The Jacksonville Jaguars addressed a variety of positions, primarily on defense, during the draft this year.
While the team did well in addressing cornerback, pass rusher, and defensive tackle early on, one of the more potentially impactful players could come from the fifth round in former Auburn safety, Daniel Thomas.
Safety has been one of the team’s most perplexing, and thin position groups. While the team did well to address the position during the 2018 NFL Draft in selecting safety Ronnie Harrison, the Jaguars did not address the position further after releasing Tashaun Gipson, one of the team’s most reliable back-third weapons on defense.
Last season, the Jaguars played Harrison and fifth-year safety Jarrod Wilson to be their final line of defense. Harrison is one of the more talented players on the Jaguars’ defense, however, this year he is expected to take a major leap after showing potential in spurts over the past two years.
Wilson, played admirably last season, not typically proven as the team’s weak-link, however his impact has left something to be desired. Last year, Wilson racked up 79 tackles (57 solos), two interceptions, and one forced fumble.
The team, however, did not improve greatly with Wilson in the starting lineup in place of Gipson, oftentimes leaving starting cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Tre Herndon in need for more help, with the team’s run defense suffering for a multitude of reasons.
Prior to the draft, Thomas met with the Jaguars three times. Once at the combine, and two other times on the phone. The team felt strongly enough to select him with the 157th overall selection, a fifth-round pick.
“I feel like I’m an all-around safety,” Thomas told the local media shortly following his selection. “A true competitor, you know a guy that’s gonna be always around the ball, so like I said, whatever they need me to do I’m gonna do it.”
In his time at Auburn, Thomas was known as one of the more consistent players on the Tigers’ defense, notching 199 total tackles (124 solos), nine tackles for loss, and five interceptions. While those numbers aren’t overtly impressive, since becoming a full-time starter in 2018, Thomas has garnered grades of 86.0 and 73.6 in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The Jaguars play their safeties interchangeably, meaning the team will oftentimes use Harrison and Wilson down in the box or as the deep safety on any given down. That much will likely be Thomas’ role with the team to start his career in Jacksonville, although the former Tiger has a preference, absolutely.
“I can do both, very versatile, but I feel like I’m more comfortable closer to the box,” said Thomas. “I don't miss tackles in the box. You can go pull up the film, anytime I was close to the box, I didn’t miss a tackle. So I mean, if I’m in there, it’s gonna be a guaranteed tackler. I’m a sure tackler - I’m very confident in that, the best - part of my game is I can tackle very well.”
Tackling very well should come in handy for a team which routinely missed the mark in that area last season, surrendering plenty of extra yardage due to poor angles or form.
While Thomas may not start right away for the Jaguars, his potential is intriguing as he resembles a strong safety, in the mold of a versatile defensive back.
“I think it’s important for these guys to learn the scheme, learn the defense and obviously it’s going to be hard for these guys to challenge right away because they’re probably likely not going to have OTA’s so they will have to come into training camp and go from there,” Caldwell said of the safety. “They will be a little bit behind, but we like his skillset, we think he’s a guy that has starter traits to the rest of it is really up to him.”