Jaguars plan to look to major conferences

During four years as the Jaguars general manager, Gene Smith developed a reputation as a personnel man who liked small college guys.

He didn’t do it early on. His four first-round picks were out of Virginia, Cal, Missouri and Oklahoma State.

But later in drafts he turned to places like William and Mary, Liberty, James Madison, Murray State, Wyoming, Lehigh and Nevada.

And he left us looking up schools like Nebraska-Omaha, Mount Union and Ashland.

Yes, he found a players like receiver Cecil Shorts, cornerback Derek Cox and offensive lineman Will Rackley from those places. But he seemed to fall for a good story from a lesser school too often. Smith’s overall hit rate was not high enough, and his small school hit rate was certainly in line with that.

No SEC players for a team in SEC country was a bone of contention for a lot of fans.

The man who replaced Smith is unlikely to plot a similar draft map.

“I always believe in drafting and acquiring toward what the norms are,” David Caldwell told John Oehser of the Jaguars website. “If 93 percent of the players in the NFL are playing at Division I-A programs, that’s the norm. I’m not saying I would never draft a small-school player, but they would have to dominate that level. I wouldn’t say absolutes, but I’m a believer: big school, big competition.’’

The Jaguars have done their share of failing in the draft from major college programs, too.

The guy doing the drafting before Smith, Shack Harris, fared terribly with SEC guys at the top of the draft: in 2008 in Derrick Harvey (Florida) and Quentin Groves (Auburn) and with safety Reggie Nelson (Florida) in 2007, though Nelson is now playing an important role for Cincinnati.

I like Caldwell talking about the norms.

You're not going to be able to piece together a quality team thinking you can outsmart the rest of the league with small-school finds. One or two here and there are fine. But most of the best players come out of the best football programs, and that's where Caldwell and his staff will do most of their looking.