JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t picking a player in the top 10 of the NFL draft for the first time since 2018.

They’re not even picking in the middle.

The Jaguars have the No. 24 overall pick, which makes it challenging to predict which player the team will take. Though the Jaguars won the AFC South and advanced to the divisional round before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs last season, there are multiple needs that must be addressed — on offense and defense.

So which direction should the Jaguars go at No. 24?

In perusing the numerous mock drafts out there, four positions have emerged as the most common: Offensive tackle, cornerback, tight end and edge rusher. Each week until the draft we’ll examine one of them and tell you why the Jaguars should or shouldn’t go in that direction. ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid also gives a best fit at the position for Jacksonville. We looked at offensive tackle last week.

This week: cornerback.


Prospects to watch: Brian Branch (Alabama), Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M), Christian Gonzalez (Oregon), Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State), Kelee Ringo (Georgia), Cam Smith (South Carolina), Tyrique Stevenson (Miami) and Devon Witherspoon (Illinois).

The most important reason for the Jaguars to use their first pick on a corner: They will face 14 receivers in 2023 who had at least 800 yards receiving in 2022 — including eight who surpassed 1,000 yards, including Stefon Diggs, Ja’Marr Chase, Mike Evans and Brandon Aiyuk.

The Jaguars are set at one corner with Tyson Campbell. After a rough start to his rookie season, Campbell steadily improved and finished last season as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-highest graded cornerback. Opposing quarterbacks completed 51.9% of their passes when Campbell was the nearest defender, which ranked 20th among all players with at least 200 snaps in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Darious Williams, whom the team signed to a three-year, $30 million contract in March 2022, started the season as the nickel corner but eventually moved outside after an injury to Shaquill Griffin. Williams is better suited to playing outside and his level of play improved in the latter third of the season.

However, two solid cornerbacks aren’t enough in today’s NFL. Most teams are in a nickel or dime defense more than they are in their base defense. Twenty-eight teams played with five defensive backs in more than half of their defensive snaps last season, including the Jaguars (66.5% of the time, the 10th-highest percentage in the NFL).

Tre Herndon was the Jaguars’ nickel back when Williams moved outside and the team re-signed him to a one-year deal last month, but an upgrade is needed. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, opposing quarterbacks had a 112.6 passer rating when Herndon was the nearest defender in coverage — the third-highest rating of any nickel/slot corner with a minimum of 200 coverage snaps.

And the 2023 draft is a good place to get one.

“This year’s cornerback group is among the deepest of any position, and it would be wise for the Jaguars to take advantage of that,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid said. “Tyson Campbell made a big leap during his second season, and it seems like the team wants to keep Darious Williams on the outside. That means that they’ll likely search for a prospect that has inside-out versatility.”

The Jaguars can take a corner, play him inside in 2023, and then move him outside if they decide to move on from Williams in 2024 (a move that would save the team $10 million).

Reid’s best CB fit for Jacksonville

Brian Branch, Alabama — Depending on who you talk to, some evaluators have Branch as a safety while others predominantly have him labeled as a nickel corner. But he is a multifaceted player who checks many boxes the Jaguars are looking for at the position.

Cam Smith, South Carolina — If looking for a prospect who’s more of the true cornerback mold, Smith is it. He has experience at nickel and outside, plus he’s very physical as a run defender and excellent at finding and disrupting the ball in the air.

Why the Jaguars shouldn’t draft a cornerback

The Jaguars kept a pair of late-round corners from 2022 — Montaric Brown and Gregory Junior — and could use this season to get a better idea if either player could fill that nickel spot. Brown played in eight games, mainly on special teams, but he did get time on defense in four games. Junior played in only one game on special teams.

The first priority at the draft should be their most pressing need — and that’s at edge rusher. The Jaguars advanced to the divisional round of the playoffs with Campbell and Williams outside and Herndon inside, so that should be good enough for another year before addressing corner, which may be one of the reasons why the team re-signed Herndon to a one-year deal.

With Arden Key gone, the uncertainty of what 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker can become and Josh Allen failing to take the step up to elite pass-rusher, the Jaguars should even consider multiple edge rushers in the first few rounds of the draft.

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Should the Jaguars draft a cornerback in Round 1? – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog