When the NFL Draft begins in 15 days, the quarterbacks will be in a supporting role rather than the stars of the show.
Barring a blockbuster trade, this will be the first NFL Draft since 2017 and only the third since 2010 that a quarterback won’t be the No. 1 overall choice. Not after the Jaguars made Trevor Lawrence the No. 1 pick last spring, and have spent the past two offseasons trying to build the infrastructure around him to set him up for success.
After spending big in the first wave of free agency along both lines of scrimmage, resetting the market at wide receiver, and trying to turn the page from a tumultuous rookie season for Lawrence by starting anew with head coach Doug Pederson and a new coaching staff.
As the draft approaches, it truly feels as though there is no consensus on which direction general manager Trent Baalke and the Jaguars will go with the top pick.
“This is as wide open as I can ever remember it being as far as the No. 1 pick,” an NFC general manager tells FanSided, on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about the Jaguars’ situation. “But, inside their war room, I think it comes down to Aidan Hutchinson or Travon Walker, whoever they believe is the biggest difference-maker off the edge.”
In a conference that features the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and now Russell Wilson, and now within the AFC South, Matt Ryan, no one would blame Baalke for prioritizing the top edge rusher.
According to one current defensive line coach, Aidan Hutchinson should, and very well may be, rising to the top of the Jags’ board.
“He has all the length and productivity you want,” the coach tells FanSided. “But, he doesn’t necessarily have the rare qualities like elite athleticism or speed … Like Myles Garrett or Mario Williams, so when you’re evaluating him, there aren’t any major red flags.”
But, even after franchising offensive tackle Cam Robinson and signing Brandon Scherff, there has to be a temptation to take whoever the Jaguars believe to be the best offensive tackle in this class to keep Lawrence upright and keep building along the offensive line.
So, which direction will the Jaguars ultimately go at No. 1?
FanSided spoke to multiple NFL general managers, personnel executives, scouts, coaches, and agents to get a feel for who the league’s power brokers believe has the best chance of hearing their name called as the No. 1 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are their answers:
“They’re probably going to take Travon Walker. He’s just an athletic freak. Plain and simple.”
NFC Defensive coach:
“I could really see them debating this until they have to turn the card in. Defensive end and offensive tackle are probably most likely, and from what I’ve heard, Aidan Hutchinson has really, really high NFL grades from most teams. I could easily see him being where they land.”
NFC Personnel Executive:
“Aidan Hutchinson. He just makes all the plays. He has the highest motor of any of the edge rushers in this class, he’s the most consistent of the bunch, and has an awesome work ethic on and off the field.”
“I don’t think there’s enough separation between any of these edge rushers. I wouldn’t take Hutchinson if I were them, but that’s just my opinion. Take Ikem Ekwonu, then give him the spring and summer to show whether he plays best at offensive tackle or guard, stick him there, and feel great about the pick.”
AFC Offensive Coach:
“They could easily go pass-rusher, but it’s the worst kept secret that Doug Pederson wants to go offense with that pick. The problem is, I’m not sure there’s a No. 1 overall offensive tackle in this class, let alone one worth the No. 1 overall pick.”
“It’s Jacksonville, so if you’re expecting them to do the smart thing, you’ll be disappointed. Most likely, they’ll take a defensive end, probably Hutchinson, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they trade out and load up on picks, but I’m not sure there’s anyone worth trading up for in this class.”
“Aidan Hutchinson is the safest of the guys mentioned at the top of the class, but he’s probably a finished product — or really close to it. If you’re good with that, then he’s a good pick for them.”
“They’ll take the best available tackle. Whoever they think that is. They have to get that line right.”
Todd Bowles’ time
Few stories have dominated this NFL offseason news cycle in the same capacity as Tom Brady’s return to Tampa Bay. In fact, what followed after his “un-retiring” announcement has been kicked into hyperdrive, filled with fast-paced drama and intrigue surrounding the Buccaneers.
