Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue is not simply a pass-rusher, he is a complete defensive end capable of defending against both the pass and the run.
As masterfully as Ngakoue has been creating havoc in the backfield with his pass-rush capabilities, the fourth-year defensive end showcased during the 2019 season just how valuable he can be — improving exponentially as a run-defender.
After an up-and-down start due to a hamstring injury in 2019, Ngakoue is set to become an unrestricted free agent — likely to be franchise tagged if the two sides cannot come to a long-term deal. Even with his impressive skill set and statistics, he has been routinely pegged as a pass-rusher only, with limited ability to defend against the run.
According to his detractors, Ngakoue’s worth as a complete defensive end is lower than how he views himself. He has subsequently been pushed down the “list”, causing some fans and observers to pause in regards to the Jaguars — or any team —, offering him a contract extension withing the top-five range at his position. Last season, Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence re-signed with a five-year $105M contract which is valued at $21M per year. Ngakoue could demand close to that amount, if not more as the salary cap increases yet again in 2020.
While Ngakoue did not lead the Jaguars in sacks (8) this season, he did record the most amount of tackles for loss with 13 on the year — tied for sixth-most in the NFL at his position and tied for ninth among all defense linemen in the NFL in 2019, according to Pro Football Reference. In the past, the knock on Ngakoue was been his propensity to get “washed out” in the run-game, however last season that occurred far less frequently.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ngakoue had a run-stop percentage (the percentage of stops per snap played only in run defense) 7.6% with 21 stops on 278 run-snaps. “Stops” constitute a “loss” for the opposing team’s offense. For context, Ngakoue was tied with San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa for 18th overall at his position in stop percentage in 2019. Bosa accounted for 20 stops on 263 run-snaps.
Bosa won the Associated Press’ NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award with 43 votes following the season and is already thought of as one of the most complete defensive ends in the NFL.
Chicago Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack had a lower snap percentage last season at 7% in 329 run-snaps according to Pro Football Focus. Currently, Mack makes $23.5M per season.
Since 2016 — the year he was drafted —, Ngakoue has accumulated 37.5 sacks, 42 tackles for loss, 85 quarterback-hits, and 14 forced fumbles (four in 2019). His 37.5 sacks ranks 10th in the NFL over that span. Compared to Lawrence since 2016, Ngakoue has accounted for 6.5 more sacks with the same number of tackles for loss.
When deciding on where to rank Ngakoue among the league’s best, it is clear from how he’s performed over the course of his four years in the NFL he is within reach of that title. As the NFL changes ever-more to a passing league, the need for a true run-stopping defensive end goes away. A complete defensive end such as Ngakoue can lag behind in some run-stopping capabilities, and yet still be among the league’s best in that criteria without being the best.
Recently, Ngakoue has taken to twitter to showcase his talents with clips taken from the 2019 regular season. Ngakoue clearly views himself in a high regard as has been seen via his twitter and Instagram feed over the past several weeks, oftentimes comparing himself al all-time greats such as Lawrence Taylor. While Ngakoue may never reach the pinnacle of a Taylor himself, his worth is significant nonetheless.
The Jaguars will need to think carefully how much the team wants to take on a contract of significant proportion with a player such a Ngakoue. While he is not the biggest — listed at 6’2”, 246 pounds —, he has shown plenty of times in the past to play up to his competition, oftentimes outworking the man in front of him.
Not very often a player of his caliber hits the open market, for good reason. In the Jaguars situation the team highly values Ngakoue’s potential replacement, Josh Allen, however the prospect of having the two of them competing on opposites sides of one another should be more than enticing enough. Time will tell whether or not the fourth year pass rusher will remain in Jacksonville — one thing’s for sure, however is he knows his worth and clearly will not back down from it.