From Comcast SportsNetJACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- When asked what Jacksonville's top need is heading into the NFL draft, general manager Gene Smith was quick to respond."Talent," he said.No doubt, the Jaguars are lacking it on both sides of the ball.And that makes this week's three-day draft, which begins Thursday night, pivotal for a rebuilding franchise that has missed the playoffs 10 of the last 12 years. The Jaguars have the seventh pick in the first round, their fifth consecutive year with a top-10 selection.What they do with it is anyone's guess.The Jaguars, though, have made it clear they would like to trade down from No. 7 and acquire extra picks. They have been fielding calls for weeks about potential swaps, but no deal will be made until draft night."We've already received more phone calls this year than any other year," McDonough said. "There's some jockeying going on."If the Jaguars stay put, expect them to select a pass rusher or a receiver.Although Jacksonville re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey in free agency, the team did nothing else to upgrade a D-line that has some glaring holes.Defensive end Aaron Kampman has missed 15 games over the last two seasons because of knee injuries, a bad sign for a 32-year-old player. Defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith, a third-round pick in 2010, hasn't played a down in two years. Tyson Alualu, John Chick and Austen Lane also are coming off injuries.And then there's defensive end Terrance Knighton, who will miss the majority of the offseason following unplanned eye surgery. Knighton, who has battled weight issues throughout his career, was struck in the face during a bar fight earlier this month. It's unclear if the 340-pounder will make a full recovery and how effective he would be after missing so much time."Our hope is that Terrance has a complete recovery, but there is a little uncertainty at this point," Smith said.The Jaguars could draft South Carolina's Melvin Ingram or Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox to help bolster the D-line. Ingram is considered the best edge rusher in the draft, and Cox is considered the top tackle.Smith believes the draft is the deepest at defensive tackle, so selecting one in the first round might not be as big a priority as other positions.Jacksonville's biggest need after last season was receiver, someone who can help young quarterback Blaine Gabbert develop quickly.The Jaguars had arguably the worst receiving corps in the league, with slot receiver Mike Thomas masquerading as a No. 1 guy. Thomas led the team with 44 catches for 415 yards. Fellow starter Jason Hill was released in November, and rookie Cecil Shorts, a fourth-round pick expected to contribute right away, had just to catches."Obviously we need to upgrade," Smith said. "I think that is one area we determined in our postseason roster evaluation, but it wouldn't force us into doing something that wouldn't be good for the organization."Jacksonville signed Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans in free agency. Robinson and Evans looked sharp in the team's orientation camp last week. But Robinson still has to prove he's more than a one-year wonder after catching 53 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns last season with the Dallas Cowboys. And the 31-year-old Evans has to prove he hasn't lost a step since his numbers have decreased each of the last three seasons.Even with those additions, the Jaguars are looking to upgrade the receiving corps. Jacksonville hasn't had a legitimate No. 1 receiver since Jimmy Smith retired following the 2005 season.Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, considered the No. 1 receiver in the draft, probably would need to slip for Jacksonville to land him at No. 7. Other possibilities include Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery.Cornerback is another potential draft spot for Jacksonville. The team re-signed veteran starter Rashean Mathis and added former New York Giants starter Aaron Ross. They are expected to compete for the starting job in training camp, unless the Jaguars add someone early in the draft.Despite all the speculation about who the Jaguars should take, Smith would prefer to trade down and acquire more picks -- and more talent."It's a good draft to trade back," he said. "There are some players clearly in rounds 2 through 5 that could help us. Again, I'm probably a little selfish on draft picks because you put all that work in and you would like to have more draft picks. But I'm not going to move for the sake of moving unless it makes sense. I'm not about being cute, probably more about executing based on our plan going in."
NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.
Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:
Following today’s vote at the @NFL Spring League Meetings, here’s everything you need to know about the new kickoff rules for the upcoming 2018 season. The rule will be reevaluated next offseason. pic.twitter.com/YubLyMBR4g— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) May 22, 2018
With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.
Curious to see how this changes roster composition. The KO is essentially becoming more like a punt with 1v1 blocking all over the field. Could mean more skill players (WRs/TEs/DBs/LBs) earn roster spots for teams duties.. https://t.co/IKWsVggIxp— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) May 23, 2018
Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.
The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team.
For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.
Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.
The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.
Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.
Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.
Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.
Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017).
The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.
If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.