Grading 1st round defensive lineman

Brad Hill, also known as CaliforniaJag on Big Cat Country and Twitter, has recently asked me to get on board for a project called MockThree. Simply put, the idea is that it will be a live mock draft that takes place on Twitter where managers will take control of teams and simulate the draft with trades and selections. Among the participants in MockThree are Aaron Aloysius of DraftBreakdown.com, Evan Silva of NBC Sports and writers from ProFootballFocus.com.

In preparation for MockThree, which is scheduled to begin on April 18, Brad Hill, Justin Wendel and I are busy putting together our draft board, by first ranking players in each position. At defensive end we reached a sticking point trying to sort out Cameron Jordan, J.J. Watt, Ryan Kerrigan and Aldon Smith. While all are considered defensive ends, stylistically the differences are obvious.

At 6’4, 263 pounds, drafting Aldon Smith and drafting the 6’5, 290 pound J.J. Watt is very much like picking between two entirely different positions. It might even be exactly that. Both are debatable as to where exactly they fit in a defensive scheme. In a 4-3, Smith is a defensive end as is Watt, although Watt would likely be able to line up on the interior of the defensive line for pass rushing downs. In a 3-4, Smith is an outside linebacker while Watt is a defensive end.

Sorting out the ideal fits in terms of position and scheme is an essentially part of the draft process for each team to know exactly who they are selecting. But for the Jaguars should it matter and should a particular type of player have an advantage over another?

I have long been a proponent for drafting players for the 4-3 scheme that the Jaguars currently run. While many are calling for and/or predicting a Jaguars move to a 3-4, I believe that the talent they currently have along their defensive line doesn’t warrant a scheme change. While Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton could be starters along the defensive line in a 3-4, I do not believe the two would benefit from the move and are better fits in the 4-3.

However, if the Jaguars were to draft a player like Watt, the advantages of switching to a 3-4 would likely surpass the advantages of a 4-3 and a transition would then make sense. For a team like the Ravens or Steelers that have entrenched themselves in the 3-4 system, they would never even consider a player that’s best fit is as a 4-3 defensive end.

The Jaguars might be close enough to either scheme that they could afford to take any player. So that brings me back to the original question: at what position do you classify Aldon Smith, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan and J.J. Watt, how do you rank them and does the positions dictate where they should be ranked on the Jaguars draft board?

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