The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t put much of an emphasis on the offense during the 2022 NFL Draft, but Kentucky center Luke Fortner proved to be the most notable exception.
Fortner, who the Jaguars drafted at No. 65 overall with the first pick of the third round, was the highest-drafted offensive player by the Jaguars last week and just one of two offensive players drafted overall.
“There’s a lot to like about Luke. When you meet this kid, he’s wired the right way. We do like him at center, but he has the position flex to move to guard as well, so the position versatility is good for us,” Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said after the team picked Fortner.
“He gives us depth at the position. Great competition there. He’s a guy that when you watch him on film, he can do everything that we do in our offense in the run game. Whether he’s reaching the three-technique or climbing to the second level, he’s got the ability to do that. He can redirect. Just a really good fit for our offensive line and that room.”
What do we make of the Fortner selection and what could it mean for the Jaguars moving forward? We break it down below.
Comparing Fortner to Brandon Linder
No rookie has bigger shoes to fill on Jacksonville’s roster than Luke Fortner. While Fortner may not be asked to replace Linder’s spot at center right away, it is clear the Jaguars see him as a long-term answer at the center position following Linder’s retirement. Linder was more than just a physically talented center, but he was a bright mind who helped set up pass-protections and one of the most respected leaders on the entire team. That is a big role Fortner is stepping into.
How exactly does Fortner compare today to Linder coming out of college? Linder, a 2014 third-round selection by the Jaguars out of Miami, actually was seen as a similar prospect to Fortner. Though graded by most as a guard, Linder moved to center with the Jaguars and eventually found massive success. Fortner, meanwhile, has always been seen as a center and is smaller with shorter arms than Linder, but is overall a better athlete.
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If you want to see how Linder may compare to Fortner on the field, just look at this scouting report on Linder by NFL.com in 2014: “Big, experienced, highly competitive, short-area base blocker at his best in a phone booth. Lacks ideal power and athleticism, but has football intelligence, leadership traits and a bulldog’s mentality. Should earn a spot as an interior backup initially, but brings grit to the line and has the makeup to outplay his draft position.”
That is basically the same description that we have seen Fortner been given since the Jaguars took him at No. 65. While he may lack overwhelming power and standout athleticism, he makes up for it and does a good job of filling several roles across the line. In short, he sounds more like Linder than many may think, even if he shouldn’t be expected to perform like Linder right away.
Fortner gives Jaguars ultimate game day flexibility, along with an immediate option at center
Pederson said several times on Friday that Fortner would be seen by the Jaguars as a center first and foremost, though he could play guard if needed. Considering the injuries the Jaguars faced along the interior line last year, it makes sense the Jaguars made versatility an emphasis with this pick, and Fortner’s past starts at guard for Kentucky give him just that.
Fortner will ultimately be an extremely valuable player for the Jaguars on game days because of the flexibility he gives them. If he starts for the Jaguars, it would be as a center, but he could also start the game as a backup and move to guard in case of injury as well go into the game at center and bump Tyler Shatley to left guard. Fortner also gives the Jaguars two options at center along with Shatley as opposed to having just one, which they would have had if they took a guard with no center experience.
Fortner against Dylan Parham will be an interesting debate for years to come
There weren’t many interior linemen taken in the third round after Fortner; the only players were UNC’s Joshua Ezeudu at No. 67, Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann at No. 77 (if he moves inside), Memphis’ Dylan Parham at No. 90, and Wisconsin’s Logan Bruss at No. 104. When looking at this group, the only player who made sense for the Jaguars would have been Parham due to his center versatility.
Parham was a player the Jaguars spent a ton of time working on during the draft process and was a common mock selection to the Jaguars at both No. 65 and No. 70. The fact Fortner was drafted over Parham was seen as a surprise to some, though Fortner’s experience and more natural fit at center over Parham likely got him the nod. Still, it will be fascinating to see how the two develop for years to come.