One of the big areas of concern on the Jacksonville Jaguars defense entering the 2016 is the pass rush, specifically from the LEO end position. I'm starting to hate talking about the LEO, because all it seems to do is just confuse people to what the position actually is. It's just the weakside defensive end, lined up a bit wider to give the player more of a straight line towards the quarterback. Yeah, it will drop in zone coverage at times, but primarily the job of the player is to get to the quarterback and disrupt in the backfield. It's a position the Jaguars haven't really gotten a lot out of, despite production there being a key cog in the defensive scheme.
So, lets look at what we've got.
Returning player(s): Dante Fowler Jr., Chris Smith, Ryan Davis, Quanterus Smith
New player(s): Yannick Ngakoue
Outgoing player(s): Chris Clemons, Andre Branch
Bubble player(s): Chris Smith, Ryan Davis, Quanterus Smith
Note: If you're wondering where Tyrone Holmes and Bjoern Werner are, look here.
Obviously the big thing is the return of Dante Fowler Jr. to the lineup, the Jaguars No. 3 overall pick last season. As we all know, he tore his ACL within an hour into rookie mini-camp and was sidelined for the entire 2016 season. Getting Fowler back will be huge for the defensive line, as it's an injection of youth and talent at the position, but we should be careful not to overhype and expect too much out of what is essentially a rookie coming off a major knee injury. There is going to be a big adjustment for Fowler, both physically and mentally, and it could be a rough season for him. That should be kind of expected, to be honest. Pass rusher is one of the harder roles to make the jump from college to pro.
Beyond Fowler though, it's a huge question mark. Ryan Davis is someone who has been productive in a very specific role for the Jaguars, which oddly enough has been rushing inside rather than off the edge. I think Davis could do some things off the edge if he's given enough of a lane to work an outside-inside type move, or use his inside move without worrying too much about the guard picking him up, but he's going to need to show some more as strictly an edge rusher this season.
Rookie third round pick Yannick Ngakoue should see a lot of rotation early on in the season, in part to ease him into the lineup and also to make sure the Jaguars don't overexert Fowler while he's coming back from his knee injury. Ngakoue was someone we picked out as a good fit for the Jaguars because of his ability as a pass rusher, and while I'm not sure he'll ever be a 10-sack guy, he can be that annoying ass guy coming off the edge that creates for others. Essentially, Ngakoue can be what everyone hoped Andre Branch would be, except not bad.
Beyond those three, I think it's going to be tough for the Smiths to make the final roster. Quanterus was someone I was a big fan of when he was coming out in the NFL Draft, but a bad knee injury has kind of hampered him so far in his NFL career. If he's finally healthy and has what he did in college, he could sneak himself on to the roster. For Chris, I think it's tough sledding. He hasn't really done much with the opportunities, albeit limited, that he's had and he struggled to get playing time behind the woefully ineffective Chris Clemons and Andre Branch last season.
The Jaguars are extremely young and inexperienced at the LEO position, and that's going to be something they're going to have to work through next season.