Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE
The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to need to completely rebuild parts of their team in order to be competitive in the future and one area to start is on the defensive side of the ball.
Note: Since so many have commented on it, this post is not signaling that nothing needs to be done on the offense and the offense is OK. You can only fix so much so quickly.
The Jacksonville Jaguars 2012 defense is among one of the worst in the NFL. While it's dealt with injuries, even when the majority of the defense has been on the field it's been woeful. The team still can't rush the passer and struggles to stop the run. Due to the fact that the defense struggles to rush the passer, they also struggle to cover in the back end and it leads to quarterbacks having a field day.
You also have the Jaguars defense with quite a few expiring contracts for starters, including Daryl Smith, Terrance Knighton, Derek Cox, John Chick, George Selvie, and Rashean Mathis. That's quite a bit of potential turnover and that's not mentioning the players you're going to look to replace and/or upgrade on the defense.
So how can we fix it?
Well, the defense needs to be completely overhauled as is, so if the Jaguars want to switch up defensive schemes now would be time. I'm a big fan of the 3-4 defense, as you all know, and I do think the Jaguars have the building blocks and are in position to successfully make the switch in a single offseason. The 2013 NFL draft is chock full of defensive players and players who fit in a 3-4, so I'd expect the Jaguars to go heavy on defense in the draft anyway, even if a switch is not made.
In my opinion, this is how to rebuild the Jaguars defense:
Connor Barwin, OLB: The Jaguars top defensive target in free agency should be linebacker Connor Barwin. Barwin's best fit is as a strong-side 3-4 outside linebacker and it looks like the Houston Texans may let him hit the open market, much like they did Mario Williams last season. The Texans have drafted well for the position with Brooks Reed and Mercilus Whitney and keeping Barwin may not be financially feasible going forward. Barwin would fill an immediate hole and be an excellent fit in the Jaguars new 3-4 defense.
Sean Smith, CB: The Jaguars are going to need another starting cornerback, be it in free agency or the draft, so they can take care of it early by targeting Miami Dolphins impending free agent cornerback Sean Smith. Smith has been up and down with the Dolphins through his first few seasons, but he's a big cornerback who can cover and isn't likely going to break the bank in free agency.
Isaac Sopoaga, NT: The Jaguars are going to need a nosetackle in their new 3-4 defense and I don't think they'll be rushing to re-sign Terrance Knighton to a new deal, so veteran Sopoaga can fill that void initially while you draft a young player to spell and grow into the position.
Round 1 - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: The Jacksonville Jaguars are in dire need of a pass rusher and if they're moving to a 3-4 defense, they're going to want to build their defense around a weak-side rush linebacker, which is a role Jarvis Jones can fill in the NFL. There is some concern with Jones and his spinal stenosis, but he's the best player for the position and worth the risk. (or substitute FSU's Bjoern Werner or Oregon's Dion Jordan. Both also work here).
Round 2 - John Jenkins, NT, Georgia: Going back to the Bulldogs well, the Jaguars will need a nosetackle to be part of the foundation for their new defense. Drafting Jenkins gives you a possible immediate starter at the position and at worse a guy who can spell your starting nose throughout the game. Jenkins has been a player at the nose position in the Bulldogs 3-4, so it should be a natural fit.
Round 3 - Will Davis, CB, Utah State: The Jaguars could potentially lose two starting caliber cornerbacks in the offseason, unless they're willing to risk a big contract or the franchise tag with the oft-injured Derek Cox. Even so, the Jaguars still need to add more talent to the cornerback position and Will Davis is a potential starter at the position.
Round 4 - Shayne Skov, ILB: Stanford: With moving to the 3-4 defense, the Jaguars are going to need some more linebackers who fill a specific role. Skov is a work horse at the ILB position and does just about everything well playing in Stanford's variation of the 3-4. Skov could potentially start Day 1 at ILB or at least be a rotational player early in his career.
If the Jaguars were to accomplish all of this, the opening day starting defense will likely look as follows:
WLB: Jarvis Jones
ILB: Paul Posluszny
ILB: Shayne Skov
SLB: Connor Barwin
I've long maintained that the Jaguars are playing a 4-3 defense with a 3-4 defensive line and have had others in the NFL agree with that notion. Some of the players just seem to fit better as a 3-4 line, even a guy like Jeremy Mincey who will often kick inside to rush the passer on some downs. Mincey can play the role similar to that of Terrell Suggs on the Baltimore Ravens, playing up and down depending on the situation.