JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have been here before.
A division title. A run to the AFC Championship Game where they suffered a heartbreaking loss. The 29th overall selection in the ensuing draft. Tom Coughlin in charge of making that pick.
That was the 1999 season and the 2000 draft, and the Jaguars are certainly hoping things go much better this time around.
Coughlin used the 29th pick on USC receiver R. Jay Soward, who turned out to be one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history.
Soward battled alcohol issues as a rookie and Coughlin fined him numerous times for violating team rules. Coughlin even sent a limo to Soward’s home to ensure that he would make team meetings. Soward caught 14 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown in 13 games in 2000 but was suspended for the first four games of the 2001 season after violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
He never played another down in the NFL, though he did play three seasons for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
It’s a much different scenario for the Jaguars now than it has been over the past decade when they picked in the top 10 every year. That’s an NFL record, as is the six consecutive seasons in which they picked in the top five (2012-17).
Only two of those players -- defensive tackle Tyson Alualu and quarterback Blake Bortles -- earned second contracts with the Jaguars and cornerback Jalen Ramsey was the only one named to a Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team. Meanwhile, the rest of the teams picking in the top 10 since 2008 had no trouble finding elite players. Of the 100 players taken in the top 10 the past decade, 41 became Pro Bowlers (a total of 103 Pro Bowls) and 20 were named All-Pro (a total of 32 times).
It’s not like it’s impossible to find elite players with the 29th pick. The chances of landing one are obviously lower than when picking in the top 10, but teams have found and developed some. Going back to the 2000 draft, four former 29th overall picks made the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team: center Nick Mangold (New York Jets in 2006), guard Ben Grubbs (Baltimore in 2007), safety Harrison Smith (Minnesota in 2012), and receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota in 2013).
That’s comparable to the success teams picking first overall in the second round had over that same 18-year span. Three players made the Pro Bowl or the All-Pro team: Quarterback Drew Brees (San Diego in 2001), linebacker DeMeco Ryans (Houston in 2006), and safety Landon Collins (New York Giants in 2015).
With a similar success rate, maybe the Jaguars’ best option would be to find a way to trade down into the early part of the second round. The most likely scenario for that to happen is a quarterback falling, but all it takes is one team to fall in love with a player they don’t think will be available when they pick in the second round for the Jaguars to have a chance to make a move.
Despite making the AFC Championship Game and signing guard Andrew Norwell and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Jaguars do have some significant needs -- a pass-catching tight end, another interior lineman, a receiver that can stretch the field, linebacker help -- and additional picks would be helpful.
The Jaguars don’t have a fifth-round pick because they sent it to Buffalo in exchange for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus last October. They could recoup that, or possibly even a third- or fourth-round pick, by moving out of the first round.
If the Jaguars do stay at 29 it seems unlikely they’ll target a quarterback despite the fact that numerous mock drafts have them taking Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. They’re committed to Bortles as the starter and taking a quarterback wouldn’t make them any better in 2018. The Jaguars’ window to compete for a Super Bowl isn’t open indefinitely and they’ll only be able to keep the elite defense together for another season, maybe two. Taking a quarterback at No. 29 would essentially be wasting a pick.
It’s an interesting debate to have, though, and it’s a sign of just how much things have changed for the Jaguars in just one season.