Offensive line is already a must for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The opening week matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans wasn’t exactly a matchup that had casual fans rushing to their television screens. If anything, it pitted two teams with hopes of capturing the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft against each other. Somehow, the results were still somewhat surprising.
The Jaguars looked like a team that had the top pick this past year, but the Houston Texans didn’t look like a team projected to end up in that spot in the coming year. Houston surged to a 37-21 victory thanks to a rather explosive offensive output.
For the Jacksonville Jaguars, one concern exiting the game was something that was anticipated, the offensive line. During the 2020 season, Jacksonville allowed the eighth most sacks in the league (44) and finished 28 of 32 for rushing yards (1,519). In an effort to improve those stats, Jacksonville really didn’t make any changes to their offensive line this past offseason.
The team opted to use a franchise tag of left tackle Cam Robinson only to draft Walker Little in the second round and bench him behind Robinson. The rest of the offensive line filled out with Andrew Norwell, Brandon Lindor, A.J. Cann and Jawaan Taylor.
In a not-so-shocking development, the line struggled in the first week of the season. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence was still able to tally 332 passing yards and three touchdowns, but that was accompanied by three interceptions.
The Houston Texans defense made it into the backfield for just one sack, but added four quarterback hits and three tackles for loss to the box score. Given that Houston’s defense was widely regarded as one of the anticipated “bottom-feeders” of the league this season, that’s not a great sign at all for the Jags.
Unfortunately, the struggles weren’t exclusive to just Lawrence for Jacksonville. The running game failed to show any life with the team rushing for just 76 total yards. Carlos Hyde led the way with 44 yards on nine carries and the 2020 undrafted standout James Robinson was stymied to just 25 yards on five carries.
Now, Jacksonville is in the midst of a rebuild, there’s no questioning that. However, we’ve seen this movie before and the results were not good. Just last year, the No. 1 pick, Joe Burrow, was behind an unstable offensive line and it cost him much of his rookie season due to an ACL injury. Luckily, Burrow is back and a win in week one showed promise for the young quarterback, but Jacksonville will hope to avoid the same fate with Lawrence.
At this point in the season, albeit early, there probably isn’t a whole lot that can be done except hoping for Lawrence to stay healthy. NFL free agents can’t step right in like other sports and offensive line is specifically difficult to find value on the open market. That means the unfortunate reality for Jacksonville might be waiting until the 2022 NFL Draft to protect their most valuable asset.
Again, the news here isn’t great. The 2021 NFL Draft had Penei Sewell leading a group of five offensive lineman to go in the first round. The 2020 NFL Draft was a similar story with seven offensive lineman going in the first round, including four in the Top 15. The 2022 NFL Draft class might not be as deep at the position.
On the CBSSports Top 50 prospects that was released earlier this month, there are 12 offensive lineman in the top 50. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are only two in the Top 10 and they are ranked nine and 10. That could give Jacksonville options, but if they play at the level they did in week one, they might be picking much higher than those slots.
Luckily, there’s options and plenty of time left. Perhaps offensive linemen emerge throughout the college season to be candidates for a high pick. Maybe Jacksonville turns it around and is picking right where they need to be to upgrade the line. Even if they end up near the top they could always trade back or even “reach” to get their guy.
Regardless of the path, it’s becoming clear already that offensive line will be the top need for the Jacksonville Jaguars when the 2022 NFL Draft rolls around. They have the quarterback in place. The running game has a future once healthy and the receivers provide plenty of options. Now, they just need to give Lawrence time in the pocket and keep him off the ground and healthy.