The Jacksonville Jaguars lost a number of starters from the 2015 season, including a few on the defensive side of the ball.
Well, lost is a funny word to use in this context. A number of starting defenders that the Jaguars lost needed to go for the team to get over the hump and start winning games. But any time a player who played a lot of snaps and had a large role on a team leaves, a hole is made. It is a hole on the roster that needed to be filled either way, but a hole is on the roster nonetheless.
The total number of players who played a major role on defense who are currently no longer with the team is three: free safety Sergio Brown and designated non-pass rushers Chris Clemons and Andre Branch. The Jaguars have new additions to replace all three of these players, whether it is via the draft, free agency, or a player returning from injury.
It is clear that the Jaguars have upgraded the positions, but just how substantial are the upgrades?
2015 starter: Sergio Brown
Sergio Brown was added to the roster after years of drifting in and out of the Indianapolis Colts lineup for a few years.
Well, the first sign that Sergio wasn't going to work out was that he was, in fact, drifting in and out of the lineup of a porous Colts defense. It only took a few games for the Jaguars coaching staff to realize why Sergio couldn't get any footing in Indy. He would be benched by the Jaguars after just a few starts and played sporadically throughout the season. He was still able to give us gems like this to hold onto, at least.
2016 starter: Tashaun Gipson
For my money, this is the biggest improvement on the entire roster for the 2016 season. Maybe the biggest upgrade on the roster since Gus Bradley took over.
They are replacing a player who is more suited to be a Special Teams player with a proven pro bowl talent who not only has a track record of being capable of creating turnovers but also a player who fits perfectly at free safety in the Jaguars scheme. From Josh Evans, to Winston Guy, to Sergio Brown, the Jaguars have not had a free safety who is actually a capable NFL starter. In Gipson, they get even more than that.
Pass rushing defensive ends
2015 starters: Chris Clemons and Andre Branch
It seems like yesterday that Andre Branch was entering his fourth or fifth straight best offseason ever that would finally turn his career as a Jaguars player around.
Clemons should have never been expected to be an every down starter. It was fine in 2014 because the team needed to build the offense. In 2015, the team couldn't control Dante Fowler's injury. But even if Fowler doesn't get hurt, Clemons and Branch are still on the roster as two of the three top edge rushers on the depth chart. No defense will have success with that formula.
2016 starters: Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue
Ngakoue isn't locked in as the defensive end across from Fowler yet but all indications from OTAs and mini-camp are that he has made a huge impression on the coaching staff.
The question isn't whether or not Fowler and Ngakoue are more talented than Clemons and Branch; I have been critical of Fowler as a player since his Florida days but it is absolutely ludicrous to think he isn't the most talented pass rusher the Jaguars have had in years.
But the question with both of these players is how quickly are they going to adapt to the NFL. Ngakoue is a rookie and Fowler, while having a year of getting to know how to prepare as a professional and getting to know the Xs and Os of the system, has yet to have a padded NFL practice in his career.
I don't question that these two will be upgrades as pass rushers. In fact, I am positive that they will be substantial upgrades. It is a low bar, but still. My question is more so when they will really begin to hit their stride and show just how big of upgrades they are.