Finding the Fits: Jags might get early return with OL Richardson

WIll Richardson did not allow a sack last season at N.C. State.Wolfpack Athletics

By Rob Rang,

This is part of a series -- Finding the Fits -- in which will review the more intriguing picks made during the 2018 NFL Draft. The goal is to identify one relatively unheralded player per team who appears to be a good schematic fit and, therefore, more likely to be a surprise contributor early in his pro career.

Jacksonville Jaguars' best fit: Will Richardson, Jr., OL, NC State, selected No. 129 overall (fourth round)

Unlike past drafts -- when the Jaguars could reasonably expect immediate contributions from their rookies because they were often selected so high -- this year's crop appears to have been selected largely for the future after the team's dramatic ascent to the AFC Championship last season.

This is likely a reflection of the sheer talent already on the Jaguars' roster and the fact that the big dollars spent on pricey free agents in recent years is going to require that Jacksonville groom young, cheap replacements at virtually every position.

I believe that top picks Taven Bryan, D.J. Chark and Ronnie Harrison are future NFL starters. However, these three do not appear to be in as good of a position as Will Richardson, the 129nd overall selection, to fight for playing time as a rookie.

The 6-foot-6, 303-pound Richardson started the past three seasons at right tackle for the Wolfpack, facing off against No. 5 overall selection Bradley Chubb and the rest of North Carolina State's vaunted defensive line every day in practice. Surprisingly light on his feet given his broad-shouldered thick frame, Richardson excelled in 2017, opting to leave early for the NFL after not surrendering a sack all season.

The Jaguars allowed just 24 sacks a year ago, tied for the third best total in the NFL. This number is skewed, however, as the Jaguars passed the ball less than most teams, leading the league with 32.9 rushing attempts per game -- the exact same number of times Blake Bortles threw passes last year, 23rd most in the NFL.

The 50-50 split made it difficult on opponents to prepare for the Jaguars' offense, but it reinforced concerns along the club's offensive line, especially on the right side.

Right tackle Jermey Parnell, 31, missed three games due to a sprained knee. Right guard A.J. Cann has started 45 of a possible 48 games since being drafted in the third round of the 2015 draft but has not played with the consistency that his durability implies. Further, he is entering the final year of his rookie contract, one the Jaguars would seemingly be unlikely to extend for big dollars considering the massive deal (five years, $65 million including $30 million guaranteed) given to new left guard Andrew Norwell, signed from Carolina.

Richardson is listed as a tackle on the Jaguars' official website but general manager David Caldwell indicated immediately after the draft that the rookie could help elsewhere, if needed.

"Yeah, I think he's pretty versatile. He's got good knee bend. He's always had quick feet," Caldwell said about Richardson playing other positions. "He's a strong guy, can really anchor against a pass rush and you see what he's done in the ACC. I don't think he gave up a sack or even a pressure this year, but he was highly productive there in pass protection."

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett provided an update on Richardson's development following the team's OTAs in June.

"Any time you have a rookie, it is always going to be a little bit of growing pains when you put him out there versus some of these defensive ends that are rushing on him," Hackett said. "But I think his explosion shows up on tape. His willingness to work and how he studies is really an impressive thing. We just have to keep him rolling and keep him up to speed."

Keep rolling ... an apt plan for Richardson, individually, and the Jaguars as a whole.

Other thoughts on the Jaguars' 2018 draft class:

The selection of Taven Bryan in the first round was simply a case of the rich getting richer.

With Pro Bowlers Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue (not to mention former top five picks Dante Fowler and Marcell Dareus) already making it a nightmare on opposing offenses to travel to "Sacksonville," Bryan may struggle to find consistent playing time in 2018.

Learning from this talented group of veterans, however, could be the best thing for Bryan in the long run as he remains a very raw player despite his undeniable physical gifts.

With the Jags' former big-play wideouts Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns playing elsewhere, D.J. Chark has a chance to carve out a role as a rookie. Like Bryan, Chark is a freak athlete, as he demonstrated at the Senior Bowl and Combine, where he was clocked at a staggering 4.34 seconds after measuring in at a shade under 6-3, 200 pounds.

Chark is a classic vertical threat who tracks the ball well over his shoulder, making him a potential favorite for Bortles and the Jaguars' effective play-action passing game. One of the reasons I especially like his fit in Jacksonville is Chark's familiarity with superstar running back Leonard Fournette during their time together at LSU and the fact that the wideout is so used to blocking, a rarity among college receivers.

Free agent acquisition Donte Moncrief, and incumbent leading pass-catcher Keelan Cole, however, are likely to be the Jaguars' leading perimeter receivers in 2018, with smaller, swifter pass-catchers like DeDe Westbrook, Marqise Lee and Jaydon Mickens excelling via the slot, leaving Chark a tough depth chart to overcome.

Ronnie Harrison, too, has the talent to make an impact, but veteran Barry Church is likely to stay ahead of him at strong safety for at least the 2018 season. Like Chark, Harrison was a standout special teams performer in the SEC. Harrison's closing speed and explosive hitting could make him a demon on coverage units, while biding his time behind the 30-year old Church, who is due a combined $12 million over the next two seasons (but with all of the guaranteed dollars on the four-year, $26 million deal already paid).

Jacksonville's 2018 draft class:

1st Round, No. 29 overall: Taven Bryan, DT, Florida

2nd Round, No. 61 overall: D.J. Chark, WR, LSU

3rd Round, No. 93 overall: Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama

4th Round, No. 129 overall: Will Richardson, OL, North Carolina State

5th Round, No. 203 overall: Tanner Lee, QB, Nebraska

6th Round, No. 230 overall: Leon Jacobs, LB, Wisconsin

7th Round, No. 247 overall: Logan Cooke, P, Mississippi State

Key Undrafted Free Agents Signed:

Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State

KC McDermott, OL, Miami

Quenton Meeks, CB, Stanford