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PFF position group rankings: Are the Jaguars lacking at safety?

The team over at Pro Football Focus released their 2023 offseason positional rankings. Where do the Jaguars’ returning defensive starters rank?

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NFL: JAN 14 AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Chargers at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we continue our Jaguars-centric review of Pro Football Focus’ 2023 position group rankings, we begin to get a general overview of how the team over at PFF may view the Jaguars’ returning defensive starters. We previously broke down their offensive rankings here.

For any fans who don’t make a habit of re-watching a game multiple times or paying to watch all-22 coaches tape, PFF provides some insight on what their analysts believe are the team’s areas of strength and helps to identify any potential areas of concern prior to the 2023 season. Let’s break down their findings.

The Good:

Josh Allen ranked 15th in edge rankings

Allen has steadily improved throughout his career, earning career highs in total pressures (67) and pass rush win percentage (14.2%) in 2022. He’s also improved dramatically as a run defender, becoming one of the best all-around young edge players in the league.

PFF starts off the party by listing “The Good Josh Allen” as the 15th-best edge player in football. Allen has taken a good beating from fans since his 10.5 sack, Pro Bowl alternate rookie campaign. The 2020 team losing Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue forced Allen into the spotlight in his sophomore season, where he initially struggled in the sacks column as the team around him also struggled to provide many late-game leads. He was placed on IR with a knee injury after eight games.

In the two full seasons since his return from injury, Allen has compiled back-to-back campaigns with 7-plus sacks. He’ll look to improve on those numbers this season, with this being his final year on his rookie contract.

Foye Oluokun ranked 18th in linebacker rankings

Oluokun improved in coverage in 2022, his Achilles’ heel in 2021, with more solo stops and a lower average depth of target. But his completion percentage allowed (81.7%) and open-target percentage (70.7%) were still high.

This ranking should make the NFL’s leading tackler want to hit-stick someone after being listed as a tier-four linebacker by PFF. While he is at least listed, I’m of the belief that Oluokun probably should have solidly been ranked in the second tier with Dre Greenlaw, Tremaine Edmunds, and Shaquille Leonard. Tier three would have been Foye’s absolute floor for me. Unfortunately, it seems that more improvement in pass coverage will be needed in 2023 for Foye to make a jump into the group of elite off-ball linebackers and gain the recognition we all know he deserves.

Tyson Cambell ranked 25th in cornerback rankings

After a rookie year of struggles, Campbell had a huge second season, earning an 80.7 PFF coverage grade — more than 20 grading points better than his 2021 mark. Campbell allowed just 9.7 yards per reception and an 86.0 passer rating into his coverage.

Darious Williams ranked 30th in cornerback rankings

At 5-foot-9 and under 190 pounds, Williams will forever get pushed toward the slot, but he is a high-level cornerback on the outside. When Jacksonville made that switch last season, Williams garnered a top-10 PFF grade at the position and allowed a 49.9 passer rating when targeted. If the Jags keep him outside again in 2023, he may rise up these rankings in spite of his size.

The Jaguars' secondary finally gets the credit it deserves, with both starting corners cracking the top 32. Not many in the fanbase nor the media predicted the 2022 ascension of Tyson Campbell. After struggling to play the ball in his rookie season, Campbell worked on his craft though the summer and played like a true shutdown corner in 2023.

In contrast, Darious Williams was a top free agent corner in 2022, signing a three-year contract with his hometown team. Williams started the season manning the nickel corner role, but with Shaq Griffin being placed on IR (and now playing in Houston) Williams was finally able to play the outside role he is best suited for. With how he finished off 2022, it is absolutely in the realm of possibility that Williams ends the 2023 season with similar marks as Campbell as a full-time perimeter corner. This is a really good problem for the team to have.

DaVon Hamilton ranked 29th in interior defender rankings

A third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Hamilton is coming off a career year both as a run defender and as a pass rusher. He finished 2022 with 35 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, as well as with 31 total pressures from 380 pass-rushing opportunities.

This may have been one of my favorite players to see break the top 32 list for their respective position group. In April, defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton signed a three-year, $34.5 million contract extension and many Jaguar fans seemed to publicly question this move or believe he may have been overpaid.

