JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have made one of the NFL draft's biggest surprises, selecting Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round.
He's the highest punter drafted since 1995, when the Chicago Bears chose Todd Sauerbrun in the second round.
Anger averaged more than 44 yards a punt in 2011, and had at least one punt of 50 yards or more in 11 games.
But is he good enough to go in the third round? Over players who would get on the field more often? The Jaguars believe so, with general manager Gene Smith saying Anger ''clearly will make an impact on our football team.''
The Jaguars compared Anger to Oakland's Shane Lechler and NFL great Ray Guy, the best in the league today and arguably the NFL's best all time.
But that did little to quell a fan base outraged by the pick. It overshadowed the first two rounds in which Jacksonville made two solid selections — Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and Clemson defensive end Andre Branch — and was widely mocked.
The move even surprised Anger.
"I was hopeful that I could get the chance to get picked up early, but I really had no clue," Anger said. "I didn't know they liked me that much."
Smith and new coach Mike Mularkey defended the pick as best they could.
"I'd rather take a starter over a backup, especially at a position where you can gain tremendous field position if you've got a guy with a leg like Bryan's," Smith said.
Added Mularkey: "I think when he performs and does what we just drafted him to do people may have a different opinion."
Smith pointed to the punting problems the Jaguars had last season. They let Adam Podlesh go in free agency and signed veteran Matt Turk. They asked Turk to be a directional punter and it backfired miserably. He cost the team two games before getting released in early October. Jacksonville signed Nick Harris off the street, and he was fine over the final 11 games.
The Jaguars wanted more, though.
"He can change the field position in this league and put your defense in a much better place, which eventually will put your offense in a better place," Mularkey said. "He is really for all three phases, but he really does make a difference for both sides of the ball."
The Jaguars hope Branch will make a difference on defense. Filling their biggest remaining need, the Jaguars selected the former Clemson standout in the second round Friday night.
"I feel like I can't be blocked one on one," Branch said. "With that mentality, I know I can't be stopped."
The Jaguars took Branch with the 38th overall pick in the three-day draft, landing him with the sixth choice in the second round. The 6-foot-4, 259-pound pass rusher had 10 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss last season, but has been criticized for inconsistency over his four-year career. He started 27 games over four seasons, finishing his college career with 197 tackles, 17 ½ sacks and 41 quarterback pressures.
Jacksonville believes outspoken defensive line coach Joe Cullen will get be able to get the most out of Branch.
The Jaguars desperately needed help on the defensive line. Veteran Aaron Kampman has missed 15 games the last two season because of injuries. Fellow ends John Chick, Austen Lane and Aaron Morgan also are coming off injuries. The Jaguars ranked sixth in the league in total defense and had 31 sacks in 2011, up from 26 the previous year. But they have longed been searching for a top-flight pass rusher.
Branch could be the guy.
Terry McDonough, the team's director of pro personnel, said Branch eventually will be a starter opposite Jeremy Mincey.
Branch expects it to happen quickly.
"They needed a pass rusher and I know I'm a great pass rusher, so I know I'll be a great fit for them," he said while surrounding by family and friends in Richmond, Va. "My expectations are to get off the plane running. I just want to show everybody that I'm a hard worker and that we can go make the Jaguars better."
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