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Tiki and Tierney: Jawaan Taylor says Gardner Minshew is a ‘true leader’
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With Yannick Ngakoue traded to the Vikings, the Jaguars’ team that reached the AFC title game three years ago is all but completely dismantled, and it’s certainly not too early for Jacksonville fans to focus their collective attention on the 2021 NFL Draft. If GM David Caldwell survives the 2020 season, he will be given the amazingly rare opportunity to navigate the same franchise through two rebuilding processes. 

Gardner Minshew is the headliner in Jacksonville — he’ll be a blast again this season — but I have a feeling he’s going to have a hard time shaking the fact he was a sixth-round pick and doesn’t “look” the part. As fair or unfair as that may be, the Jaguars’ have many more issues right now than the long-term future of the quarterback position. Let’s dive into which players are worth retaining into next offseason, then pinpoint a 2021 draft strategy. 

(Players are listed by importance of being retained)

Quarterback

Gardner Minshew 

The Jaguars could keep one of Josh Dobbs or Juke Luton, but neither will factor into the team’s long-term plans at the game’s most vital position. Minshew could. He did not resemble a sixth-round pick after being thrust into the starting gig early last season, and while he was benched late in the year, Minshew returned and didn’t miss a beat. History tells us it’s unlikely he’ll stay on franchise quarterback trajectory given his limited physical traits. He makes the most of every ounce of his talent though. Even if the Jaguars prioritize quarterback in Round 1 of the 2021 draft, Minshew’s value resides in his status as high-caliber backup or potential trade bait.

Running back 

Ryquell Armstead or Devine Ozigbo

There’s no point for the Jaguars to re-sign Leonard Fournette. Actually, it’s rare that a team should extend a running back in today’s NFL. But I digress. Armstead and Ozigbo are young and under contract for a few more seasons. There’s no need for either of them to be straight-out released, and it’d be reasonable for the back who performs the best as Fournette’s backup in 2020 to earn a roster spot in 2021. 

Wide receiver

D.J. Chark, Laviska Shenault, Collin Johnson, Keelan Cole

The Jaguars cannot let Chark become Allen Robinson 2.0. Chark is 6-foot-3 with 4.34 speed and had 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He doesn’t turn 24 until late September. There is major star potential in Chark. If Shenault stays healthy, he’s going to be instant impact. That thought came to me immediately following the draft. His routes need some work. After the catch, he’s a revved-up Ferrari ready to fly out of the garage. And he doesn’t turn 22 until October. I’m considerably lower on Johnson, Jacksonville’s fifth-round pick in 2020, mostly because he’s not going to separate or win after the catch often in the NFL, but he is 6-foot-6 and can rebound the football simply due to his immense length. 

Cole has overachieved his entire NFL career and deserves another short-term contract in Jacksonville. If the Jaguars let him walk, not the end of the world. Chris Conley was a serviceable secondary target for Minshew last season but is not worth re-signing next offseason because of his age and the fact that Jacksonville will know what they have with him at that point. He’s not a needle-mover. 

Tight end

Josh Oliver, Tyler Davis

This, along with running back, is the most barren position from a long-term perspective on Jacksonville’s roster. Oliver’s been on IR in each of his first two NFL seasons, and of course Davis has yet to play a snap in the league. The Jaguars might want to completely revamp this position starting next year. 

Offensive line 

Jawaan Taylor, Brandon Linder, Ben Bartch, A.J. Cann, Andrew Norwell, Will Richardson

For a franchise heading toward the ground floor of a rebuilding process, I actually like what Jacksonville has on its offensive line. Taylor, the team’s second-round pick in 2019, was the best rookie offensive tackle last year and has a bright future as a punishing, balanced player at the position. His film at Florida was fantastic, and he looked the part in his debut NFL season. Richardson’s natural position is tackle, where he played and excelled as a pass protector in college, and he needs to remain there in the NFL. Guard isn’t his jam, as we discovered last season. 

Bartch was my No. 9 offensive tackle in the 2020 class and No. 74 prospect overall. Yeah, I was mildly enamored with the Division II star with the length, athleticism, and power to be one of the very few small-school blockers who can stay at tackle in the NFL, and not bump inside to guard. 

Linder is the elder statesmen of the group, and he’s long been one of the league’s most underrated centers. He’s not a free agent until 2023 and should be part of the team’s plans until then at a position where it’s difficult to find quality talent. Jacksonville can be feel perfectly content letting Cam Robinson walk and veteran A.J. Cann will be a cut candidate. Former splashy free-agent signing Andrew Norwell is walking a thin line too. He was not very good in 2019, and in 2021 he’ll have a $15 million cap number. 

Defensive line

Josh Allen, K’Lavon Chaisson, Davon Hamilton, Taven Bryan

Jacksonville’s early draft emphasis on the defensive line has paid quality dividends of late. Last year, Bryan, the team’s 2018 first-round pick, came into his own as a power player who can align anywhere up front. Allen had a rookie season that would’ve won Defensive Rookie of the Year had it not been for Nick Bosa arriving as an instant superstar in San Francisco. 

