With free agency just around the corner, the Jaguars are not only expected to, but also should, have their check book ready to sign several free agents in order to add talent to the roster.
Depending on how free agency goes, the Jaguars’ 4th overall pick in the NFL Draft can go several ways. If they target a pass rusher in free agency, although the class has dwindled in talent with Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul getting the franchise tag, they might very well select a running back such as Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette in the first round, and if they don’t address EDGE rush in free agency, Jonathan Allen or Solomon Thomas could be their guy come April 27th.
So, I’m installing a two-piece series on the value of two guys at similar positions that the Jaguars could be targeting with the 4th overall pick: Jonathan Allen and Solomon Thomas at defensive end, and Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette at running back.
The first piece centers around the defensive linemen, Allen and Thomas.
What makes Allen and Thomas similar?
As I stated before, both Allen and Thomas play the defensive line, and both are gifted as pass rushers and run defenders.
Allen, the three year starter at Alabama, is one of the “safest” picks in the draft as of right now, with a clean off the field and injury history, clean mechanics paired with valuable traits, good size, and the production in college to show for it. Standing at 6-3, 291 lbs his senior year, he accumulated 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2016. In his career, Allen recorded 28 sacks, 44.5 tackles for loss, six passes batted at the line, and three forced fumbles. Granted, Allen is fairly big to play pure EDGE, but I believe he can not only play EDGE but simply play traditional strong side defensive end as well, where he can accumulate pressure for the SAM linebacker to set the edge. He’s a proven stud and should be locked in as a top 5 pick in the draft.
Thomas is an incredibly strong, mechanical, and athletic player coming out of Stanford. The two year starter totaled 12 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in 26 games. Many scouts, analysts, and “draft guys”, including myself, label Thomas as a “tweener” on the defensive line due to his size and fit: He’s pretty big to be a pure EDGE rusher, and yet pretty small to be a full time interior player (his listed size is 6-3, 276 lbs). I personally believe Thomas fits best as a 2i, 3T, or 4i in the NFL, all in all playing the defensive tackle position. However, many people project that he could transition into an outside role, perhaps 5T, in the NFL and thrive there as and EDGE rusher as well.
What are their differences?
In terms of traits as defensive linemen, there isn’t much of a difference in Allen and Thomas’ game. Both players are strong and violent with their hand usage and light on their feet, using these skills to track ball carriers and QBs down to make a play.
Allen, however, has 15 lbs and an extra year of starting experience on Thomas, both of which provide value to playing traditional defensive end and translating into the NFL. Allen has the ability to fluctuate as well, as he has put on 26 lbs since his freshman year. Now, he didn’t gain that weight by eating a ton of chips after practice, but rather made the transition from outside linebacker to defensive lineman at Alabama. With Thomas, there’s no proof as to if or how well he can fluctuate his weight, which is a concern in trying to find him a home position in the NFL.
This brings me to my question:
What’s more valuable that differentiates the two prospects the most: Jonathan Allen’s high floor, or Solomon Thomas’ high ceiling?
Allen, as I stated above, is one of the “safest” picks in this draft with his combination of valuable traits, size, and production. That gives him a very “high floor”, however, there isn’t much he should be able to build upon in the NFL, giving him the “lower ceiling”. That isn’t a bad thing, though. Joey Bosa was viewed the same way before the 2016 NFL Draft, and he went on to lead rookie pass rushers with 10.5 sacks in 12 games.
Thomas, on the other hand, has the “lower floor” and “higher ceiling”. With his “tweener” status and an unknown home in the NFL, he might be a bit of a project for whatever team drafts him. However, there is so much potential for him to be great in potentially two different positions on the defensive line, and that raises his ceiling above Allen’s ceiling.
With Allen, you’re seemingly getting a proven commodity. With Thomas, you’re seemingly getting a project that, in the proper situation, can prosper — he can build upon his game.
In my opinion, for the Jacksonville Jaguars, given their recent lack of success in taking risks with players who aren’t necessarily natural at what they’re asked to do (See: Blake Bortles not being a “natural thrower of the ball” and Dante Fowler Jr. being drafted as a pass rusher when he never was a pure pass rusher in college). The team has gone ten years without breaking .500, and I believe that in order to start seeing wins, the team needs to be built with “proven” players who are low-risk in adding to the roster: Players with a “high floor”.
So, if I were making the call on April 27th — draft night — for the Jaguars, and I had Jonathan Allen and Solomon Thomas available to me with the 4th overall pick, I’d take Jonathan Allen and his “high floor” — the safer pick.
What say you?