The Jacksonville Jaguars defense on paper looks like a top end unit in the NFL for the 2017 season. I would be surprised if the team did not end up a Top 10 unit overall by seasons end, but as with everything on paper, that’s on paper. The defense has playmakers at every level, as well as some wily veterans, but there are still some major question marks at every level as well.
I wanted to run through each level and notate the playmaker and the concern and we’ll start with the big hosses, the defensive line.
While many would probably list Calais Campbell here, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, I think the playmaker is very clearly Malik Jackson. Jackson was handed a massive contract last season when he was signed in free agency, a deal he stated he wanted to live up to and so far he has done just that. He started out slow, but by the time his legs got under him in the Jaguars defensive scheme, he was a disruptive force in the backfield. He had the highest sack total of his NFL career, but his value wasn’t in his sack numbers it was just his sheer ability to disrupt plays in the backfield.
I don’t want to say that Jackson should have an even better year in 2017, because even if he does exactly what he did in 2016 it’s really good, but he will have some better and more seasoned players around him, which could make things easier.
Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. are the concern on the defensive line, and I did purposefully include both. I could rail on Fowler all day long about his short comings, but while he is a huge question mark headed into the season, Ngakoue is also somewhat of a concern. These two young players will have to do the work of being the team’s primary edge rushers, and even though Ngakoue had a very good rookie season, he still wasn’t that efficient at what he did in regards to rushing the passer. It’s entirely possible what we saw from Ngakoue his rookie season is what he’s going to be, which is excellent for a third round pick, but it’s not so excellent if he’s your best edge rusher on a defensive line.
Obviously I’m less concerned with Ngakoue than with Fowler, but as I mentioned I wanted to point out that it’s not just Fowler that we need to expect something out of this season, as Ngakoue has to show it wasn’t just a one-year deal and he can become a more consistent threat to the quarterback.