Pragada: Fearing the future

April 25, 2018, 1:50 a.m.

I can’t wait for the NFL draft to begin on Thursday. I feel like the draft is an important benchmark in the NFL offseason, reminding us “Oh, now I only have to wait four months for football to come back!” But the anticipation of the draft is unavoidable; it is absolutely impossible to miss the hype and mystery surrounding which exciting college prospect your favorite team will add to their squad. Difference-making star players, exciting young late-round steals and guys with funny names all make their appearances during draft weekend, and you can bet I’m going to be watching every second.

If you’ve been following my column, you probably know that my favorite NFL team is the Jacksonville Jaguars. And if you follow the NFL, you probably know that the Jaguars have been terrible for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that they have the longest string of top five draft selections since 1943, selecting six players from 2012-2017. Plus, in 1943, the NFL only had 10 total teams, just so you can get a clearer picture of how bad we actually were. But our league leading defense, appearance in the AFC Championship Game and heartbreaking loss to the Patriots has changed all of that, as we now sit comfortably at 29.

With such a late pick, all of the pressure of picking early has completely evaporated. In the past, I would be stressing nonstop leading up to the draft about which superstar we needed to add, as the value of a top five pick is immeasurable to a team. You can get a franchise quarterback, a star lineman or a generational talent with a top five pick, which means selecting the right player is crucial. I remember talking to other Jaguar fans (yeah they exist) last year, arguing about if picking Leonard Fournette at 4th overall was a smart decision. Personally, I was a fan of drafting safety Jamal Adams, who eventually went to the Jets, because I didn’t think a running back could make that much difference to a team. I can safely say that I was wrong.

But that didn’t stop me from panicking every time we selected high, wondering if we were taking the right quarterback, praying that we didn’t pick up another Justin Blackmon or Luke Joeckel, complete bust players undeserving of such a valuable pick. Worrying about the draft is incredible, you have absolutely no control over anything that happens, but you act like you have the front offices of the NFL on speed dial and you’re calling in the picks.

But this year, I’m just chilling, and honestly, I don’t care who we pick. I know our front office will make good decisions, and there isn’t a clear pick at 29 that I can really even cheer for. Our team is pretty well-rounded, so much so that we can just look for the best pick available, and our success doesn’t depend on our draft as much as other teams.

That’s not to say that a team can’t get markedly better in a single draft. Take the New Orleans Saints’ 2017 picks. With their additions in the draft, their team improved from 7-9 to 11-5, and became champions of the NFC South. They drafted the defensive rookie of the year in the first round (Marshon Lattimore), an offensive tackle that started every regular season game in the second (Ryan Ramczyk), a solid starting safety for years to come in the third (Marcus Williams) and the rookie of the year, Alvin Kamara, in the fourth round! Now that’s good drafting.

But for the other teams without Drew Brees as their starting quarterback, teams plagued with gaping holes in their roster, this draft is absolutely terrifying. My best friend, who is a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, texted me this morning, “Wait no, move the draft back, I’m not ready,” and then 30 minutes later when I hadn’t replied, “Bobby I’m scared.” And honestly, I can’t blame him. The entire future of the Buffalo Bills could be at stake in this draft.

The Bills have a super interesting position in this year’s draft, but a lot of holes to fill on their team, including the ever-so-elusive NFL requirement of franchise quarterback. They have nine total picks, including two in the first round and two in the second round, giving them a tremendous amount of draft capital. Their first round picks sit at 12 and 22, which isn’t high enough to draft a top quarterback, but their two second round and two third round picks will be more than enough to increase their position if they so desire.

But the Bills lost two major offensive linemen this year to retirement, and could use help at a variety of defensive positions as well, so there’s a chance they’d like to retain as many of those picks as possible. This would leave them at the mercy of the other teams with regards to which of the five prominent quarterback prospects (Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen) would fall to them, if any at all, as the demand for these players is massive. Not being able to pick your own quarterback of the future is a scary prospect.

Yet even if the Bills take the dive and move up, there’s no guarantee that ANY of the five prospects will pan out to be a solid NFL quarterback. There’s bound to be one bust in the group of prospects, and if you pick a bust, not only have you wasted your high pick, but also mortgaged your future by giving away multiple draft picks that could have been used to better the team. The front offices do their due diligence, but anything can happen with these prospects. People criticize Mayfield for being immature, Rosen for being too diverse in his interests and Allen for being unable to throw the football to his receivers. Basically the same issues honestly.

Being unsure of the future of your favorite team is an absolutely terrifying sentiment, particularly when it all comes down to a front office decision happening in just two days. I hope everything works out well for the Bills, but when it comes down to it, I’ve got absolutely no impending dread about this week’s draft. I’m gonna be satisfied with Mike McGlinchey or Dallas Goedert or whomever is available, because at the end of the day, the Jaguars will still be a playoff caliber team. In all likelihood, we’ll have gotten even better.

Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada “at”

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