JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Forget scouring the country. Don't bother looking for hidden gems. No need scouting every pro day.
The Jacksonville Jaguars just went big, really big in the NFL draft.
Seven of the eight players Jacksonville selected during the three-day draft came from major college programs. Teams with winning traditions, too.
The Jaguars chose players from Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, Louisville, Florida State, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
"I don't think it's a negative," general manager Dave Caldwell said Saturday. "If you've got guys from big schools that play top competition, and I think if you look at them they all come from successful programs at some point in time. ... I think somebody mentioned in the draft room that we took a lot of players from major programs. It wasn't intentionally. There were just players we liked, and I think it's a bonus."
Caldwell chose his first three players from the powerful Southeastern Conference, a league former Jaguars general manager Gene Smith didn't pick from during his four years in charge.
"It's probably not a coincidence," said Paul Roell, Jacksonville's assistant director of college scouting. "I don't know that we specifically set out for that, but if there was a guy who played at a smaller school and was up there high and we felt good about, we're not opposed to doing that. Generally, we've done studies dating back to when I started in Indianapolis with Bill Polian, and your Division I, big-school guys are generally the guys who are going to go in this draft."
That's certainly the case in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars went with Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. with the third overall pick in Thursday's first round, and then added Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and South Carolina guard A.J. Cann in the second and third rounds, respectively.
Caldwell continued the trend Saturday, picking Louisville free safety James Sample in the fourth round, Florida State receiver Rashad Greene in the fifth and Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett in the sixth. The Jaguars took a brief detour with their first of two selections in the in the seventh, choosing Monmouth receiver Neal Sterling with the 220th overall pick. But they got back on the track nine picks later with Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack.
There's no data proving that bigger schools produce better individual talent, the Jaguars said, but it sure seems that way.
"Your law of averages is a little higher," Roell said.
The Jaguars can only hope it pays dividends on the field.
Caldwell, coach Gus Bradley and everyone else in the front office spent the last three years in a complete rebuild. They took their time — and their lumps — while adding pieces through the draft. And then they took a really big swing at becoming more competitive with one of the most expensive free-agent hauls in franchise history.
Jacksonville added tight end Julius Thomas, defensive end Jared Odrick, right tackle Jermey Parnell, cornerback Davon House, linebacker Dan Skuta and others in hopes of closing the gap on the rest of the AFC contenders.
"That's our mentality," Bradley said. "We really want to make a big jump in improvement. We're going to challenge these guys. Sometimes you challenge them in different ways. A rookie that's coming in, he has different things that he's facing, different anxieties that he's dealing with. A lot of these guys have played a lot of football. They've started a lot of games. We do expect to make a jump."
And rookies from major college programs might help right away considering they've played on the biggest stages and against arguably the best competition.
"It's great for everybody and it's going to be fun seeing everybody going out in training camp and these rookies will see what real competition is," Caldwell said. "Even the guys that have been there for a year or two will say it's different. They will be pushed. ... It's going to be great competition across the board, and we will see where it goes and it will help the outcome of the season."
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