A night after landing running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth pick in the NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars took a big step to fortify his blocking.
The Jaguars traded up one spot to select Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson with the 34th overall pick Friday night, giving the franchise what it believes will be a cornerstone to play alongside Fournette for years to come. Jacksonville gave Seattle its sixth-round pick (No. 187 overall) to swap spots in the second round.
General manager Dave Caldwell said Robinson will compete with newly acquired left tackle Branden Albert, who is skipping the team’s voluntary offseason program in hopes of getting a new contract.
“We were never going to alter it to begin with,” said Caldwell, who traded a seventh-round draft pick to acquire Albert last month.
The 32-year-old Albert signed a five-year, $47 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in 2014. The deal included $26 million guaranteed, all of which was paid over the last three seasons. Albert is due a base salary of $8.875 million this season and $9.575 million in 2018.
The Jaguars can’t fine Albert for his absences, but drafting Robinson sends a strong message that Albert’s starting job — maybe even his roster spot — is in jeopardy. Albert, who has missed 20 games over the last five seasons, had been considered a stop-gap solution at the all-important left tackle spot.
Robinson, the 2016 Outland Trophy winner as the country’s best lineman, will get every chance to take over as a rookie and solidify a position that’s been mostly unstable since Tony Boselli’s career-ending shoulder injury in 2001. Mike Pearson, Khalif Barnes, Eugene Monroe, Luke Joeckel and Kelvin Beachum all failed to develop into long-term solutions at the premier spot.
“As you guys have told me for three years now, we’ve got to upgrade the offensive line,” Caldwell said. “I’m starting to listen to you.”
Although the Jaguars are expected to address mostly offensive needs in the three-day draft, they chose Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot in the third round. Jacksonville took Smoot with the 68th overall pick, leaving it with four picks Saturday.
Smoot totaled 137 tackles and 16 ½ sacks in 44 games for the Fighting Illini. He will start his NFL career playing behind veteran Calais Campbell.
“I’m ready to learn and work as hard as I can for the team,” Smoot said.
All the attention was on Robinson and Fournette, who was formally introduced in Jacksonville on Friday. Robinson and Fournette have strong ties. Not only did they play annually in the Southeastern Conference, they were the top two high school recruits in Louisiana in 2014.
“It’s going to be really cool,” Robinson said. “I’ve known Leonard for a while. We came out of high school in the same class, both from Louisiana. He was the No. 1 player in the state. I was the No. 2 player in the state. It’s going to be fun.”
Robinson started all 43 games in his three-year college career. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Robinson was widely regarded as a first-round draft pick, but some believe his play leveled off after his freshman season. He also was arrested last May on a misdemeanor charge of carrying a weapon in the presence of narcotics. Robinson also was charged with felony possession of stolen firearms. The district attorney’s office eventually decided not to prosecute.
Robinson took a visit to Jacksonville, and Caldwell, coach Doug Marrone and executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin held a private workout with him last week in Alabama.
“He’s a tough kid. He’s a big, big man. He’s 320-plus pounds and he’s probably going to go into the 330-plus pounds at some point in time,” Caldwell said. “He’s got some developing to do. He’s just a third-year junior so he’s got some work to do in the weight room and we think that eventually this guy could be a big, big massive man on the left side of the offensive line. …
“He’s got some nasty to him and he’ll look to finish plays. He’s a big man and he can cover people up pretty quickly.”