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Friday, April 25, 2014
McShay OK with Mack or Watkins at No. 3

By Michael DiRocco

Watkins/Mack
Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins are two of the top prospects in next month's draft.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As the NFL draft draws closer, it appears that Jacksonville Jaguars GM David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley aren’t going to get a shot at defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Whether Houston takes Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick or trades with Atlanta -- which seems to be the hot rumor this week -- the former South Carolina standout isn't going to be around when it's time for the Jaguars to make the third overall selection.

So the Jaguars could be left with a pretty tough choice: linebacker Khalil Mack or receiver Sammy Watkins.

A player with 28.5 career sacks and an NCAA-record 16 forced fumbles (Mack) or the most explosive offensive player in the draft who had nearly 1,500 yards receiving last season (Watkins).

For ESPN Insider and draft analyst Todd McShay, it’s not an easy choice. He went with Mack in his latest mock draft , but McShay can make just as strong an argument for Watkins.

"It's a coin flip," McShay said. "It really could go either way.

"I think you've got to have your defensive front and your offensive front taken care of and I think [taking Mack] would [do that]. To me, with two guys of equal grades that would be the difference-maker for me. I would want to have my fronts taken care of, but I would have no problem with Watkins."

What about quarterback? The Jaguars do have a need there because Chad Henne is not the long-term answer. But the consensus among NFL draft experts is that there are four elite players at the top of the draft and none of them are quarterbacks: Clowney, Mack, Watkins and offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Caldwell and Bradley have been adamant that whichever quarterback they draft will not play immediately so it makes little sense to take a quarterback with the No. 3 pick and put him on the bench.

The Jaguars need an immediate impact player and they're guaranteed to get one of the four elite players in the draft. They can add a quarterback in the second round, or later if they choose -- or even next season.

"If you go back to the way Seattle was built -- and I'm not saying that that's what they're necessarily trying to do specifically -- but when Russell Wilson came in they had the vast majority of the pieces of the puzzle figured out," McShay said. "In San Francisco when they brought in Colin Kaepernick they got all the fans pissed off and everyone was booing them when they took two first-round picks and spent them on offensive linemen, but they grinded through drafts and did the right things."

In McShay's view, taking Mack or Watkins is the right thing.

The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Mack fits right into Bradley’s defense as a "leo," a hybrid end/linebacker whose primary responsibility is to rush the passer. The Jaguars certainly need help there after finishing last in the league the past two seasons in sacks (20 in 2012 and 31 last season). But Mack also is athletic enough to drop into coverage and even play in the middle if needed.

"The versatility that he brings, the ability to play on the line, off the line, inside, outside, it makes them a lot more flexible," McShay said. "It would instantly upgrade their pass rush."

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Watkins, who caught 101 passes for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, gives the Jaguars a big, physical outside target who also happens to be perhaps the most dangerous player in college football since Peter Warrick. He also runs a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.

The Jaguars certainly need a playmaker on offense, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Justin Blackmon's situation.

"You think you're going to have a young quarterback that you're trying to develop," McShay said. "Whether he’s going to be playing this year or not remains to be seen, depending on where they take him and what happens in training camp and all that, but regardless you think that next year this time we’ll be talking about a young quarterback for Jacksonville moving forward. To bring in a young receiver like Sammy Watkins, you’d like to have that, to grow old together, if you will.

"I like Cecil Shorts. I like what Ace Sanders did last year, the versatility with Denard Robinson and all that, but Sammy Watkins ends the debate or the concern."

We’ll find out what Caldwell and Bradley think on May 8.