide receiver George Pickens could be a good pick with the No. 33 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens could be a good pick with the No. 33 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Don’t wait too long on WR

This might be the most intriguing question of the Jaguars’ draft: when do they go get a receiver?

While there seems to be a consensus that five or six receivers could be taken in the first round, there’s plenty of varying opinions on which ones merit a higher priority and whether a future Pro Bowler can still be had in the third round.

The Jaguars addressed the need to get quarterback Trevor Lawrence some weapons in free agency by signing Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, but they don’t appear to be true No. 1 receivers.

This feels like a position that needs another impact piece, but when do the Jaguars pull that trigger?

It’s tricky gauging whether to use the 33rd pick on a receiver like George Pickens, whose name elicits a wide variety of opinion. They can possibly even trade up from the No. 65 spot to grab a WR they highly covet.

It’ll be interesting to see where the risk-reward factor lines up for Alabama’s John Metchie III, who is recovering from an ACL tear.

When to grab a receiver is a tough call, but the Jaguars shouldn’t ignore it until the draft’s last day.

Georgia Bulldogs edge rusher Travor Walker (44), seen here pressuring Charleston Southern quarterback Jack Chambers, has emerged as the new odds-on favorite to be the Jaguars' No. 1 overall draft pick.
Georgia Bulldogs edge rusher Travor Walker (44), seen here pressuring Charleston Southern quarterback Jack Chambers, has emerged as the new odds-on favorite to be the Jaguars' No. 1 overall draft pick.

Calling out a Georgia Bulldog

Not that it matters greatly which program any NFL team plucks its draft picks. But with the talent of national champion Georgia being such that as many as 10 players could go in the first three rounds, this might be a good time for the Jaguars to look that way.

Shockingly, the franchise went from 2002 until 2021 without drafting a Georgia player. After taking Marcus Stroud with a first-round pick in 2001, the Jaguars waited until the second round of last year’s draft before selecting another one in cornerback Tyson Campbell.

It’s hard to imagine an NFL team, especially one located just 342 miles from the Athens campus, making 152 consecutive draft picks without one being a Georgia Bulldog.

During that time span, the Jaguars took nine Florida Gators. Pretty quirky, don’t you think?

Well, if the Jaguars don’t draft somebody from Georgia this year, you have to wonder when it’s going to happen again.

With Walker available to start the draft, and maybe linebackers Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker, or Pickens at No. 33, hearing someone’s name called out from the best team in college football wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Don’t screw up No. 1

This suggestion is paramount. Since this will be the Jaguars’ 14th time selecting in the top-10 over the last 15 drafts, feel free to select a player who might actually stick around long-term and sign a lucrative second contract.

Adding to the bust line of Derrick Harvey, Blaine Gabbert, Justin Blackmon, Luke Joeckel, Blake Bortles, Dante Fowler Jr., Taven Bryan and C.J. Henderson is no way to build a franchise.

And if you happen to land an impact talent like Jalen Ramsey, hopefully, he won’t become Mr. Diva and force his way out of town.

Just make the right call at No. 1 and maybe the Jaguars won’t have to pick in the top-10 for another decade.

Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540

Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars have 12 picks in 2022 NFL Draft; they need to maximize choices