Trent Baalke’s Draft Classes, Free Agency Additions Starting To Pay Off for Jaguars – Sports Illustrated


Few general managers — if any — were under as much scrutiny this past offseason as Jacksonville Jaguars' Trent Baalke. He was under fire before a coaching hire was made, drew more criticism during a spending spree in free-agency, and then was lambasted as he took a roll of the dice at No. 1 overall. 
But, so far, results are results. And the results show that Baalke's additions are helping start to turn the tide in Jacksonville. 
The criticisms that hounded Baalke before the Jaguars hired Doug Pederson as head coach have all but evaporated. The worries that he was too difficult to work with and had a long record of coaches being fired on his watch are no longer mentioned as the Jaguars have seemingly found a capable and willing partner for Baalke in Pederson. 
Any concerns over their relationship have disappeared and for good reason, with the two already working better together than Baalke and former head coach Urban Meyer ever did. Point one, Baalke. 
The criticisms Baalke drew in free-agency weren't hard to find. Whether it was paying Christian Kirk, spending on Zay Jones or pouring money into non-premier positions such as linebacker, guard and defensive tackle, Baalke's big spending spree in March didn't have many people pick the Jaguars as an offseason winner. 
But through the first two weeks of the 2022 season, the 2022 free agency class has helped raise the entire floor and ceiling of the Jaguars' roster, with Kirk especially making plenty eat crow. Point two for Baalke.
Then there is the draft. Baalke caught a lot of flak for taking Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker at No. 1 overall, while he was also criticized for trading up in the first-round for linebacker Devin Lloyd and then selecting yet another linebacker in Chad Muma in round three.
But so far, the Jaguars' 2022 rookie draft class has seen Walker vindicate Baalke's decision, Lloyd make big plays, Luke Fortner start and grow at center, and Muma becoming a special teams ace. Point three for Baalke.
The criticisms of Baalke entering 2022 were fair; the Jaguars went 3-14 a year ago and didn't have a 2021 draft class that made a large impact nor a free-agency class that seemed to feature enough bang for the buck. 
But fast-forward a year, and changes have taken place. Free-agents from last year's class such as Roy Robertson-Harris, Shaquill Griffin and Rayshawn Jenkins may have disappointed in 2021, but all are coming off huge games against the Colts in Week 2 and are valuable veteran voices. 
Then there is the 2021 draft class that brought Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Tyson Campbell, Walker Little and Andre Cisco. Four of those players start, another (Etienne) is a co-starter, and Little is a starting-caliber player who has effectively helped improve the offensive tackle room with his presence alone. 
Through two years, the Jaguars have made nine draft picks in the first three rounds. In that group they have found a starting quarterback who has so far been the best from the 2021 class; an electric running back who is a perfect compliment to James Robinson; a cornerback with shut-down potential in Tyson Campbell; a future starter in Little; a starting safety with game-changing ability in Andre Cisco; a future potential sack-leader in Walker; a modern linebacker with four-down value in Lloyd; a hopeful franchise center in Luke Fortner; a top-notch LB3 and elite special teams force in Muma.
Add in the fact that Kirk has been one of the most productive receivers in football to start the season, Jones has made a larger impact than expected, Evan Engram has stepped up his game, Foyesade Oluokun and Brandon Scherff are already captains, and Foley Fatukasi has been their best interior defensive lineman, and it is hard not to be impressed with what Baalke has done.
There have been misses, too. The Jaguars have already waived three of their Day 3 picks from the last two seasons, while a number of others are healthy scratches on Sundays. And the Jaguars are still just 4-15 over the last two seasons, so doing more than simply beating the Colts is a requirement for actual improvement. 
But fair is fair, and so far it is fair to say that Baalke's moves through 19 games are looking better than most likely would have ever thought to give him credit for.
It is a long season. Maybe the trajectories of several of these players changes over the next 15 games. 
But the early returns? Point four, Baalke.