The Jacksonville Jaguars may very well have five new starters on defense this year thanks to Dante Fowler, Jalen Ramsey, and Myles Jack coming in the previous two drafts and a free agency period that brought in the likes of Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson.
With so many new faces on the defensive side of the ball, who is the most important to the Jaguars' success?
For me there is one key player for the Jaguars on defense and that's Tashaun Gipson. Yeah, they need Malik Jackson and Dante Fowler to become good, but in reality adding a player like Gipson should have a ripple effect on the rest of the defense, regardless of how improved or identical the pass rush is. The Jaguars have lacked that true center fielder on the defensive side of the ball since they implemented this scheme. I'm not going to compare Gipson to Earl Thomas, but he's the closest thing the Jaguars have had to that type of player, which should allow the rest of the defensive backfield to focus more on their limited roles.
I agree with Alfie -- it has to be Tashaun Gipson because of the ripple effect his presence will send through the defense. Gipson is attracted to the ball like a magnet -- a true centerfielder that will allow the rest of the secondary an opportunity to play more freely. Strong safety Jonathan Cyprien will be able to occupy a more natural role, and the Jaguars' cornerbacks will be able to play a little more spontaneously. I could see Jalen Ramsey being very productive in his rookie season, and a lot of this optimism stems from the free safety addition behind him.
This comes down to three players for me: Tashaun Gipson, Dante Fowler, and Malik Jackson.
Ultimately, Jackson is my pick. Gipson is, by far, the most important player in the secondary, but a pass rush is the most vital, and desperately needed, component of this defense this season.
Fowler will be a popular choice for an obvious reason, but I am of the way of thinking that Dante Fowler's performance will hinge on just how disruptive Jackson is. My expectations for Fowler by himself this season are not sky high since he is essentially a rookie, so I think he is going to depend a lot on Jackson to help him not only see one-on-one opportunities but also having Jackson help flush quarterbacks to him.
The pass rush depends on Fowler this season and Fowler is going to depend on Jackson this season. The entire pass defense of the team may ultimately rest on Jackson's shoulders.
Malik Jackson. Fixing this pass rush is the most important task of the offseason. Hank's right when he says that Dante Fowler will be a big part of that, but I think he'll only be one of several beneficiaries of Malik's interior disruption. Malik is the foundation on which guys like Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, and Ryan Davis will spring forth with production.
It's unreasonable to expect double-digit sacks from anyone on this roster. The game plan is for Malik to help a handful of players have good (but not great) seasons, thereby lifting the team's pass rush as a whole.
There wasn't a player on the roster last year who had at least six sacks, but when Sen'Derrick was healthy in 2014 there were three. That's what Malik is going to bring to this roster and that's why he's so important.
Dante Fowler Jr. is my pick, but it wasn't easy.
I very badly wanted to say my friend Tashaun Gipson is the most important player, but all in all, the Jaguars secondary looks to be getting better and better as a whole, so Gipson will have some help back deep.
Now, that is not a knock on Gipson. I have full confidence he will be the best player in the entire secondary by a longshot. However, a lot more rides on the shoulders of Dante Fowler Jr. in this case.
Fowler has expectations piling a mile above the Bank of America tower downtown at EverBank Field, and whether they are fair (five or so sacks) or not (10+ sacks) a lot rides on his production this year.
The Jaguars pass rush has been abysmal for years, but Dante Fowler Jr. gives us all hope. Although he has Yannick Ngakoue and maybe Dan Skuta/Tyrone Holmes/Bjoern Werner behind him at LEO, he is the fix to the Jaguars broken pass rush.
We've been giving players nicknames a bit recently, a la "The Allen Brothers", "#BortlesKombat" and "#StormWarning" (lol), "Shoelace Denard", and so on. Can we call Fowler Jr. "The Chosen One"?
Tashaun Gipson. It's all about the ball. Gipson lives that mantra and he's my preseason pick for defensive MVP. We have talked out about a sideline-to-sideline, ball-hawking safety for a long time and if Gipson can fill that need -- which I think he will -- I think the defense "clicks" all the way around.