Justin Durant (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)
It appears the Jaguars have once again struck gold with another second round draft pick. When rookie linebacker Justin Durant was selected with the 48th overall pick in last April's NFL draft, he was hardly a household name.
Durant had fantastic credentials coming out of college, and all the measurables to match, as he was the first three time MEAC defensive player of the year, was a three time Black College All-American, and possesses a 6'1", 235 lb. frame that is capable of running a 4.5 40-yard dash. If Durant would've come from a division I school from a major conference instead of Hampton College, he would have likely been in the top half of the first round.
Guess the rating system is still kind of messed up," Hampton linebacker Justin Durant said. "I take a whole lot of pride in it. . . . We just wanted to come and show there's a reason there's a lot of Hampton guys."
Durant had spent the first nine games of his rookie season playing special teams and filling in at linebacker, with not much expected of him. Then, starting middle linebacker Mike Peterson suddenly went down with a broken wrist and Durant was thrust into the starting lineup. All Durant has done since is average better than eight tackles per game, which leads the team, and the Jaguars defensive rankings have risen abruptly, from 24th overall to 12th overall, from the time that Durant has taken over as the starter.
"I'm getting more confident each week. I'm more comfortable now than I was at the beginning of the season", said Durant.
Currently, Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson is still listed as out for Saturday's game, and it is a mystery whether he'll return at all this season. Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio commented about Peterson-
"We have not put him on IR. He's still available if and when the doctors say so."
When asked about Saturday, Del Rio responded--"Until we get the green light, all I can just give you is the update week to week. Until we get the green light, he's going to be held out."
The Jaguars head coach talked about the improvement of Durant's game, and what he expects of him in the future-
"He's certainly improved as the year's gone on. I think he's going to be a fine football player for us. We were excited when we were able to acquire him in the draft. He's going to be a good player. Daryl Smith is a good football player. His most natural position is probably the Mike linebacker. I think he's got a Pro Bowl future ahead of him. I think he's an outstanding football player. Obviously, Mike brings great passion and great experience and play-making ability. Anytime you lose a player, you just do the best you can to plug in and keep rolling, and that's what we've tried to do. "
The Jaguars have certainly plugged Durant in, and there's no question that they're rolling. The team has lost just one meaningful game since Durant's insert, and his play has been stellar. Durant's speed and aggression on the field have put the team in position to have two linebackers that can chase down plays from behind (Ingram), as well as a middle linebacker like Daryl Smith who is involved in most of the action.
Jack Del Rio described the improvement in Durant's play--
"Just as a young football player, much like Clint Ingram last year was thrust into duty, really earlier than we'd hope to. Getting him involved as the year went on he got better and better. I think Justin similarity gained experience and he can really run and hit. He strikes people and can really run and hit. So, he's done a nice job."
The Jaguars organization has had it's fair share of criticism about their first-round draft picks since selecting Byron Leftwich with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 draft, and rightfully so. One thing that is undeniable has been the success of the current front office's round two selections. Rashean Mathis, Daryl Smith, Greg Jones, Khalif Barnes, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Justin Durant are all second-round picks, and before their careers are done, they could each make a Pro Bowl appearance. The real question for the Jaguars front office is, how are they going to keep it going next April?
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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