Jawaan Taylor does the Gator chomp as he enters the stage Friday in Nashville, Tennessee, after the Jaguars made the Florida offensive lineman their second-round pick.
They didn’t have to alter their draft board to do it, either.
Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell selected offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor in the second round, tight end Josh Oliver in the third and running back Ryquell Armstead in the fifth. Taylor should step in as an immediate starter, Oliver will be a heavy contributor, and Armstead has a chance to earn a lot of playing time depending on how things shake out behind Leonard Fournette.
“I feel like we shored up the offensive line,” Caldwell said of what Jacksonville did around its new quarterback. “We got him a playmaker with the running back. We got him a playmaker with the tight end. I feel like we did do some nice things there. And then the combination of the guys we signed in free agency and the guys we have, I think we’ve got a pretty good situation there.”
The Jaguars certainly needed to make some improvements: They scored a league-low 22 offensive touchdowns, including just two in the final five games, and averaged only 15.3 points per game in 2018. The team’s combined Total QBR ranked 30th, and the Jaguars ranked 19th in rushing one season after leading the NFL in the category.
The fix began with Foles, who in March signed a four-year, $88 million contract that includes $50.125 million guaranteed. It continued Friday when the Jaguars moved up three spots in the second round to select Taylor, a player who was linked to the Jaguars by various draft analysts in February and March at the top of the first round.
The Jaguars, after taking Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen in the first round, gave up a fourth-round pick to Oakland to move from No. 38 to No. 35 and also gained a fifth-round pick from the Raiders. It was reminiscent of the 2016 draft, when the Jaguars grabbed cornerback Jalen Ramsey with their first pick and watched linebacker Myles Jack fall into the second round because of concerns over his knee.
“To be able to have Jawaan Taylor at the top of the second round, for us, you talk about something that really, legitimately made the draft and put us in the position where we would have two first-rounders for our first two picks,” Coughlin said. “We just knew at the start of the second round that we could not afford to let him get away as long as he was sitting right there. We didn’t think he would make it there, but he did.”
Taylor should step right in as the starter at right tackle, which was the only unsettled spot on the offensive line.
Oliver caught 98 passes for 1,067 yards and seven touchdowns in four seasons at San Jose State. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end will be used out wide and in the slot as a move tight end more so than a blocker. Geoff Swaim, whom the Jaguars signed to a two-year, $6.6 million contract in March, is more of a blocker than receiver at the position.
The Jaguars haven’t had an impact tight end since Marcedes Lewis’ 10-touchdown season in 2010, and only one team has had fewer tight end receptions than the Jaguars’ 102 in the past two seasons (Miami had 95). In fact, there have been only three tight ends in franchise history who caught 48 or more passes in a single season: Pete Mitchell (1996), Kyle Brady (2000) and Lewis (2010 and 2012). Mitchell, Brady, and Lewis are also the only tight ends in franchise history to surpass 50 catches in a season.
“I know we’ve been looking for a pass-receiving tight end here for a couple years now and have gone in a couple different directions in the free-agency market and it really hasn’t worked out, so this is our first kind of dive at a guy in the draft,” Caldwell said of the Jags taking Oliver. “He’s got the physical measurables and the production and the hands. He’s also very savvy. A lot of tight ends, it’s not just about the physical attributes. It’s knowing how to get open, and he really understands that.”
Armstead is another piece of the Jaguars’ running back rebuild. When Fournette went down with a hamstring injury that eventually cost him seven games last season (and Corey Grant missed the second half of the season with a Lisfranc injury), they were forced to rely on T.J. Yeldon, Carlos Hyde (whom they acquired in a trade) and undrafted first-year player David Williams.
Yeldon and Grant were not re-signed and Hyde was cut. The Jaguars have signed Thomas Rawls, Alfred Blue and Benny Cunningham since the season ended. Armstead is probably the closest to Fournette in terms of size (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) and running style in that group and should get a chance to compete with Blue to be Fournette’s primary backup.
Those additions, plus the upgrade in Foles over Blake Bortles, should make the Jaguars’ offense significantly better in 2019. That was the plan entering the draft, Caldwell said, and the team believed it got good value without having to reach.
“We got the best scenario for our needs and best player available,” Caldwell said.