Some would say I am going out on a limb when I say this, but I have full confidence that the Jacksonville Jaguars defense is going to be scary next year -- and realistically, you should too.
The Jaguars added a total of nine defenders to the roster this offseason through free agency and the draft, not including undrafted free agents. Of these nine players, four of them seem locked in as starters for Week 1, as well as Dante Fowler Jr., who is returning from an ACL injury. Five new starters next year.
In all, the defense seems to have been "revamped" but what roles will these new defenders fill on the field?
The Jaguars entered free agency with their eyes on the prize, and a day before the competition even started they had already won their gold medal -- Malik Jackson. Jackson signed a five year, $86 million contract to turn Jacksonville's defensive line into something scary.
Jackson played as a 5-tech defensive end in a 3-4 defense during his time with the Denver Broncos and earned a huge contract with the Jaguars for his production. However, the Jaguars run an attacking 4-3 hybrid defense, so Jackson will have to transition into the role of a 3-tech defensive tackle for his main position, as well as a 7-tech defensive end when Jared Odrick isn't on the field, which closely resembles the 5-tech role he played in Denver.
Jackson is ultimately taking Sen'Derrick Marks starting spot as a pass rushing defensive tackle with versatility to play outside. On third down "lightning" pass rushing packages, it is likely that Marks will line up next to Jackson in the 1-tech spot, but will be used as a pass rusher instead creating gaps.
While Malik Jackson was coveted by general manager Dave Caldwell as the team's main target, Tashaun Gipson signed with the team as head coach Gus Bradley's prized possession. The Jaguars have been looking for a "franchise", ball-hawking free safety who can thrive in a cover 3 defense where the free safety plays single high and covers the whole field -- and Gipson can do just that.
Gipson is a "see-ball, get-ball football player", and with 14 interceptions in four years with Cleveland, Gipson has proved all of the doubters wrong -- an undrafted free agent in 2012, Gipson is now making $36 million over five years with the Jaguars.
Tashaun Gipson has the potential to make the Jaguars secondary great, and will be a vital piece of the Jaguars defense for years to come.
When the Jaguars announced the signing of Prince Amukamara, I personally didn't see Jalen Ramsey as the team's top draft prospect, but I guess I was wrong.
I viewed Amukamara as a starter on the outside opposite of Davon House at cornerback, but with the arrival of Ramsey to play outside cornerback, it looks like Amukamara is in for some role changes. Prince Amukamara signed a one year, $5 million "prove it" deal with Jacksonville to show what he's got after a five year tenure with the New York Giants, where he displayed great talent at outside cornerback, but lacked playing time due to multiple injuries.
With Aaron Colvin missing the first four games of the season due to suspension, Amukamara will have to prove his worth as a slot corner in nickel packages, and as a rotational outside corner in some passing-down situations, as he is very skilled in man coverage.
If Amukamara can stay healthy, he could thrive as a rotational outside and nickel corner for Jacksonville this year and get himself a bigger contract next offseason -- whether it's with Jacksonville or elsewhere.
The Jaguars completely lucked out with Jalen Ramsey falling to the fifth pick as he was considered a "generational" prospect at defensive back. Now that the Jaguars got their guy, Ramsey looks to stabilize the rebuilt secondary along side Tashaun Gipson, whoever wins the strong safety competition, and Davon House.
Jalen Ramsey entered the draft with versatility to play either safety or corner -- virtually all over the secondary. The Jaguars, however, view Ramsey as a pure cornerback, and that's where he will get his playing time. Ramsey will be the team's No. 1 corner opposite of Davon House on the outside and can truly be a lock-down cornerback in the pass-heavy NFL.
Myles Jack as a draft prospect can be summed up as... a Jack of all trades.
But here's the thing, he's more than the traditional "Jack of all trades (and a master of none)" -- he's a master of all his work.
Myles Jack has the skill set play at least five different positions for the Jaguars, and probably an upwards of five if the team put him to it. OTTO linebacker, middle linebacker, weakside linebacker, strong safety, running back -- Jack can do it all for Jacksonville. I believe Jack will play OTTO linebacker this season and slide into middle linebacker on third downs and obvious passing downs.
The question is, will his knee allow it?
In my non-professional opinion, I think Jack will be fine. He doesn't need micro-fracture surgery on his knee, per Dr. James Andrews who is known for his successful surgeries on NFL players with knee injuries. Jack has been cleared medically to see the field and is ready to get to work with the Jaguars -- and we're ready to see how much of a steal he was in falling to the No. 36 overall pick.
Yannick Ngakoue was a beast in his time at Maryland, compiling 21 sacks in three seasons. Gus Bradley views Ngakoue as a true LEO pass rusher and intends to use him in the 3rd down "lightning" pass rush package, as well as as a rotational pass down edge rusher.
With Dante Fowler Jr. seeing the field on first and second downs at LEO, Ngakoue will be mainly used in rotational and third down packages, and I believe he will make the most of his field time.
Sheldon Day should have been drafted in the early second round based off of his talent -- so naturally, he fell into Jacksonville's lap in the fourth round -- fine by us.
Day can truly play any position on the defensive line, but he thrives as a 3-tech pass rushing defensive tackle. On downs where Malik Jackson leaves the field, expect to see Day line up in Jackson's place, as well as the 1-tech position in the "lightning" pass rush package.
Although he stands a 6'1", Day can also make plays at 7-tech as a "big end", but I wouldn't expect to see him line up at the end spot much, because the transition from facing college right tackles to NFL right tackles is a damn challenge if you're only 6'1".
Tyrone Holmes is going to be another rotational pass rusher at the LEO position and in the "lightning" pass rush sub package, and has the highest ceiling of any of the Jaguars draft picks.
In his final year at the University of Montana, Holmes led the nation in sacks with 18 sacks -- 18!! Holmes was one of the most athletic edge prospects at the combine and brings nothing but upside to the table, and looks to be a contributor the the Jaguars revamped pass rush rotation. Check out Holmes' interview with Big Cat Country's own Hank Joness here.
Yet another pass rusher! Jonathan Woodward probably has the longest shot of any Jaguars draft pick to make the roster, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep an eye on him.
Woodward compiled 30.5 sacks in his career at Central Arkansas, beating the previous school record of 25 sacks. He looks to make the roster as another rotational player at the LEO position, who can also play the big end role and as a "lightning" sub package edge rusher. Standing at 6'6", 271 lbs, Woodward certainly will be a scary edge rusher to have to defend, but he needs to prove what he's worth skill-wise if he wants to make the final cut.
All in all, this Jaguars defense has undoubtedly been revamped -- skill and experience has been added to all tiers of the defense. Now, it's time for these players to mesh and become the defense that Gus Bradley has dreamed of ever since he stepped foot in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars' offense last year took it to the limit and displayed potential to be dominant for years to come -- now it's time for Jacksonville's defense to steal the show.