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Armando Salguero: Jaguars Choice With No. 1 Pick Seems Headed In One Of Two Directions

OutKick’s lead NFL columnist Armando Salguero is reporting from the NFL Combine this week.

INDIANAPOLIS — Someone said it from a podium while reporters feverishly took notes Tuesday afternoon: The NFL is about three things …

…Having an elite quarterback.

…Keeping your elite quarterback upright.

…Knocking the other team’s elite quarterback down.

So now we have a general layout of what the Jacksonville Jaguars are likely looking to do with their first overall pick in the April NFL draft.

They already have Trevor Lawrence, a quarterback they believe will be elite. So now they have to find a way to help him. To maximize him.

And it sounds like the Jags are either going to find an offensive tackle, an edge rusher or trade their pick. In order to do what? Find an offensive tackle or edge rusher later in the first round while also adding other draft resources.

“Well, you’re always open for business,” Jacksonville general manager Trent Baalke said. “Whether we’re gonna be able to move it or not, but we’re very comfortable taking the pick as well. You’ve got to be prepared for anything in this league.

“So to say we won’t shop it is probably not 100 percent correct, but to say we will is probably not either. So we’re gonna see what comes and if something comes our way and it makes sense to us, we’ll make that decision at that time.”

Baalke and new head coach Doug Pederson could obviously surprise folks, but the truth is the top of this draft isn’t brimming with great quarterback talent. So that greatly decreases the possibility a team will feel enough urgency to trade up to that top spot.

That means the Jags are seemingly pointed toward protecting Lawrence or getting the other team’s quarterback on the turf.

Baalke clearly likes the idea of drafting edge players to pressure the quarterback because he drafted Aldon Smith, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner in the first round during his time as the San Francisco 49ers general manager.

“Well, I think any time you can add a pressure player to your team on the defensive side, if you look at the track record in San Francisco, with what we did there relative to the edge pressure, that’s a positive,” Baalke said. “This draft happens to be a good draft for that. I think there’s going to be depth into the second and even the third round in acquiring those types of players.”

If Baalke prefers to fill that position with the top pick, he’ll obviously be looking at picking Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux as an outside possibility, but not the probability.

If the Jaguars decide protecting Lawrence is the priority, they’ll have plenty of choices, the top ones being Alabama’s Evan Neal, who is from Florida, and North Carolina State’s Ikem “Icky” Ekwonu.

The Jaguars can also then add explosive players, likely a receiver, with one of their other selections, including the No. 33 pick overall.

“Well we’ve got to protect him better,” Baalke said of Lawrence. “We’ve got to give him more explosive players around him, guys that can make explosive plays. I think if you look, it’s tough in the National Football League to move the ball on 14-, 15-, 16-play drives and score. It just doesn’t happen that often.

“You’ve got to be able to throw a seven-yard dig and turn it into an 80-yard touchdown. You’ve got to have players who can do that. And that’s the mission this offseason, in free agency and the draft, to get more explosive players on both sides of the ball. Guys that can change games. That’s what you win and lose football games with.”

Pederson, a former NFL quarterback, may be leaning in one direction or another, which is important because he and Baalke intend to collaborate on the organizational decision of the No. 1 overall pick.

“You know, that’s one of the biggest things reported or scrutinized surrounding Jacksonville, but from the day I walked in that door and really it goes all the way back to our interview process, how collaborative we’ve been and the things we’ve been able to bounce off each other,” Pederson said. “And I want it to be that way. I want it to be transparent. I want it to be open and honest, and we’re not always going to agree.

“But at the same time, we could walk out the door and be united and that’s the most important thing — that we’re keeping the organization and the players first. And that’s the biggest thing that we’ve been able to do and building on that relationship every day.”

And this benchmark decision by Pederson and Baalke will determine whether the Jaguars can get out from under the shadow of doom and gloom that has followed the franchise for so long.

“Yes, it’s real. It’s a real thing,” Pederson said. “[Head] coach [Andy] Reid took over a Chiefs team that, I think the year before, won one or two games before. And there is negativity and there is a cloud, and you have to try to lift that cloud.

“And in Jacksonville right now, until we prove otherwise, that’s who we are. That’s why I am excited to really begin to work with this group and bring another set of free agents and another round of draft picks and having the resources that we have to begin to lighten that cloud a little bit.”

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

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