JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the first week of NFL free agency, the Jaguars have answered some glaring questions on defense. How good the answers are to those questions remains to be seen.
The signing of middle linebacker Joe Schobert from the Browns allows the Jaguars to move Myles Jack back to outside linebacker where he was more of a playmaker prior to moving to middle linebacker after the 2017 season. I think Schobert can be a good addition. He's not Paul Posluszny, but maybe he can be “Poz Light.”
The other moves are basically role players — not stars — and they are replacing stars. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive linemen Rodney Gunter can help the Jaguars defense, but are they at the level of the players they are replacing, AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell? No.
Think about this. The Jaguars’ defense that was so dominant in 2017, earning the nickname Sacksonville, now has only Jack and Abry Jones remaining on the starting unit. Make no mistake, the Jaguars are in a youth movement. It is a rebuild--almost a total rebuild, which makes the next two drafts even more important for the future of the team.
What’s left to do?
If the Jaguars had to line up today, questions would still persist about the defensive front. As of now, either Gunter starts at one defensive tackle spot or Taven Bryan does. And if it’s Gunter, who replaces Calais Campbell at defensive end? Assuming Yannick Ngakoue doesn’t return to the team, here’s how the Jaguars starting defense would look like:
- DE-Josh Allen
- DT-Abry Jones
- DT-Rodney Gunter
- DE-Lerentee McCray
- OLB-Myles Jack
- MLB-Joe Schobert
- OLB-Leon Jacobs
- CB-Tre Herndon
- CB-Darqueze Dennard
- S-Ronnie Harrison
- S-Jarrod Wilson
Those 11 players have two Pro Bowl appearances, Allen’s selection in 2019 and Schobert in 2017. Aside from those two seasons, none of the players in the starting lineup on defense have earned postseason recognition and only Jones, Jack, and McCray have played in a playoff game. There isn’t much to fall back on.
On offense, the tight end position is still lacking. There are questions about the offensive line and although the receiver corps has some young potential, like DJ Chark and Dede Westbrook, they can still upgrade that position. If the season began today, here’s how the Jaguars starting offense would likely lineup:
- WR-DJ Chark
- WR-Chris Conley
- WR-Dede Westbrook
- TE-James O’Shaughnessy
- LT-Cam Robinson
- LG-Andrew Norwell
- C-Brandon Linder
- RG-A.J. Cann
- RT-Jawaan Taylor
- QB-Gardner Minshew
- RB-Leonard Fournette
While the Jaguars’ starting offense has a bit more on their collective resume compared to the defense, but only Chark (2019) and Andrew Norwell (2017 with the Carolina Panthers), have made the Pro Bowl. After the trade of Nick Foles, the Jaguars will move forward with Minshew as the starting quarterback.
Where can they improve?
As mentioned, tight end is an area that can be better. O’Shaughnessy is coming off an injury. Josh Oliver is as well. He showed very little in his rookie season. There are some familiar names still out there, but many are older than the Jaguars would likely want to sign. Former Florida Gator Jordan Reed caught 54 passes for Washington last season, but he has never played a full 16 game season. He will be 30 when the season kicks off. Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis are 36. Tyler Eifert is 29. He might be the most attractive of the remaining free agent tight ends., but he has fought injuries three of the past four seasons.
How much from the draft?
The Jaguars have twelve draft picks in the upcoming draft, including two first-round selections, the ninth and 20th picks. Going into the draft, the Jaguars’ top needs are at defensive line, tight end and cornerback. The offensive line could also use more competition.
Tight end isn’t likely to be in play at pick No. 9. None of the draft prospects at that position are considered first-round talents. Among the top 15 prospects, one is a cornerback, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah, likely to go in the top 5, four are defensive linemen, including Chase Young, another Ohio State star, likely to go in the top 5.
There are a handful of linemen, both offensive and defensive, who the Jaguars will likely have to choose from with the ninth pick. Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Alabama offensive lineman Jedrick Wills, Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs, South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, Louisville’s massive 364-pound tackle Mekhi Becton, and Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas are all likely to go in the top 15 picks.
It’s from this pool that I suspect the Jaguars will select their first player in the draft. With the 20th pick, the choices get more difficult to predict, but if things play out as expected, Florida cornerback CJ Henderson or a pair of LSU defensive backs, cornerback Kristian Fulton and safety Grant Delpit could be in play. One more factor to consider. The wide receiver corps is deep this year with seven players who could go in the first round. Don’t be surprised to see the Jaguars select a receiver with their second-round pick, No. 42 overall.