Chaisson was my No. 2 edge rusher and No. 11 overall prospect in the 2020 class. He’s freaky. A bendy, explosive, speed-to-power defender with a nice arsenal of pass-rushing moves. I didn’t see any major flaws to his game on film. He’s the ideal No. 2 outside rusher to Allen. 

I didn’t see it with Hamilton whatsoever — I certainly wouldn’t have picked him in the third round like Jacksonville did — but he is a 6-4, 320-pound gap-shooter. He’s not great with his hands and lacks lateral movement skills. But as a Day 2 rookie, he’s not going anywhere for a few seasons. 

The rest of the defensive line consists of take-it-or-leave-it deep depth. 

Linebackers 

Myles Jack, Joe Schobert, Quincy Williams, Leon Jacobs, Shaquille Quarterman 

Jack wasn’t great in 2019. That doesn’t mean he’s washed. He’s still only 25 years old and is one of the most athletically gifted linebackers in the NFL. He’s signed through 2024, and Jacksonville can’t save a higher amount than his dead cap would be if released before 2022. Schobert transitioned nicely from edge rusher to off-ball linebacker in Cleveland and was signed to a five-year deal — which includes guaranteed money only in the first two years — this offseason. Franchise-defining player? No. But he’s established and will be in at least the long-term plans initially. 

Williams is an enigma in that he played college ball at Murray State, didn’t receive a combine invite, then went in the third round last year. He flashed because of his athletic prowess, was mostly ineffective, and landed on IR in December. Jacobs is a rocked-up off-ball linebacker with some edge-rushing/setting abilities and has well outplayed his seventh-round draft status. Quarterman was picked in the fourth round of 2020 and got the job done at Michigan despite size and athletic limitations. If Jack rebounds the Jaguars would have one star at this position, but after him, linebacker is in need of a widespread upgrade. 

Secondary

C.J. Henderson, Jarrod Wilson, Ronnie Harrison, Daniel Thomas, D.J. Hayden

Henderson was a top-10 pick in April and enters the league with elite mirroring abilities in man. Finding the football isn’t exactly his forte, and his 2018 season at Florida was more impressive than 2019. The tools are there for him to be a lockdown No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. Wilson, the former undrafted free agent from Michigan, has rounded out his game in his first four years with the club and turned in a 79-tackle, four-pass breakup, two-interception 2019 that led to an aptly deserved contract extension. He’s only 26. Keep him. 

Re-signing Hayden may seem to not align with the rebuild, given that he’s already crossed into his 30s, but with the way Jacksonville has cycled through cornerbacks, it wouldn’t hurt to continue to retain him on short contracts until his play dips. He’s a resilient veteran who can mentor Henderson. Harrison was a third-round pick in 2018 and has surprised me with his ability in coverage after his enforcer reputation at Alabama. Thomas is a thick, explosive safety best ranging from sideline to sideline but can get to the football down the field in some occasions. There’d be no need re-signing or retaining anyone else in the secondary. 

2021 draft picks 

Round 1: Jaguars, Rams 

Round 2: Jaguars, Vikings

Round 3: Jaguars

Round 4: Jaguars, Rams

Round 5: Jaguars, Vikings (conditional could be third or fourth)

Round 6: Jaguars

Round 7: Jaguars

After the Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue trades, the Jaguars have 11 selections in the 2021 draft. A GM’s dream. Four picks in the first two rounds is juicy, and based on the personnel listed above, Jacksonville’s in dire need of an infusion of serious talent across the board. 

2021 draft strategy

Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback

For as much as I admired Minshew’s moxie, playmaking skill and surprising downfield accuracy, the Jaguars will almost assuredly need to pick a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 draft. It doesn’t even matter how well he plays this season. Likely picking near the top of the draft, the Jaguars should prioritize the most vital position on the field with their first pick. Trevor Lawrence sound good? How about Justin Fields? If either are available or within striking distance for the Jaguars — they will be — Jacksonville’s front office needs to pull the trigger. They’re so young, so talented, with so much upside. 

After that, the secondary and offensive line need to be reinforced. Another cornerback to pair with Henderson on the perimeter and eventual replacements for Norwell and Cann at guard are musts. Oh, and while I’m still on the offensive line topic, if the Jaguars for some reason cannot land Lawrence or Fields, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell is “generational” (on an NFL timeline) and should not be passed up. 

On Day 2 of the draft, receiver should be the focus. Teams are drifting toward having three — not just two — high-caliber wideouts in today’s NFL. The Jaguars need to give their young quarterback as many weapons as possible. On that front, the 2021 class of tight ends looks very good at this juncture. Jacksonville should be all over that position as well. Lastly, a penetrating defensive tackle has to be brought in at some juncture — earlier rather than later — to help divert some attention away from Allen and Chaisson around the corner. 

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