Bruce Arians is out. Todd Bowles is in. Brady is back and the Bucs’ quest for a second Super Bowl ring in three years is underway. And all this happened within a span of 96-plus hours, leaving questions and theories of what transpired behind closed doors.
When Arians stepped aside, following Tom Brady’s return from a brief 40-day retirement, and Bowles was elevated to head coach, speculation that acrimony, strife, and a general frustration between Arians and the greatest quarterback to play the game had motivated the abrupt shakeup in Tampa Bay.
All that is far from true, says defensive tackle Steve McLendon, a current free agent who spent the past two seasons with the Buccaneers.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” McLendon told me, during a recent appearance on FanSided’s The Matt Lombardo Show podcast. “From what I know and what I’ve seen, they have a great relationship. They’re always laughing. Tom was always the first person in Bruce’s meetings. When they were going over quarterback stuff, Bruce would always be joking around with Tom.
“BA has always treated everyone exactly the same. He’s a lovable man. He believes family-first, and football second. Tom is the same way. He understands the sacrifices you have to make to succeed every single day. I’ve never seen any animosity or hard feelings between those two. It was just a blessing to have those two guys working together, and it was incredible to see what they accomplished in their first year working together.”
Arians now hands the reins of a roster fully capable of competing for a Super Bowl berth for years to come to Bowles, his right-hand man with former head coaching experience as a member of the New York Jets. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bowles was the leading candidate.
Arians coached him at Temple in 1986, gave him a shot on his staff, and allowed him to feel a sense of power commanding one side of the football during his time with the Arizona Cardinals as his defensive coordinator.
And when Bowles was fired in New York after four seasons, he knew where he was headed next. In three seasons as the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator, Tampa has finished top 10 in total defense each year — twice landing inside the top three.
But what exactly does Bowles give the Buccaneers as the next head coach beyond handing control of Tampa’s offense to Brady and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich?
“It’s not just about what Todd does on the field,” McLendon says. “What really makes Todd special is what he’s able to talk to us about life, off the field. He was a head coach in waiting [with the Buccaneers], he could have gone anywhere else and gotten a head coaching job, but he has groomed so many men here to be better men and better fathers, and that helps us to be even better on the football field.
Anything that happens, it could be a player’s fault, he’ll always step up to the plate and take the blame. He’d be on the sideline and say ‘hey, that’s my fault, it’s not his fault,’ and that would make me want to step up and take accountability, take ownership.”
Bowles now becomes the sixth minority head coach in the NFL. McLendon says he sees plenty of similarities between him and his first head coach, Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin, who enters his 16th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has never suffered a losing season and has made the postseason on 10 occasions. His win-rate hovers around 64 percent —the fourth-highest among all coaches with at least five years of experience.
“They both understand that family comes first,” McLendon points out. “But, they really understand the business, they understand what it looks like to win. Both of these guys are extremely intelligent men, both on the football field and in life. Their preparation is almost identical; Coach Tomlin gets to the building extremely early, and Coach Bowles comes in extremely early.
“Coach Tomlin didn’t have many rules, Coach Bowles is the same way. Their rules were pretty much the same; take the field. You know what that meant. When you step on that field, you own that field. They teach you the true meaning of how to stay focused, how to be driven.”
Bowles’ Jets limped to a 25-40 record, but a deep dive into the roster only backs the Herculean feat that he was able to produce a .375 winning percentage in that environment.
In more ways than one, Bowles’ second chance at the big job is long overdue.
Bowles’ Magnum Opus and what should have been his resumé builder to land one of the head coaching jobs last hiring cycle was his gameplan against Patrick Mahomes and the high octane Kansas City Chiefs offense in Super Bowl LV.
In 60 minutes of action, Bowles’ defense applied relentless pressure on a clearly hobbled Mahomes, who was playing behind a patchwork offensive line/ Tampa managed to do the unthinkable; make Mahomes look human.
