What is the Jaguars’ most-improved defensive position group moving into the 2021 season?
After examining which offensive position groups improved the most for the Jacksonville Jaguars thus far in 2021, we now shift our focus to the defensive side of the ball and ask the same question. Which positional group seems to have improved the most throughout the offseason in comparison to the 2020 roster?
Just like with the offense, head coach Urban Meyer and his staff have started building the roster in his vision. Let’s take a look at where each positional group currently stands.
The defensive line room added quite a few bodies this offseason through free agency, trade and the 2021 NFL Draft. The newcomers include Roy Robertson-Harris, Malcom Brown and Jihad Ward, as well as rookies Jay Tufele (USC) and Jordan Smith (UAB), who the Jaguars both selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft. Meanwhile, the team re-signed Adam Gotsis, Dawuane Smoot and Daniel Ross. Jacksonville parted ways with Abry Jones, Dontavius Russell, Gabe Wright and Al Woods (who opted out last season due to COVID).
Jacksonville returns several additional defensive linemen from last season, including DaVon Hamilton, Doug Costin, Taven Bryan, Daniel Ekuale and Aaron Patrick. Following the draft, the Jaguars also signed undrafted free agent defensive tackle Kenny Randall out of Charleston. Josh Allen and and K’Lavon Chaisson (more on them below) played defensive end last season, but expect to spend the majority of their time at linebacker in 2021.
While it may lack a true “superstar,” this is a deep group that will be able to rotate in a lot of fresh players and give offenses different looks. Expect Jacksonville’s pitiful mark of just 18 sacks last season to greatly increase this year.
There wasn’t too much movement at the linebacker position in terms of new personnel, however a shift in defensive scheme could make a difference for the Jaguars. Myles Jack and Joe Schobert return for Jacksonville, and expect to play inside when Jacksonville goes to its new 3-4 defensive looks in base sets under defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. Jack was particularly impressive last season, earning second-team All-Pro honors from Pro Football Focus, while Schobert led the team in tackles (141 total). The defense is expected to be “multiple” under Cullen, and will also include 4-3 looks, as well as plenty of nickel and dime looks in passing situations.
The team signed veteran free agent Damien Wilson from the Kansas City Chiefs, who started 13 games last season and recorded 73 tackles. As mentioned above, Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson, who previously played exclusively at defensive end, are likely to now play on the edge as standup linebackers. Urban Meyer recently said Chaisson has been working out as a strong-side linebacker, along with Leon Jacobs and Lerentee McCray. Allen will likely play as the weak-side linebacker. Both Allen and Chaisson are currently listed as “DE/LB” on the Jaguars’ official roster, so either one of them playing defensive end shouldn’t be completely ruled out just yet, but expect the bulk of their reps to be at linebacker.
Other linebackers currently on the roster include Dakota Allen, Shaquille Quarterman, Dylan Moses, Chapelle Russell and Quincy Williams. The Jaguars parted ways with Joe Giles-Harris, Kamalei Correa and Aaron Lynch.
Similarly to the defensive line, Jacksonville’s secondary has a lot of new additions, as well as several contributors from last year’s team who return in 2021. The biggest additions were with free agent cornerback Shaquill Griffin, coming over from the Seattle Seahawks, and safety Rayshawn Jenkins, coming over from the Los Angeles Chargers. The Jaguars also signed safety/special teams ace Rudy Ford in free agency. In the 2021 NFL Draft, Jacksonville spent the No. 33 overall pick (first pick of the second round) on Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell, and then spent a third-round pick (No. 65 overall) on Syracuse safety Andre Cisco.
The team returns cornerback CJ Henderson, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and re-signed Tre Herndon, Sidney Jones IV and Josh Jones. Veteran safeties Jarrod Wilson and Andrew Wingard also return. Jacksonville did part ways with D.J. Hayden, Rashaan Melvin (opt-out in 2020) and Greg Mabin earlier in the offseason, and traded away Josiah Scott to the Philadelphia Eagles in May. The Jaguars swapped Scott for cornerback Jameson Houston and a sixth-round pick. Additionally, Luq Barcoo, Chris Claybrooks and Daniel Thomas each enter their second season in Duval.
Overall, the defensive backs room seems to be a much-improved group compared to last season. Other defensive backs currently on the roster include DJ Daniel, Brandon Rusnak and Corey Straughter.
So, which position group is most improved on offense?
While an argument could be made for the defensive line, my personal opinion is that the defensive backfield has improved the most. With the additions of Griffin and Jenkins through free agency, as well as rookies who could make immediate impacts in Campbell and Cisco (assuming he is fully recovered from his 2020 ACL tear), there could be a lot of new playmakers within the unit. Henderson should also take a significant step up during his sophomore campaign, and Tre Herndon, Sidney Jones, Josh Jones and Jarrod Wilson have played plenty of football. This was a young unit last year that struggled with injuries, and seems to have improved immensely.
Let us know your choice for most-improved defensive group. Comment, and vote in the poll below.