NFL DRAFT: Del Rio, Jags trying to reverse first-round trend Print
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Monday, 23 April 2007 05:18
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 JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -The Jacksonville Jaguars lost a three-year starting safety in free agency. They have two defensive ends who will be in their 30s when the season begins. And they still need a receiver with big-play ability.
Needless to say, the team could do just about anything in the draft Saturday. Jacksonville has the 17th overall selection, plus picks in the second and third rounds.
Heck, given the team's quarterback situation - Jacksonville used three starters last season and Byron Leftwich is entering the final year of his contract - addressing that position might even be an option.
Whichever direction the Jaguars go, coach Jack Del Rio's biggest challenge will be finding a first-round selection who will meet lofty expectations. The previous four - Leftwich, receivers Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and tight end Marcedes Lewis - have fallen well short.
Sure, Leftwich has been pretty much the starter from Day 1, but he's also missed 17 games the last three seasons because of injuries and even got benched in 2006.
Williams and Jones have fluctuated in and out of the starting lineup, both failing to fill the shoes of retired deep threat Jimmy Smith.
And Lewis? Last year's first-round draft pick caught 13 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown.
Del Rio has gotten more production from his second-round picks - cornerback Rashean Mathis, linebacker Daryl Smith, left tackle Khalif Barnes and running back Maurice Jones-Drew - over the same four-year period.
Mathis has started 64 consecutive games and made his first Pro Bowl last season. Smith has emerged as the team's most versatile defender and had a team-high 170 tackles last season. Barnes has solidified the line, helping the Jags become one of the best running teams in the league.
And Jones-Drew? The 5-foot-7 back ranked third in NFL history for most yards (2,250) by a rookie. He also led all rookies with 16 touchdowns.
Del Rio would like to get similar production with Saturday's first-round pick. The coach certainly has holes to fill, but maintained that his draft strategy will be to take the best player available.
``We really have a pretty solid roster that allows you to stick with that type of plan deeper into the draft,'' said Del Rio, whose team finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. ``Throughout the first day you want to be able to stay to that approach and feel good about taking the best guy off the board.''
Free safety Deon Grant, who started every game during his three years in Jacksonville, signed a long-term contract with Seattle. Although Gerald Sensabaugh could step into the position, the fifth-round pick in 2005 might be better suited to play strong safety and eventually replace Donovin Darius.
Darius, who will be 32 when the season begins, is recovering from a broken leg.
The Jaguars signed Carolina safety Kevin McCadam in free agency, but he has six career starts in five years while playing mostly on special teams.
The Jags could fill the void with Florida's Reggie Nelson in the first round. The All-American safety made touchdown-saving tackles, game-changing interceptions and momentum-turning hits for the national champion Gators last season.
Del Rio and several player personnel executives got an up-close look at Nelson at Florida's pro day last month, seeing him run the 40-yard dash in the low 4.3s.
Jarvis Moss was equally impressive at Florida's combine, showing the same skills that allowed the 6-foot-4 defensive end to dominate Ohio State in the title game. Moss could slide into Jacksonville's end rotation that includes Reggie Hayward, Bobby McCray and aging veterans Paul Spicer and Rob Meier. Spicer will be 32 when the season begins, and Meier will be 30.
Jacksonville also might consider Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker.
Drafting a defensive player in the opening round would be a first for Del Rio, a former NFL linebacker and a defense-minded coach.
He might need to stay on offense, though, and take a receiver in the first round for the third time in four years. Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr., and Tennessee's Robert Meachem could be available.
The Jags signed receiver Dennis Northcutt in free agency, hoping he can be a deep threat. That remains to be seen - much like the success of Del Rio's first-rounders.
``I believe we have a good group that we've invested in with draft picks over our first four years here,'' Del Rio said. ``We do believe they are good talented players and that they will continue to improve.''

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