Last year, Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith chose the quarterback he hopes will be the starter for years to come in Blaine Gabbert. This year, Smith needs to surround Gabbert with talent to make the Jaguars a winner — and Smith needs to hope Gabbert looks a lot better in his second season than he did in his first, or else new owner Shad Khan may decide someone else should call the shots on draft day next year.
Defensive end: The good news at this position is that Jeremy Mincey emerged last year as a solid starter, led the team with 8.0 sacks, and then re-signed with a four-year contract in March. The bad news is that Mincey was the only player who could rush the passer in Jacksonville last year: Other than Mincey, no one on the Jaguars managed even four sacks.
So with the seventh overall pick, a pass-rushing defensive end to pair with Mincey would make a lot of sense. Melvin Ingram of South Carolina or Quinton Coples of North Carolina are both possibilities. Whitney Mercilus of Illinois is perhaps the best pure pass rusher in this draft, and although he would seem to be a reach at No. 7, Smith has shown in the past that he’s not afraid to make surprising selections early in the first round.
Wide receiver: Gabbert could really use a better target than the ones he has; last year’s top two wide receivers, Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard, combined for just 73 catches for 707 yards. If Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon falls out of the Top 6, the Jaguars could grab him in the first round. If Blackmon is gone, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd is also an option. If receiver isn’t where the Jaguars go in the first round, look for them to try to get depth at receiver by spending multiple late-round picks on the position.
Offensive tackle: Protecting Gabbert is an important priority, although it’s going to be tough to upgrade the position in this year’s draft. The one offensive tackle who looks ready to step in and start from Week One, USC’s Matt Kalil, will likely be gone by the time the Jaguars draft. Stanford’s Jonathan Martin could be an option in the second round.
There actually aren’t many positions where the Jaguars don’t need an upgrade, but the big three areas where they need to improve are rushing the passer, protecting Gabbert and getting him some receivers. If Smith improves in all three of those areas in the draft, he’ll be a happy man.