The Jacksonville Jaguars have an incredibly young roster with a lot of question marks, but a lot of potential. Throughout the offseason, we have seen many rankings and listicles from numerous publications on various topics, ranging from overall roster strength, positional groups and just about everything in between. The common theme for the Jaguars is that the team ranks in the bottom tier, if not dead last, in most of these articles.
Today is no different as Pro Football Focus ranks Jacksonville’s defensive line toward the bottom of the NFL at 23rd overall. PFF analysts Sam Monson had this to say on the matter:
A couple of years ago, the Jacksonville defensive line — a united that adopted the nickname “Sacksonville” — was among the very best in the game. That unit has since been chipped away at, though, and the departure of Calais Campbell this offseason sees the best player from the group leave town.
There is still the chance that this front could be very good, but it relies on improvement from the players drafted to ensure a smooth succession plan. The team spent back-to-back first-round picks on Josh Allen and Taven Bryan, but both have yet to become impact players.
A disruptive player in college, Bryan has been a better run defender than he has been a pass-rusher and has just 37 total pressures across two seasons and 380 rushes. Allen notched 49 pressures as a rookie — though he had 388 rushes to get there — and his overall grade was more good than great.
The Jaguars also add first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson, who has the highlight reel of a first-rounder with incredible burst and flashes of power, though it’s a concern that he graded at just 72.7 last year at LSU. Yannick Ngakoue is also in the midst of a contract standoff with the team, and while he is still only 25 years old, he hasn’t been a genuinely elite edge-rusher since his 2017 season.
This team is unusually well-stocked with run-defending nose tackles, with Abry Jones, Al Woods and rookie Davon Hamilton all on the roster. The talent is there for this defensive front to still be a plus unit, but it is far more of a question mark than it has been in the past couple of seasons. It now relies on the development of the talent the team has earmarked over the past couple of drafts.
The 2020 defensive line looks very different from the “Sacksonville” glory days of 2017, and even different from the 2019 squad. Calais Campbell, captain and the leader of the defense, (not to mention fan favorite) was shipped off to the Baltimore Ravens for a mere fifth-round pick. The Jaguars also declined the option on defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, which allowed him to hit free agency (somewhat surprisingly, he is yet to be signed). Malik Jackson was cut for salary cap reasons following the 2018 season, and currently plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Now throw into the mix a disgruntled Yannick Ngakoue who is still yet to sign his franchise tag tender and quite possibly could sit out the entire 2020 season. If so, you realize the whole starting unit from that miraculous 2017 season is gone.
The Jaguars still have plenty of firepower, though. Josh Allen had a terrific first season, leading all rookies with 10.5 sacks — which was also a franchise rookie record. So I have to disagree with Monson that Allen is “yet to become an impact player.” Allen, who can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up, had 23 quarterback hits, and as Monson notes, 49 pressures. Then, of course, the Jaguars add rookie first-round pick K’Lavon Chaisson, who (like Allen) has the versatility to play as a 4-3 defensive end, strong-side linebacker or stand-up edge rusher. If Ngakoue does play, that gives the Jags an extremely talented trio of pass rushers to work with.
Dawuane Smoot will rotate in at defensive end as well. He is coming off of a promising 2019 campaign in which he recored six sacks, after not recording a single sack in either of his first two seasons. Aaron Lynch, Cassius Marsh and Lerentee McCray could also see action at defensive end or as a rush linebacker.
With Dareus leaving Duval, the interior of the defensive line adds veterans Al Woods and Rodney Gunter, as well as rookie DaVon Hamilton to the mix. Abry Jones, Taven Bryan and Dontavius Russell are carryovers from last season.
In Gunter’s case, (and I am just speculating here) he could very well play the “big end” role that Campbell did in which he lines up as a defensive end in base downs and lines up in the interior on passing downs out of packages such as the nickel and dime. Meanwhile, the 330-pound Woods is entering his eleventh year in the league and should help the Jaguars immediately get better against the run. Hamilton was drafted for the same purpose — to be a run-stuffing nose tackle and should get plenty of reps.
For Bryan, he has dealt with inconsistencies and the Jaguars’ plans to have him be an interior lineman who can collapse the pocket and get sacks hasn’t really worked out thus far. Bryan has flashed at times, but as noted above has just 37 pressures on 380 rushes, and has recorded just three sacks in two seasons. Jones, on the other hand, seems to be a good option as a rotational interior lineman, but hasn’t really moved the needle as a starter. In seven seasons in Jacksonville, he’s recorded 188 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Russell played in three games as a rookie, but didn’t make much of an impact. His roster spot may be in jeopardy with all of the new additions.
The Jaguars definitely have much to prove at the defensive line position. This unit has a lot of potential, and should have a lot of capable bodies rotating in and keeping each other fresh, but I think a ranking of 23rd (especially with Ngakoue’s status up in the air) is fair heading into the season.
Jacksonville’s 23rd ranking puts them right in between the Atlanta Falcons (22nd) and Minnesota Vikings (24th). The Pittsburgh Steelers ranked first, with the Eagles, Washington (whatever they’re going to be called), San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers rounding out the top-five. The Seattle Seahawks ranked dead last.