The Jacksonville Jaguars followed up a solid 2013 NFL Draft class with an even better one in 2014. And just like last year, there’s a couple guys from this class that should make an impact right away.
The most notable impact from this years rookie class will come on the offensive side of the ball, particularly at wide receiver. Marqise Lee (WR, USC) and Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State) were two guys that, any other year, would’ve been first rounders. Just so happens that this year was historically deep at the position, and both players saw their value slightly dip as a result. Make no mistake, however, these guys will be expected to come in and produce right away.
Both Lee and Robinson are highly mature and developed receivers. Strong hands, smart route running and strong mental makeup are three easy ways to describe them. Neither will ever be classified as a ‘burner’ (4.52 and 4.60 40-yard dash times), but both have the ability to make plays after the catch. Plus, Ace Sanders and Cecil Shorts should provide the deep threats for the receiving corps anyway (assuming Sanders makes it out of camp). Providing Lee and Robinson stay healthy, I’d expect a big impact from these guys right away.
Brandon Linder (OG, Miami), the teams third rounder, should fill a starting guard role along with the recently signed Zane Beadles this year. Linder doesn’t necessarily excel in any one area, but is very solid across the board and has the versatility to play multiple positions up front. Just like Lee and Robinson, Linder’s another high character guy with strong leadership skills, something you can’t have enough of in a locker room.
Chris Smith (DE, Arkansas) and Telvin Smith (OLB, FSU), each taken in the fifth round, represent the two defensive rookies who could make an impact right away. Smith (the lineman) is a good pass rusher who seems perfectly fit to play Gus Bradley’s ‘Leo’ position, and could make Jason Babin expendable. Regardless of if Smith starts or not, he’ll likely be involved in the rotation to keep fresh bodies on the field.
Smith (the linebacker) will push WLB Geno Hayes hard and was very impressive at rookie camp. His range, athleticism and pass rushing polish will get him in on nickel and dime packages at the very least.
If Aaron Colvin (CB, Oklahoma) hadn’t torn his ACL in the middle of Senior Bowl practice week, I’d include him on this list. Alas, he’ll be on the PUP list and likely won’t make an impact until 2015, when he’ll compete for a starting role.
And if you’re wondering about the number three overall draft pick this year and the teams first rounder, QB Blake Bortles (UCF), don’t expect him to win the battle in camp with Chad Henne. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the starter by the end of the season, particularly if the season begins souring early on. Yes he has an impressive physical skill set, but make no mistake, he’s incredibly raw. He’ll need some time to develop and acclimate to the speed of the game, and learn how to read NFL defenses.
As a whole, I expect big things in the present and the future from this class. The old saying is that you need three strong draft classes in a row to see a noticeable difference on the field. Maybe we’ll see a difference after only two in Jacksonville.