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The Jacksonville Jaguars are heading into a season with plenty of question marks on their roster. The team has been gutted over the past couple of seasons in multiple rebuilding efforts.
Some of the position groups have been left better off than the rest, however, including the defensive line that has quietly grown in talent over the past two offseasons.
Often overlooked due to the EDGE position, and its knack for getting after the quarterback, the players in the middle shouldn’t be overlooked.
Starting in 2020, the Jaguars have slowly over time put together a DL that ought to pay dividends moving forward. In the 2020 NFL Draft, the team selected defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton, who has quickly become one of the key cogs of the defense, starting 14 games over the past two seasons, and is expected to play a major role again in 2022.
During that season, DL Adam Gotsis, who has quickly become a key rotational piece in Jacksonville, was signed.
The team would continue to work on the DL in 2021, bringing in free-agent defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris, and trading for DT Malcom Brown. Jacksonville selected DT Jay Tufele in the fourth-round last year, solidifying more depth for the group.
In 2022, the team continue its work, inking a three-year contract worth $30 million with DT Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi, along with signing Arden Key to a one-year deal. With its new staff, the team brought in DL coach Brenston Buckner, who has shown a penchant for developing defensive linemen in his past stops with the Arizona Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his career.
Shortly before the 2022 NFL Draft, Buckner went on “Jaguars Happy Hour,” speaking highly of the team’s latest addition, Fatukasi.
“Foley [Fatukasi] is a great guy,” Buckner said. “I’ve been admiring him for a while. I like to tell fans and people don’t get caught up in the draft. Everybody who gets a helmet is a professional football player. Everybody can’t go number one. But when you get in there and see a guy.
“He gets in and he grinds and he works and the one thing he’s going to have with him when he comes in is a chip on his shoulder. Because we all are competitors, and we all feel that we should go higher than what we really do, so it drives you. And that’s the one thing he did.”
In all, Jacksonville currently has $36,828,658 invested in its defensive line, which includes versatile DL Dawaune Smoot, who is expected to play both outside and inside within defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s scheme this year after being re-signed by the franchise this spring.
As it stands today, here is the projected depth chart of the Jaguars’ DL heading into 2022:
DE: DaVon Hamilton, Arden Key, Jay Tufele, Adam Gotsis
NT: Foley Fatukasi, Malcom Brown
DE: Roy Roberson-Harris, Dawaune Smoot
That, of course, is not final, and will likely change throughout training camp and into the season. It also should be noted that the Jaguars, and other teams around the league, often rotate defensive linemen heavily, so all eight players will play significant downs when it’s all said and done.
There will also be packages and alignments that have Brown as the starting nose and Fatukasi as an end. Either way, the team is going to run with whomever gives them the best chance for success on a down-by-down basis.
In pass-rush situations, the Jaguars are likely to deploy Robertson-Harris and Key as players inside with Travon Walker and Josh Allen as the outside linebackers (EDGE) outside. The versatility among these players gives Jacksonville an upper hand, which is partially what makes it one of the deepest groups on the roster.
Among the eight players, Brown (97) and Gotsis (46) boast the most starts in their careers, with the entire eight-man group has a combined 233 starts among them. Tufele has yet to start a game, hampered with injuries last season.
In years past, the Jaguars’ DL has been seen as a weakness, a group of players that simply were unable to stay home, stopping the run and rushing the passer. While it still remains to be seen whether or not the group can get after the QB, its prowess against the run should improve dramatically thanks to how the team build its line over the past three offseasons and heading into 2022.