It seems to be linebacker day here on Big Cat Country. After a brief hiatus, we're back and looking at another position before the draft. This time, we'll be looking at the Jaguars linebacking corps. Perhaps there is no position that has this much of a talent gap on the team. On one side of the spectrum is Daryl Smith, who was perhaps one of the five best linebackers in the NFL last year. On the other end of the spectrum was Clint Ingram, who's play was so poor last year he was replaced by UDFA Russell Allen. In the middle was Justin Durant, who played well though not spectacularly.
During the draft season, there has been a lot of attention paid to Alabama LB Rolando McClain. The Jaguars clearly want to address the MLB position, but can McClain play in the 4-3? What about someone like FSU's Dekoda Watson or AJ Edds from Iowa?
Smith is now the current holder of the Screwed by Jacksonville's Market Size award. Despite being switched around between the 3-4 and 4-3, and having multiple positions in the 4-3, Smith never failed to turn in an excellent performance. Just to give you an idea of how good Smith was, he was the #1 ranked 4-3 OLB in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. He was also the 14th ranked inside linebacker.
Simply put, Daryl Smith is one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and should be a priority for the Jaguars next offseason assuming a lockout isn't a near certainty.
Durant was acceptable as a MLB last year for the Jaguars. However, it was clear the presence of Mike Peterson that continues to be missed. If the Jaguars can find a MLB they like in the draft, the expectation is that Durant will end up playing the weak side position. Still, for a player who ESPN had to use home video footage of when he was drafted, he has played very well.
If there was one player who disappointed more than any other last year, it was Clint Ingram. While Ingram was never a great all around linebacker, he was supposed to be the best of the bunch against the run. However, he failed to show even that this year. He was rated as one of the worst linebackers in the NFL according to PFF, and was replaced by Russell Allen at the end of the year.
The no-name of the group, Allen's the team's signature UDFA from last draft. He comes out of San Diego St, and he is the kind of underdog story you root for. Allen was a tackling machine, making 46 tackles despite only starting 3 games. There is a lot of potential upside and character, and will keep him on the roster for another year at the minimum.
One of last preseason's stars didn't get a lot of action last year. Perhaps he spent some extra time in the dog house after his actions before the Houston game in Week 3. Either way, Iwuh managed to hit people like a mack truck and could use another good camp to make sure he ends up on the roster.
Possible Draft Day Plans
McClain has been discussed ad nauseum here on BCC. I'll just refer you to Alfie's excellent story that is below this one, or to his Scouting Report which can be found in the BCC Draft Headquarters.
The Jaguars are reportedly very high on the former Seminole. Watson has all the measurables you would want out of a NFL linebacker, but he's behind the curve on technique. This is more likely due to FSU's terrible defensive coaching the last few years than an inability to learn the scheme. He could definitely be a target in the 3rd/4th round.