The Buccaneers sacked Mahomes three times, intercepted him twice, and held the Chiefs to just nine points, 20 below their season average, in a 31-9 shellacking.
“The game plan we had for the Super Bowl, that our defensive staff put together was a masterpiece,” McLendon says. “Todd Bowles walked in one day and told us ‘this game shouldn’t be close,’ that’s all I kept saying leading up to that game.
“Todd had something for the defensive line, he had something for the linebackers, the secondary, it was like the whole defense was working one accord. From the moment he shared that game plan that first week before the Super Bowl, it felt like that was one of the greatest game plans you could ever put together.”
Arians in plenty of ways preserved his legacy by setting up Bowles and one of the most diverse coaching staffs in league history in line to make a run at their own Super Bowl championship.
“The thing about Todd Bowles is he’s only getting better,” McLendon explains. “Each week, throughout a season there’s an ‘aha’ moment where you ask yourself how they come up with this stuff. But, that’s Todd Bowles. He’s always finding a way to be better. It’s amazing to be part of.”
‘If there was any year to miss, I missed a great one,’”
– Jaguars RB Travis Etienne, on missing his rookie season due to a lisfranc injury, via Pro Football Talk
In retrospect, one has to wonder if Trevor Lawrence wishes that he missed out on the Urban Meyer experience altogether, too.
Doug Pederson has a heavy lift in front of him as he tries to put the pieces back together from as tumultuous a season as we have seen in recent NFL history.
Pederson managed to coalesce a locker room of youthful upstarts and accomplished veterans into a Super Bowl champion in 2017 in Philadelphia. He also is the only coach to have turned Carson Wentz into an MVP-caliber quarterback.
Can Pederson and the Jaguars finally, with one of the youngest rosters in the league and the impending No. 1 overall pick repeat such a feat? Time will tell.
Dwayne Haskins’ death Saturday was an unimaginable tragedy.
Haskins was a football player to fans who love the game as their escape from reality.
To Kalabrya Gondrezick-Haskins, he was a husband.
To Dwayne and Tamara Haskins, he was a son.
And to Tamia Haskins, he was a big brother.
He was a person that impacted more lives off the gridiron than on it. He also had a life ahead of him — one that could have seen him return to a starting role with the Steelers or perhaps another franchise. One that could have ended with a much lighter, upbeat story than the one fans woke up to last week.
Haskins died on Saturday when he was struck by a dump truck when trying to cross a Florida highway on foot. He was only 24.
Haskins was an ardent supporter of the Wolf Trap Animal Rescue in Merrifield, Va. You can make a donation in Haskins’ honor here.
Far too often in this country, we forget that above all else, athletes are human beings first. They’re everyday people with loved ones.
“I spent your final moments with you and I can’t help but think about how selfless you were in those moments,” Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool tweeted. “All you cared about was making sure that everyone around you was okay and I can’t thank you enough for that. You are what I strive to be.”
It doesn’t matter what Haskins could have accomplished in his quest to redefine his NFL career. He was a star quarterback at Ohio State, put up video game numbers that those in Columbus will never forget and finished his college career as a Heisman finalist. He was one of 32 players to be selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, viewed by many as the next “it quarterback” of tomorrow.
That’s an afterthought now. It doesn’t matter. What does is the pain of a parent or sibling no longer being able to pick up the phone to talk to a son, brother or husband. So many memories left uncreated by a young husband and wife.
By a grandparent.
By a brother — not just one by blood, but one by a bond as well.
I lost a high school friend, Justin Sheftel, back in 2005. He was struck by a drunk driver while trying to cross the road on foot in Ocean City, Maryland. I can attest that the pain never quite goes away.
The void is never quite filled. You learn to live. You don’t forget.
The hope here is that Haskins’ family finds some comfort in Dwayne’s memory. His teammates remember fondly their shared experiences with the young quarterback.
Most of all, the hope is Haskins is at peace. And perhaps one day, those closest to him will be too.