I am a major fan of unsung players earning recognition for their play on the field. Hamilton is a perfect example of this for the Jaguars’ defense. He ended last season 10th in PFF’s run stop rate and earned career marks in overall grade (74.9), run defense grade (69.4), and pass-rush grade (76.1), as well as pressures (27) and sacks (2.5). With an expected increase in snaps in 2023, the Jaguars are looking for Hamilton to continue raising the bar while manning the middle.

The Bad:

I so wanted to take the easy route here, but if I’m extremely honest with you I am pretty disappointed not to have had at least one person from the entire Jaguars’ 2022 draft class on either of the offensive or defensive rankings. For a team that opened last season with so many opportunities for its rookies to earn significant playing time, none of Travon Walker, Devin Lloyd, Luke Fortner, Chad Muma, Snoop Conner, Gregory Junior, or Montaric Brown even sniffed their respective lists.

This problem is especially noticeable when mirrored against the current positions of need for this defense (edge rusher and nickel corner). This becomes even more frustrating when added to the fact that fellow rookies Aidan Hutchinson and Trent McDuffie in each of those position groups landed on the lists. Here’s hoping a few of these guys make a sophomore season jump like many in our 2021 draft class did last year.

The Ugly: The Questionable:

*No Jaguar safeties were named to PFF’s Top 32 Ahead of the 2023 Season List*

Okay, who hurt you, PFF? I am truly at a loss on how neither Andre Cisco nor Rayshawn Jenkins cracked the top 32 safeties list for 2023. This ranking was one of the few I truly had a major issue with. Multiple players that were listed in the top 32 had lower PFF grades than the young Cisco, who graded out as a 67.1 on their grading scale in 2022. However, Jaquan Brisker (67.0), Xavier McKinney (57.8), and Adrian Amos (53.4) were all listed in the top 32 safeties while all grading out lower than Cisco.

Jenkins graded out as a 57.3, which was honestly shocking to me. However, I’m sure that my memory of some of his play might be biased due to his knack for making timely, game-changing plays. Nevertheless, even his grade was still higher than Adrian Amos, the 29th-ranked safety, and just under Xavier McKinney, who was ranked 25th. The argument could absolutely be made for the inclusion of both Jaguar safeties on this list.

Circling back to the interior defender list, I’m personally a major fan of how Folorunso Fatukasi plays the game after seeing how well he stopped the run early in the season for the Jaguars in 2022. I was disappointed not to see him on the list of top interior linemen.

Fatukasi, in his first year after signing a three-year, $30 million dollar deal coming from the Jets, struggled mightily with multiple lingering injuries throughout the season. However, when he played in games where he wasn’t limited, his effect was noticeable. It was always easy to predict which teams would have success running the ball on early downs by answering one question: “Did Fatukasi practice this week?” I truly feel that a healthy Fatukasi for the season, along with Hamilton, can revamp our run defense in 2023 and place him on the list of top interior linemen.

In sum, it would seem that the staff over at Pro Football Focus views the Jaguars’ defensive roster with major strengths at the cornerback, nose tackle, and half of the linebacker position groups. On the not-so-positive side, PFF essentially views the Jaguars’ safety group, the majority of the Jaguars’ defensive tackle group (excluding NT DaVon Hamilton), Travon Walker, and whoever starts opposite of Foye Oluokun as average or below-average players based on their 2022 season evaluations. These would be the Jaguars’ prospective areas of concern for the 2023 defense.

So, either these rankings generally are accurate, and first-year defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell did an underappreciated job in coaching his defenders up in 2022, or this ranking is lacking in some areas.

On multiple accounts last year, I vehemently argued with many in the media that Caldwell was indeed coaching many defensive players up higher than their skills dictated. My argument was always that our 2022 defense was better than the individual pieces that made it up, while many in the fan base publicly argued for Caldwell to be replaced. Overall, I am in agreement with PFF’s exclusion of Travon Walker, Chad Muma, and Devin Lloyd based on their 2022 struggles. However, I would argue that Andre Cisco and possibly also Rayshawn Jenkins should have cracked the top 32 safeties.

What say you, Jaguar fans? Who do you believe was slighted in these evaluations? Do you believe our group of safeties was snubbed? What do you see as our main defensive area of concern for 2023? Who are you looking to make the jump to land on this list by next offseason?