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Jaguars free agency 2021: Checking out the team’s defensive needs

Washington Football Team's Kyle Allen (8) throws a pass away from New York Giants' Dalvin Tomlinson (94) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Washington Football Team's Kyle Allen (8) throws a pass away from New York Giants' Dalvin Tomlinson (94) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – NFL free agency begins March 17 at 4 p.m. The Jaguars have a roster in need of talent. Much of that can be addressed in next month’s NFL draft, but Jacksonville needs veteran help, too.

The News4Jax sports staff looks at some of the biggest needs and players who the team could target when the league year opens. A look at the offensive needs here.

Defensive needs: DL, S, CB, EDGE.

Defensive line

Coach Urban Meyer said that he wants to build a defense from the line and work back from there. Well, he’s got some work to do. DaVon Hamilton showed potential in his rookie season (30 total tackles, sack) in 11 games and should be in line to see a more prominent role. DE Lerentee McCray was a 2020 opt-out, but provides depth, should he return. DT Doug Costin was serviceable (32 tackles), affordable ($780,000) and started nine games. Will DT Al Woods be back after opting out?

Candidates: DE Shelby Harris (Broncos); DE Trey Hendrickson (Saints); DT DaQuan Jones (Titans); DE Carl Lawson (Bengals);DT Larry Ogunjobi (Browns); DT Dalvin Tomlinson (Giants).

Best fits: Tomlinson. Jones. Ogunjobi as interior players. With Leonard Williams getting tagged by the Giants, Tomlinson is the top interior lineman in free agency, and a player who the Jaguars should make a priority. He’d give them a large body at nose tackle (6-3, 318 pounds). Jones and Ogunjobi won’t be as expensive and would both be solid options should Tomlinson not work out. Lawson is a top edge target in the expected 3-4 alignment that the team will go to with Joe Cullen running the defense. Lawson’s sack total (5.5 last season) isn’t indicative of his production. He had a career-best 32 quarterback hits last year.

Linebackers

A solid group, with two big pieces already under contract. Myles Jack had a solid season in his move to outside linebacker in 2020. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert, one of the final major free agent signings of Dave Caldwell’s tenure, was an above-average player last season. The expected transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 should mean more production from third-year player Josh Allen, and, optimistically, a big jump in production from second-year player K’Lavon Chaisson. They are more natural outside backers than natural defensive ends. We didn’t see much out of Shaquille Quarterman or Quincy Williams last year. In the 3-4, we’ll see Jack and Schobert as the interior LBs, Allen on one side and, optimistically a pass rush threat opposite Allen.

Candidates: DE/OLB Jadeveon Clowney (Seahawks); DE/OLB Bud Dupree (Steelers).

Best fit: Dupree. Shaquil Barrett and Matthew Judon agreed to deals with the Bucs and Patriots, respectively, Monday, so they’re off the board. Remember, the Jaguars ran a 4-3 defense (four linemen, three linebackers) under Todd Wash. In Cullen’s 3-4 front, it’s three linemen and four linebackers. But the production from Barrett is so difficult to overlook. He had a staggering 19.5 sacks in 2019. Clowney has a big name, but has never been as good as his No. 1 draft position, but perhaps a change of scenery would help him out here. Is Dupree going to be full strength after tearing an ACL last year? He has 39.5 career sacks. If so, he and Josh Allen getting after the quarterback is a nice image.

Secondary

This unit needs an overhaul. First-rounder CJ Henderson was excellent in Week 1 last year and seemed to regress as the season went on before he went on IR. Tre Herndon was re-signed this week and is a nice returnee to have. He’s been reliable and above-average. There were developmental players on the team that were pressed into action (Luq Barcoo, Chris Claybrooks, Sidney Jones) and could still have value moving forward. Safety is another spot to look hard at for an upgrade. FS Jarrod Wilson is under contract for another year, affordable, and average to above-average when healthy. There are a few free agent candidates that make sense for the Jaguars. This unit needs a serious infusion of talent.

Candidates: CB Ronald Darby (Washington); CB Shaquill Griffin (Seahawks); FS Anthony Harris (Vikings); CB Mike Hilton (Steelers); CB William Jackson III (Bengals); FS Keanu Neal (Falcons); CB Patrick Peterson (Cardinals); SS Xavier Woods (Cowboys).

Best fits: Griffin, Harris, Jackson, in that order. Griffin makes sense as a guy who could play opposite Henderson and build something. Harris is a close second, though. PFF ranks him the seventh-best available free agent. He had a down season in 2020 by his standards (no picks), but had six interceptions in 2019. Jackson was ranked as the 20th best corner in 2020 by PFF and graded out higher than Griffin. Johnson is another player who could fit here. He has eight career picks. Strong safety John Johnson III would have been an excellent addition, but he agreed to a deal with the Browns on Monday. Hilton, who was signed by the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2016, could be a nice addition as a nickel. He had three picks last season in 12 games. What about adding Peterson for a veteran presence, and hope his guidance can help elevate Henderson? Is Neal able to stay healthy? He’s not a big pick player (two career INTs) and missed essentially all the 2018-19 seasons with different injuries, but stayed healthy almost all of 2020.


About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.