Jacksonville Jaguars Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Dante Fowler Jr., OLB, Florida – Round 1
Fowler’s rookie season was lost to a torn ACL, but that injury should not prevent him from becoming a very good starter in the NFL. A number of teams believed that Fowler was the best defensive prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft and has the skill set to be a difference-maker as a edge rusher. Even if Fowler never becomes a player who produces sack totals in the mid-teens, he looks like a safe bet to approach double digits on an annual basis and also serve as a quality run-defender on the edge.

The 6-foot-3, 261-pounder is fast off the edge and plays with a mean streak. He is very physical with offensive linemen and puts quarterbacks down hard. Fowler has strong hands to shed blocks and is versatile to line up in a variety of places. On the edge, he also pursues well in the ground game, and his run defense should continue to improve with experience. Fowler is a freelancer and will need to be more assignment sound in the NFL, but a year of watching the Jaguars and studying tape could be very beneficial in that regard.

The Jaguars have needed a young edge rusher for years. Chris Clemons is nearing the end of his career, and Fowler will have every opportunity to become an impact player. He was a true junior before entering the NFL draft and has ton of athletic upside with his best football ahead of him. The ACL is a bump in the road, but Fowler looks like a safe bet to become a quality starter for Jacksonville.

Most Likely To Bust

A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina – Round 3
At one time during the 2014 season, there were draft writers and others projecting Cann to be a late first-round pick. He was a quality run-blocker for the Gamecocks and successfully got movement out of collegiate defensive linemen. However, Cann had some flaws to his game that caused him to slide to the third round and not grade out as highly as those draft writers projected.

Sources say that Cann struggles in space, and they felt that he was a poor man’s Larry Warford or Gabe Jackson. Cann was a similar blocker as those third-round picks, but both Jackson and Warford are much bigger than Cann. Cann (6-3, 313) is big enough for guard, but he does not project as a true road-grader against NFL defensive tackles, nor is he an elite pass-protector. Some fast three-techniques could give him some problems.

Cann could push Zane Beadles for the starting left guard position, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Cann is a backup as a rookie behind Beadles and Brandon Linder. For the NFL, Cann could be a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. Of the Jaguars early-round picks, I don’t think that Cann was a bad selection, and I don’t believe it is likely that he is a bust, but he has less upside for the NFL than Fowler or T.J. Yeldon.

Potential Boom Pick

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama – Round 2
There were a lot of teams that were high on Yeldon, and sources from a few teams said they wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Yeldon went late in the first round. At Alabama, Yeldon (6-1, 226) was a tough runner who showed the skill set to be a three-down starter in the NFL. He is well built with quickness to hit the hole and accelerate to the second level. In Jacksonville, Yeldon could become a breakout player as soon as his rookie season.

Yeldon averaged five yards per carry for 979 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014 while Alabama used a running back by committee approach. The Crimson Tide also had Amari Cooper as the focal point of their offense. Yeldon ran for over 1,200 yards as a sophomore and 1,100 as a freshman. Earlier in his career, Yeldon displayed more speed before bulking up to handle more carries. He is a quality receiver out of the backfield and has experience in the West Coast offense, which is what is run by Jacksonville.

I think that Yeldon is going to be in the running for the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2015. He should be the starting back immediately as Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson have proven they are only role players. Yeldon is a great fit in Greg Olson’s offense, and Olson figures to make Yeldon the featured runner in the ground offense. Having Yeldon set up third-and-manageables for Blake Bortles will make the second-year quarterback’s job a lot easier. Yeldon could be in store for a big rookie year.

Future Depth Player

Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State – Round 6
Bennett has the talent to be the pick for solid starter or even boom pick. The 6-foot-2, 293-pounder is an excellent interior pass-rusher. He is quick off the ball with the speed to get by tackles and close on the signal-caller. For an interior defensive lineman, Bennett has a real knack for getting to the quarterback. He fell in the 2015 NFL Draft because there weren’t a lot of great team fits for him, and the Jaguars got a steal in the sixth round. Bennett needs to get stronger and improve his run defense though. Some were skeptical of that happening, but even if it doesn’t, Bennett should be a good backup and rotational pass-rusher for Jacksonville. He could be phenomenal as a situational player.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft Grades:

3. Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida: B+ Grade
There was a huge misconception amongst the media that Leonard Williams was the No. 1 player in this draft. Teams we spoke to otherwise, and several franchises had Dante Fowler as the top prospect. This includes the Jaguars, and Charlie Campbell deserves credit for first reporting that Jacksonville was going to select him. The Jaguars have needed a pass-rushing LEO for quite some time now. They rightfully passed on Dion Jordan and perhaps wrongfully eschewed Khalil Mack, but I think they’re getting it right with Fowler. He’ll provide a big boost for their defense, which needs help to battle Andrew Luck (and also Marcus Mariota).

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

36. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama: A Grade
Great job by Charlie Campbell calling this one. Teams were considering T.J. Yeldon at the end of the first round, so the Jaguars had to be thrilled that he made it to them at No. 36. Jacksonville needed to find a running back to upgrade predicted bust Toby Gerhart, and Yeldon was the best player available at the position.

67. A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina: B+ Grade
A.J. Cann could’ve gone in the second half of the previous round, so there is some value here. I’m all for any pick the Jaguars would’ve made on the offensive line. Blake Bortles had no chance last year behind a putrid offensive line, and Cann should definitely help with the blocking.

104. James Sample, S, Louisville: B+ Grade
The talk all along was that James Sample would go ahead of fellow Louisville safety Gerrod Holliman. That came to fruition, and Jacksonville is getting a slight bargain, as Sample had a chance to be chosen in the third frame. The Jaguars had to add to their secondary to give them some sort of chance against Andrew Luck.

139. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State: A Grade
What took so long? Rashad Greene was projected to go in the third round, so him dropping this far is a shocker. With Justin Blackmon falling out of favor with the front office, Jacksonville had to find another wideout, and Greene is a steal.

180. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State: A+ Grade
This is one of the best third-day picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Michael Bennett could have easily gone in the second or third round, but thanks to some minor injury concerns, Jacksonville is getting a steal at No. 180 overall. Bennett is definitely going to help the Jaguars apply more pressure on the quarterback.

220. Neal Sterling, WR/TE, Monmouth: C Grade
Neal Sterling was a good player at Monmouth, but I’m not sure where he fits in the NFL. He’s too slow to be a receiver and too small to be a tight end.

229. Ben Koyack, TE, Notre Dame: A Grade
Tight end isn’t an immediate need, but it’s hard to believe that Marcedes Lewis is going to be on the roster much longer. Ben Koyack, whom I had projected in the fourth round, could eventually emerge as the No. 2 tight end behind Julius Thomas. Koyack is a solid blocker, so he’ll complement Thomas well.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: A . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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