A defense can be “good” without a good pass rush, just like how the Jaguars defense has been this year. It’s been good, just not that special and needs to improve it’s pass rush. A defense can’t be “great” without, at least, a “good” pass rush.
Yannick Ngakoue has had a surprisingly fantastic season. He’s been the second-most impactful rookie pass rusher behind Joey Bosa, with six sacks (third among rookies), four forced fumbles (tied for fourth in NFL), an interception, and 23 hurries (10th in NFL).
Malik Jackson has been worth every dollar of the $85.5 million contract he signed with the Jaguars in the offseason. He currently has 4.5 sacks and is on pace for 5.5 sacks this year, which is right around where I predicted he’d end up. However, he wasn’t signed to be a sack guy -- he was signed to create pressure and open gaps for the edge rushers to get to the quarterback. Yannick Ngakoue’s performance can be heavily attributed to how Malik Jackson has performed.
But, that’s really been it. Dante Fowler Jr. has been disappointing as a pass rusher, as he simply looks uncomfortable rushing from the end spot with his hand in the dirt. His production shows just that, as he has 2.5 sacks this year — two of which came against San Diego in Week 2.
If the Jaguars are to take that next step in becoming a great defense, they need to add elite talent to their pass rush attack. They can do that in the 2017 NFL draft.
They can do that by drafting Jonathan Allen.
Allen, who won the 2016 Chuck Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in the NCAA, is an incredibly talented, versatile defensive lineman coming out of Alabama this year. A player with phenomenal mechanics and hand-usage, Allen is a purely disruptive defensive lineman — which is something the Jaguars need opposite of Yannick Ngakoue at defensive end.
The Jaguars currently use the “big end” 5-tech position opposite of Ngakoue, who plays LEO pass rusher. The position is, in my opinion, a waste of a prime position to create pressure on the quarterback. It’s primarily used to set the edge against the run and does not contribute to the pass rush as a typical 4-3 defensive end should. With Jared Odrick potentially being released this offseason, and with Gus Bradley having a 99.9% chance of being fired, it’s likely the Jaguars will return to a traditional front on defense, which utilizes both ends as pass rushers.
Allen fits the end position perfectly. The 6’3”, 291 pound defensive lineman is a forceful, speedy dude for his size — too quick to be kept inside full-time as an interior rusher. He is best utilized coming off the edge or stunting inside, but regardless — lining up on the end with his hand in the dirt.
He doesn’t get the sack here because his bending isn’t great due to his size, but it was good enough to combine with his speed around the tackle and his hand technique to disregard the block and create pressure. This is something we don’t get to see the “big end” do much, as Odrick/Tyson Alualu usually engage down and extend out to edge set rather than blitz outside.
I’ve found myself comparing Jonathan Allen to Seattle DE Michael Bennett recently, and it makes sense. They are both best suited as “power ends” at the 5-tech spot, with versatility to move around the entire line. Both players are speedy off of the end spot with decent bend for their size, but are both mechanically sound with their hand usage and timing off the line.
And when I say mechanically sound in hand usage and timing off the line, I advise you not to take it with a grain of salt. Proper mechanics separates the “good” from the “great”, and based off of mechanics alone, Allen has potential to be great:
His patience at the snap followed by his step into the left “B gap” (guard-tackle gap) allowed him to excel to his match with the left guard. When he initiated contact, which he often does before the offensive lineman lays hands on him, he displayed quick hand movement to brush by his matchup with ease, and then utilizes his speed to force the quarterback out and throw the ball without setting up.
This play is yet another perfect example of his power off the line, and his ability to get off his block by disengaging his hands to get the sack makes Allen very special.
My worry with Allen isn’t necessarily what he can or can’t do, but it’s whether or not he will get the Joey Bosa treatment pre-draft. Last year, a lot of people questioned how high Joey Bosa’s ceiling was, or if he had already reached it, in which they didn’t think he could become much better a player in the NFL as he was in college. People that gave Bosa that treatment are biting their tongues now, as he’s been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL this year, as he has 6.5 sacks in only nine games, as well as recording 20 pressures in his first three games.
I won’t question a player’s ceiling if they’re dominant enough and mechanically sound enough that it’s a near lock they’ll produce highly at the next level. I didn’t question Bosa’s ceiling, and I won’t question Allen’s.
26 career sacks, with an additional 27 hurries. 41.5 tackles for loss. Six passes defended at the line. One interception, which was returned for a touchdown.. Three forced fumbles, two of which he recovered — one of which he returned for a touchdown. The production is there that can, and in my belief, will, carry over to the next level.
The mechanics: His near-perfect hand usage, timing off the line, ability to power rush, and his speed for his size — All lead me to believe he will be a great NFL pass rusher.
If the Jaguars are to become a “great” defense, they need a “great” pass rusher — Jonathan Allen can be that guy.