By Vic Ketchman, jaguars.com senior editor
Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith made the surprise pick of the draft on Thursday when he selected little-known Cal defensive tackle Tyson Alualu with the 10th overall pick. Smith knew the pick would meet with criticism.
“I’ve gotten a lot of questions about him at number 10 and I completely understand it. The more work we did, the better we felt about him,” Smith told reporters following the selection.
Last year, Smith invited media and fan criticism when he traded a 2010 second-round pick to select little-known William and Mary cornerback Derek Cox in the third round. Cox responded by leading the Jaguars in interceptions.
Smith and head coach Jack Del Rio believe Alualu will quiet critics with his performance. Del Rio described Alualu as a “passionate football player. He has that motor we’re looking for. We envision him as a penetrating defensive tackle. We envision him being a force for our front.
“Let the man get here and compete and I think he’ll show you the things I saw,” said Del Rio, who added that the additions of Alualu in the draft and defensive end Aaron Kampman in free agency are “going to have a tremendous impact on how our defense plays football this fall.”
The bigger story of this pick is the courage Smith displayed in making it. At a time when local fans were pining for the team to pick Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, Smith did a 180 and picked a West Coast player that was unknown to most Jaguars fans.
“I’m not trying to win a popularity contest. I’m about winning a Super Bowl,” Smith said. “That’s not my goal to be bold. My goal is to improve the roster.”
Speculation is the selection of Alualu will cause the Jaguars to offer defensive tackle John Henderson in a trade. Smith wants to get a pick in the second round.
“He’s on our team right now and I’ll listen to what anybody has to say about any of our players. That doesn’t mean you’re going to do a deal,” Smith said when asked about the possibility of trading Henderson. “We’re going to do calls tonight.”
New defensive line coach Joe Cullen is said to have signed off on Alualu. “Joe is very excited. This is a guy he liked a lot,” Smith said.
“He was the next guy on the board. This guy runs in the 4.8’s. He ran a 1.6 10 time. He plays with good strength. He has an innate competitiveness that is unmatched in defensive linemen,” Smith added of Alualu.
Alualu started to move up draft boards in recent days. Smith said another team was hot on Alualu’s trail and that the Jaguars were monitoring contact between that team and Alualu.
Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen was available when it was the Jaguars’ turn to pick and Smith hoped Clausen might cause a team to trade with the Jaguars, as Mark Sanchez caused the Jets to trade with the Browns last year. The depth of talent in this draft, however, resulted in a lack of trade talk.
“There was not a lot of discussion. This was not like last year,” Smith said.
“I’m a calculated risk-taker. I’m not a gambler. You have to trust your system. If you don’t trust your body of work and if you don’t have the courage of your convictions, I think you’re in the wrong business. I’m making the best decisions to get us to where we want to go,” Smith added.