The Jacksonville Jaguars have a bad defense.
When a defense ranks 31st overall in points and 24th overall in yards, there is no other way to spin it. General manager Dave Caldwell is trying to change that this year. The 2016 defensive free agent signings include three new defensive starters: Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, and Prince Amukamara.
The 2016 NFL Draft is the next step in improving this group. It's a virtual certainty that the team's first round pick will provide another defensive starter for the Jaguars defense. Although the rest of the draft will probably be defense-heavy, fans shouldn't expect more than one opening day starter from the draft class.
At this point, we can start to guess at the Jaguars starting 11 on defense and ask, "Will they be good?"
For argument, let's consider a "good defense" to be ranked in the top ten of the league. That seems an unlikely goal for this team. However, with an improving offense, an "okay" defense might be enough to win more games.
Two elements of the Jaguars defense are indicators of a group that will not be "good." The first is the complete absence of a proven outside pass rusher. All good defenses have someone that can consistently get to the passer. Maybe the Dante Fowler is that guy. Maybe a rookie is that guy. But that brings us to the other problem: good defenses don't depend on rookies and free agents.
Don't misunderstand. Every team needs good free agents in today's NFL. But good defenses aren't built almost entirely upon other team's draft picks.
Let's think back to the good ol' days when the Jaguars actually had a good defense. The year is 2006. The defense ranked fourth in points and second in yards. That was definitely a good defense. Here's the makeup of that defense's primary starters for that season:
|DE||Rob Meier||Drafted -- 7th round||7th year|
|DT||Marcus Stroud||Drafted -- 1st round||6th year|
|DT||John Henderson||Drafted -- 1st round||5th year|
|DE||Paul Spicer||Street free agent||8th year|
|LB||Clint Ingram||Drafted -- 3rd round||rookie|
|MLB||Daryl Smith||Drafted -- 2nd round||3rd year|
|LB||Nick Griesen||Free agent|
|CB||Rashean Mathis||Drafted -- 2nd round||4th year|
|CB||Brian Williams||Free agent|
|SS||Donovin Darius||Drafted -- 1st round||9th year|
|FS||Deon Grant||Free agent|
Other important starters in 2006 include Mike Peterson, Bobby McCray, and Gerald Sensabaugh. But Peterson only played in five games due to injury. McCray had a great season and started a lot of games. But Meier usually lined up as a starter. The above list represents starters who started the most games in the season.
Seven of these starters were drafted by the Jaguars. Only one was a rookie and he only was a starter after Peterson's injury. Paul Spicer was not drafted by the Jaguars, but he was developed by the Jaguars after spending a year with the Lions. The point is that this defense was good because it consisted of a core that was developed by the Jaguars over several years. In other words, it didn't become good all of a sudden because of free agency. The two Pro Bowlers from this team were Henderson and Mathis. Both were veterans who were drafted in the top two rounds by the Jaguars.
As you can see, the 2006 defense was built from the draft. Compare that to the projected starters for the 2016 Jaguars:
|DE||Jared Odrick||Free agent|
|DT||Malik Jackson||Free agent|
|DT||Roy Miller||Free agent|
|DE||Dante Fowler||Drafted -- 1st round||1st year|
|LB||Telvin Smith||Drafted -- 5th round||3rd year|
|MLB||Paul Posluszny||Free agent|
|LB||Dan Skuta||Free agent|
|CB||Davon House||Free agent|
|CB||Prince Amukamara||Free agent|
|SS||Johnathan Cyprien||Drafted -- 2nd round||4th year|
|FS||Tashaun Gipson||Free agent|
There are only three starters drafted by the team on this list. Not to mention that Fowler has never played an NFL game. Smith looks like a star and a great find in the fifth round. However, Cyprien looks like he will be fighting for his job.
Failure to draft well on defense over the years is the main reason the defense has struggled. Where are the fifth-year through eighth-year veterans drafted by this team? Those guys are out of the league.
Even if the Jaguars 2016 first round pick is an immediate starter, it still won't solve the chronic problem of poor defensive drafting over the last decade.
Maybe the NFL has changed, you say? Maybe building through the draft isn't as important as it used to be?
Let's look at the Super Bowl Champion 2015 Denver Broncos defense (ranked fourth in points and first in yards) and how it was built:
|DE||Malik Jackson||Drafted -- 5th round||4th year|
|DE||Derek Wolfe||Drafted -- 2nd round||4th year|
|NT||Sylvester Williams||Drafted -- 1st round||3rd year|
|LB||Von Miller||Drafted -- 1st round||5th year|
|LB||Brandon Marshall||Free agent|
|LB||Danny Trevathan||Drafted -- 6th round||4th year|
|LB||De Marcus Ware||Free agent|
|CB||Aqib Talib||Free agent|
|CB||Chris Harris||Undrafted free agent||5th year|
|SS||TJ Ward||Free agent|
|FS||Darian Stewart||Free agent|
The Denver defense had plenty of important free agents on the team. However a core of fourth-year and fifth-year players drafted by the Broncos form a solid core. In the 2012 draft alone, the Broncos acquired three eventual starters. Marshall was drafted in 2012 as well, but by the Jaguars.
In contrast, the Jaguars have no one from the 2012 draft still on their roster.
Maybe the Jaguars don't need a "good" defense to win. Maybe their offense can carry the load. But eventually the defense will have to improve if the Jaguars hope to develop a long-term winning culture. That must start with the 2016 draft and continue into future drafts. That's what it takes to be good in this league.
So, no, the Jaguars defense probably won't be good this year, but hit me back in 2021.