JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It appeared the Jacksonville Jaguars had shaken their identity as one of the league’s bottom-feeders and perennial jokes when they won the AFC South in 2017 and came within seven minutes of reaching the Super Bowl before Tom Brady worked his typical comeback magic.
Surely, with a defense that finished second in the NFL in sacks and turnovers and the league’s top-ranked run game, the Jaguars would be a factor in the AFC for the foreseeable future.
Instead, they’re back picking in the top 10 of the NFL draft, in large part because of the disappointing play of two of their previous top-10 picks.
That’s nothing new, though. The Jaguars are caught in a time loop when it comes to drafting in the top 10. They’ve failed to hit on a high pick, which plays a major factor in another poor season, which lands them back in the top 10. Then they fail to hit on another high pick...
The cycle spans four GMs/executives, three head coaches and two owners, and the result is a disastrous decade of draft futility.
So, how bad has it been?
The Jaguars made 10 consecutive top-10 picks from 2008-17; per ESPN Stats & Information, no other franchise has selected in the top 10 more than seven years in a row. For six consecutive years, the Jaguars picked in the top five. That's the longest streak in the NFL since the common draft era began in 1967.
Of the 100 players taken in the top 10 from 2008-17, 23 are already out of the NFL. Four of those players were drafted by the Jaguars: DE Derrick Harvey (2008), OT Eugene Monroe (2009), WR Justin Blackmon (2012) and LT Luke Joeckel (2013). That’s the most of any franchise in that span. Cleveland, Oakland, Kansas City and the New York Jets each have two top-10 picks in that span who are no longer playing.
Of the 100 top-10 players, 53 made the Pro Bowl and 28 made multiple Pro Bowls. There were 24 players named All-Pro (including one player that did not make a Pro Bowl) and nine players who earned multiple All-Pro honors.
The Jaguars drafted just one player who made a Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro: CB Jalen Ramsey. The fifth overall pick in 2016 was a Pro Bowl selection in 2017 and 2018 and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2017.
The Jaguars have twice whiffed on franchise left tackles (Joeckel and Monroe), pass-rushers (Harvey and Dante Fowler) and quarterbacks (Blake Gabbert and Blake Bortles). Those are the premier positions around which franchises are built, and the Jaguars are 0 for 6.
Harvey was Shack Harris’ final first-round pick as the Jaguars’ GM, and he worked what could be the worst trade in franchise history to land the former University of Florida standout. The Jaguars were coming off a playoff appearance, had signed QB David Garrard to a long-term deal and believed they were close to being a Super Bowl team if they could improve their pass rush, so Harris gave up two third-round picks and a fourth-round pick to Baltimore to move from 26th to eighth. Harvey held out for 38 days, recorded 3.5 sacks as a rookie and totaled eight sacks in three seasons before being cut with two years remaining on his contract.
What makes this trade even worse for the Jaguars is the Ravens used the No. 26 pick and one of the third-round picks from the Jaguars to move up to No. 18 and take quarterback Joe Flacco, a move that resulted in six playoff appearances in the next seven seasons and a victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
Gene Smith was promoted to GM and oversaw the next four drafts. He liked to mine the non-Power 5 conferences (then known as BCS conferences) for prospects and placed a premium on players who had been team captains. Only 10 of his 26 draft picks played at Power 5 schools and only two of his 11 picks in the 2010 and 2011 drafts played at those schools: defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (10th overall in 2010) and Gabbert (10th overall in 2011).
Smith also famously drafted and punter Bryan Anger in the third round -- five picks before Seattle selected quarterback Russell Wilson -- in 2012. His first-round pick that year was Blackmon, who played in just 20 games and is currently suspended indefinitely for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
Smith, who also didn’t draft a single player from the SEC during his tenure, was fired after a franchise-worst record 2-14 in 2012.
Dave Caldwell drafted Joeckel, Bortles, Fowler and Ramsey in the first round. Joeckel battled injuries throughout his career, didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up and last played in the NFL in Seattle in 2017.
Fowler missed his rookie season with a torn ACL, had numerous off-field issues (fights, arrests) and the team traded him for a third-round pick last October.
Bortles lasted five seasons. He set single-season franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing touchdowns (35) in 2015, then had a miserable 2016, and then cut down his turnovers significantly in 2017 to help the Jaguars reason the AFC title game. The Jaguars rewarded him with a four-year contract extension in February 2018, but he regressed to the point he got benched for Cody Kessler and the team cut him this offseason -- eating $16.5 million in dead money -- after signing Nick Foles to a $91 million contract with $50.125 million guaranteed.
Owner Shad Khan hired Tom Coughlin in January 2017 and gave him final say on all football matters, which included the draft. He selected Leonard Fournette, who ran for 1,040 yards and nine TDs as a rookie and played a large role in the teams’ division title and AFC Championship Game appearance.
Fournette had a miserable 2018, missing seven games because of injury and another because of a suspension. He had issues with his conditioning, was caught on film yelling at a fan (Fournette later said the fan used a racial slur), and was ripped publicly by Coughlin for his demeanor on the bench in the season finale.
He was arrested two weeks ago for driving with a suspended license and faces a make-or-break season in 2019.
Then there’s Ramsey, the franchise’s lone home run among their 10 top-10 picks since 2008. He’s regarded as one of the NFL’s best players and is arguably the best cover corner. In addition to his two Pro Bowls and first-team All-Pro honor, Ramsey has 44 pass breakups and nine interceptions, and he sealed the Jaguars’ first playoff victory since the 2007 season when he picked off Buffalo’s Nathan Peterman with 26 seconds remaining in an AFC wild-card game after the 2017 season.
Top 10 picks are supposed to become elite players that become the building blocks for a franchise. The Jaguars found one -- which is a major reason why they’re picking in the top 10 again.