How might the Jaguars approach offensive line in the 2024 NFL draft?

The Jaguars aren’t expected to prioritize a starting-caliber offensive lineman in the upcoming NFL draft, having retained their starting five from a year ago and added former Buffalo starting center Mitch Morse to the unit this offseason via free agency.

But while the team is considered likely to focus on bigger needs like cornerback and wide receiver in the early rounds, Jacksonville has probed the 2024 offensive line class from top to bottom and could bolster its trenches with either a developmental prospect or a player who slips down the board this week.

“Whether it’s inside or outside, I think there’s great value throughout the draft,” Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said of the 2024 offensive line class on Thursday.

“I think you’re going to find starters in the fourth, fifth round, that are eventually going to find their way into starting. There’s always some guys that even go later than that.”

Jacksonville isn’t pressed to identify a lineman who can play immediately given the experience it brings back in 2024 and the investments it’s made previously into the front.

Cam Robinson, a seven-year Jag, returns at left tackle in the final year of his contract, with 2023 first-round pick Anton Harrison entering his second season on the opposite side.

The guards will be Ezra Cleveland, who was extended this offseason after his midseason trade from Minnesota last year, and Brandon Scherff, a 2022 free agent signing of Jacksonville’s who restructured his contract in March.

The unit’s performance was lackluster in 2023. The Jaguars’ offensive line posted the second-worst run-blocking grade in the NFL and allowed 9.5 quarterback pressures per game on average, per Pro Football Focus.

But Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson pins the underwhelming showing on a lack of continuity along the starting five.

Robinson missed about half the 2023 season with injuries, and Cleveland was acquired in late October to upgrade Jacksonville’s struggling left guard spot. The duo didn’t start on the same line until the regular season finale.

“Cam missed eight games. Our left guard was a revolving door early in the season. If you look at it, Week 18 was kind of that snapshot of what the offensive line was supposed to look like with Cam, Ezra, [center] Luke [Fortner], Brandon and Anton,” Pederson explained on March 25.

“When we got Ezra, that was supposed to be what it looked like. They only played one game together. We’re excited for this upcoming offseason to get those guys working together.”

Morse, a nine-year veteran, is projected to replace Fortner in the middle of the line, a significant move as Fortner was Jacksonville’s lowest-rated run-blocker and most-prone pass-blocker relative to allowing pressure in 2023, per PFF.

Jacksonville’s anticipated top depth pieces are in place for 2024, too. Backup tackle/guard hybrid Walker Little is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and veteran backup interior lineman Tyler Shatley re-signed with the club on Friday.

But Morse and Scherff will each play in 2024 at 32 years old, in their 10th pro seasons. Robinson isn’t far behind them, turning 29 in October and entering his eighth campaign with an injury history. Shatley turns 33 next month and is on the brink of season No. 11, all with the Jaguars.

All of this is to say, that while Jacksonville appears confident in the offensive line it’s maintained, the group’s long-term outlook is a bit bleak. Robinson, Little and Scherff are set to be free agents next offseason, barring contract extensions.

With five Day 3 picks, including two in the fourth round, to pair with a full slate of first-through-third-round selections, Jacksonville could covet an offensive lineman to effectively redshirt their rookie season and develop into an eventual starter at one of the veteran’s current spots. In the short term, that player would offer valuable depth.

According to Gus Logue’s tracking of various reports at Big Cat Country, the Jaguars have met with the following offensive line prospects throughout the draft process: Troy Fautanu (Washington), Amarius Mims (Georgia), Tanor Bortolini (Wisconsin), Jordyn Slaughter (Illinois), Christian Haynes (Connecticut), Kenneth Horsey (Kentucky), Steven Jones (Oregon), Travis Glover (Georgia State) and Bryan Hudson (Louisville).

“I think we’ve just got to remember that it takes time,” Baalke stressed about offensive line prospects. “They’ve got to be given time to develop.”

The first round of the 2024 NFL Draft will begin at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Story originally appeared on Jaguars Wire