JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill in the upcoming draft, and they might not have to go very far to find players to fill those holes.
It's something they've done often for the past eight years.
The Jaguars have drafted at least one player from a Florida school every year since 2012. Four each came from Florida and Florida State, two from UCF and Miami, and one from Florida International. Nearly a quarter of the 59 players the Jaguars have drafted in the past eight years played college football within six hours of TIAA Bank Field.
So it's logical to assume the Jaguars will do it again in 2020, especially because they have 12 draft picks and there are several players who would fit.
Who could be next from the Sunshine State?
Florida cornerback CJ Henderson is ranked second in Todd McShay's positional rankings behind only Ohio State's Jeff Okudah. After trading starter A.J. Bouye to Denver and a deal with free-agent cornerback Darqueze Dennard falling through, the Jaguars need a starter on the outside opposite Tre Herndon. Henderson, who ran a 4.39 at the combine, might still be available when the Jaguars pick 20th with their second pick of the first round, though he went off the board at No. 17 in a recent McShay mock draft.
The Jaguars aren’t likely to exercise the fifth-year option on running back Leonard Fournette, so this would be a good year to draft another back to compete with Ryquell Armstead, whom the Jaguars drafted last season, to replace Fournette. Florida State's Cam Akers was very productive (2,875 yards and 27 TDs) despite playing behind a poor offensive line the past three seasons. He projects as a second- or third-round pick. If the Jaguars want to wait a little longer to address that position, one option could be Florida's La'Mical Perine.
Perine ran for 2,485 yards and 22 touchdowns in four seasons in the Gators' back-by-committee approach and he's also a quality receiver with 72 catches in his career, including 40 last season.
The wide receiver class is regarded as deep this year, and the Jaguars might choose to wait a bit and address other needs. Florida's Van Jefferson is a potential mid-round target. He had a very good week at the Senior Bowl, where he showed off his polished route-running and his good hands -- which shouldn't be a surprise considering his father, Shawn, who grew up in Jacksonville, was an NFL receiver for 13 years and is the receivers coach with the New York Jets.
The Jaguars added tight end Tyler Eifert in free agency, but there's concern about his ability to stay healthy (he played 16 games last season but missed 34 from 2016 to 2018 because of various injuries). The Jaguars also don't know what they have in Josh Oliver, one of their third-round picks last season who played in only four games as a rookie because of hamstring and back injuries, so they could target a tight end in the mid-to-late rounds.
Two in-state players to watch are Florida Atlantic's Harrison Bryant and South Florida's Mitchell Wilcox. Bryant caught 65 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns, was a first-team All-America choice and won the John Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end last season. Wilcox is more of an inline tight end and he caught 28 passes last season.
Uneven draft history
But while the Jaguars have drafted a lot of in-state players during the past eight years -- and throughout their 25-year existence -- they haven't hit on a lot of them. Only four of the 25 draft picks who played college football in Florida went on to become Pro Bowl selections -- running back Fred Taylor (UF) in 1998, cornerback Rashean Mathis (Bethune-Cookman) in 2003, linebacker Telvin Smith (FSU) in 2014, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey (FSU) in 2016.
Former Gators defensive end Derrick Harvey is one of the biggest busts in franchise history. The Jaguars gave up four picks to move to No. 8 to take him in 2008 and he had only eight sacks in three seasons with the franchise.
Ramsey forced a trade last season. Smith abruptly retired from football and former Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. had multiple off-field issues and was traded during his fourth season.
The disappointing careers of Harvey and Fowler, and the fact that 2018 first-round pick Taven Bryan is a rotational player has led to a movement among fans to stay away from UF players, especially in the first round. But that's just illogical and lazy.
Failures among draft picks from a specific school is not an indication that future draft picks from that school will do the same. It's a fact that the 11 players the Jaguars have drafted from Florida haven't exactly torn things up in the NFL. However, Taylor is the franchise's all-time leading rusher and a Hall of Fame candidate. He's also one of four Gators the Jaguars have drafted in the first round and is the only one to make a Pro Bowl while playing for the Jaguars. (Safety Reggie Nelson made it twice, once with Cincinnati and once with Oakland.)
Those other first-round picks -- Harvey and Fowler -- didn't have that kind of success in Jacksonville for a variety of reasons. Scheme fit. Physical limitations. Immaturity. And this: What is a logical expectation for a sixth- or seventh-round pick? Safety Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick in 2013, missed only one game and started 35 in three years. Defensive end Bobby McCray, a seventh-rounder in 2004, is one of only seven players in franchise history to record double-digit sacks in a season. They exceeded expectations.
There is a large element of luck when it comes to drafting players, regardless of where they played in college.