Jaguars use NFL draft to find offensive help for QB Lawrence

·4 min read

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars closed the NFL draft the same way they opened it: by getting quarterback Trevor Lawrence some potential help.

Jacksonville ended the three-day event Saturday by selecting Houston fullback Derek Parish in the seventh round, with the 240th overall pick. It might normally be a throwaway choice, especially in a draft that lacked depth, but general manager Trent Baalke and coach Doug Pederson were looking for someone to boost the team’s short-yardage packages.

And they landed on Parish, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound defensive end who is converting to fullback for his shot at making an NFL roster.

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Few teams even have fullbacks anymore in a pass-happy league, but the Jaguars are experimenting in hopes of finding more short-yardage success after ranking 25th in the league last season on third-down runs.

“The fullback position has been nonexistent pretty much in our league. It’s kind of gone away,” Pederson said. “I grew up with a fullback in this league back in my days with Green Bay. That position can line up in the backfield, it can line up as a tight end, it could be a third tight end, they play special teams. It’s a position that you can do multiple things with.

“Having a guy on the roster that can play those positions just opens up your offense a little bit more.”

Pederson acknowledged his team’s short-yardage woes last season, a byproduct of having a rookie center, a lanky quarterback and not enough heft at guard. Running back Travis Etienne also is better in space, ranking first in the NFL in yards per carry outside the tackles (8.3) in 2022 and 26th in yards between the tackles.

Giving him a 250-pound blocker out front, in theory, could help.

“It’s just another way, another tool, another piece to the puzzle that we’ll experiment with this offseason and particularly in training camp,” Pederson said.

The draft showed Jacksonville’s commitment to improving its offense. The Jaguars selected Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison with the 27th overall pick, Penn State tight end Brenton Strange in the second round, Auburn running back Tank Bigsby in the third, Penn State receiver Parker Washington in the fifth, Appalachian State guard Cooper Hodges in the seventh and then wrapped with Parish.

The largest draft class in franchise history (13 picks) also included seven defenders. A potential issue: two of the team’s top needs — pass rusher and cornerback — didn’t get addressed until the fifth round.

Louisville outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah (No. 136) and Texas A&M safety Antonio Johnson (No. 160) could provide immediate depth at depleted spots. Rutgers cornerback Christian Braswell (No. 202) and Pitt safety Erick Hallett (No. 208) also could help.

Baalke was quick to point out how impossible it is to grade a draft class in real time or in a short span. This much is certain: the Jaguars were looking mostly for rotational guys to supplement a young roster that was good enough to win the AFC South last season and will be the betting favorite to repeat this year.

All three division foes — Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee — drafted quarterbacks in an attempt to close the gap on Jacksonville.

“It’s nice to have your guy, but there’s a bull's-eye on us, obviously,” Pederson said. “I want our team to understand that. We have to improve as a football team. We still left a lot of plays on the field last fall, both sides of the ball, really all three phases.

“And, so, for us, it’s not focusing on other teams as much as it is just us getting better. It will start this offseason and it will carry over into training camp. But we have to improve. But it is nice knowing that you have the one piece, which is a big piece — obviously the quarterback position -- in Trevor Lawrence.”

Lawrence and Pederson have the Jaguars feeling confident about the short- and long-term future. And it’s no surprise they spent much of the draft adding guys around him.

“When you have those, you’ve got a fighting chance to win,” owner Shad Khan said.


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Mark Long, The Associated Press