Since taking over as the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 8, 2013, Dave Caldwell has mined some draft gems that have made a significant impact on the roster in both the immediate and long-term blueprint of the team.
In 2014, that player was defensive team captain and emotional heartbeat Telvin Smith in the fifth round, who has already earned a second contract from the team. Draft day two has been much more fruitful for Caldwell than day three (or day one, for that matter), but “Diamond Dave” and his most recent disinterment of Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Leon Jacobs in the seventh round is an encouraging one.
Despite looking like a Madden create-a-player with a rocked-up Mr. Universe physique, Jacobs’ most impressive attribute when asked by teammates and coaches is what’s between the ears. Myles Jack has already shared that Jacobs is far ahead where he was as a rookie and the coaching staff has gushed about the linebacker’s ability to pick up the defense quickly, and this should come as no surprise.
Jacobs has played more college football games than anyone in NCAA FBS history, so it would make sense that the former Badger could transfer his copious experience to the Jaguars film room and field. In a stunning 59 collegiate games as a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker, Jacobs registered 142 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 3 interceptions.
While that doesn’t sound like efficient production, Jacobs did not became a full-time starter at linebacker until late in 2016 and over half of his career production came during his 14 games as a starter last season.
The numbers suggest that Jacobs was a flower who has bloomed late, and credit to the Jaguars front office for harvesting at the perfect time.
In regards to what the Jaguars are looking for from their SAM linebacker, Jacobs is an ideal fit due to his speed (4.48 forty yard dash), length (6’1” 246 pounds; 33.5” arms) and strength (26 bench reps) at the point of attack. Add these physical traits to impressive cognition and anticipatory play recognition, and the door opens for a potential star at the position.
As a SAM in the Jaguars base 4-3 defense, Jacobs is tasked with lining up closer to the line of scrimmage and working as a fulcrum in the point of attack to set the edge and re-direct the ball-carrier back into the gut of the defense.
Jacobs also has to be capable as a blitzer on passing downs and possess the athleticism and change of direction skills to flip his hips and suffocate tight ends and running backs in coverage. Jacobs was asked to do all of these things in Paul Chryst’s Badgers defense and is simply carrying it over to the pro level.
Here are some examples:
As a starter in base downs, the majority of Jacobs’ snaps will be against the run. Lining up along the line of scrimmage, Jacobs will need to consistently maintain outside contain to take away the stretch/toss/off tackle and funnel the runner back inside. Jacobs will often have to take on bigger offensive tackles to do so, as he does with the right tackle here, and this will open up the strong side defensive end to stack and shed the guard and mitigate double team scenarios for his teammates.
Leon Jacobs showing some bend vs the RT here. pic.twitter.com/iqGrVH0mSB— Christian (@FBLRave) August 21, 2018
Jacobs shows unreal bend and flexibility on a blitz, and perhaps more impressively, has the wherewithal to ease up and not draw a roughing the passer penalty. As a rookie hungry to make the “splash play,” this is easier said than done. Can he start seeing some hand-in-the-ground pass rush snaps in sub packages if Smoot doesn’t show up?
He hasn’t done much of that to this point in his career, but the next two weeks would be the time to experiment if they feel he is capable of doing so, especially with Smoot sidelined.
Another positive blitzing rep by Jacobs as he walks back the tight end on a bull rush and bends back towards the quarterback for a nice pressure. He’s simply too strong for tight ends and too quick for tackles.
Jacobs hasn’t been tasked with dropping back into coverage often to this point, but when he has, he’s shown positive traits. Lining up off the ball, Jacobs demonstrates urgency in his drop step and his ability to flip his hips puts him in good position to make a potential play in his zone assignment.
In addition to flipping his hips in this rep, Jacobs showcases his ability to plant and drive to accelerate into the flats to pick up the running back.
Jacobs still has a long way to go and will undoubtedly make some mistakes. Until that happens, early returns have been more than encouraging, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jacobs’ role continue to increase within the defense. His ability to blitz has been a pleasant surprise and adds versatility to a unit that wants to disguise assignments and befuddle the quarterback.
So what do you think? Should Dave Caldwell be arrested for another draft day steal?