JACKSONVILLE – We move on today to the defense.
The Jaguars during the 2017 offseason have invested heavily in further improving what by any measure was an improved defense last season, and the recent additions have been pricey and high-profile.
The Jaguars signed a front-line unrestricted free agent at every level of the defense in March – defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church – and also added defensive depth and special teams help. That leaves the question:
Is there anything left to do defensively in the draft?
That answer remains to be seen, but the 2017 NFL Draft is considered very deep defensively, particularly at the cornerback position. So, continuing to address the defense – even as early as early in the first round – remains a real possibility.
With a little more than two weeks remaining before the draft, here's a position-by-position look at the Jaguars' defense:
Defensive tackles (6)
Projected starters:Abry Jones, Malik Jackson.
Projected reserves/others: Michael Bennett, Sheldon Day, Louis Nix, Stefon Charles.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars re-signed Jones to a four-year extension and released veterans Roy Miller III and Sen'Derrick Marks. They signed Charles as an unrestricted free agent from the Detroit Lions.
About the position:The Jaguars changed the direction of this position when they re-signed Jones and released Miller and Marks. That established Jones as the starter after he played well in Miller's injury-caused absence in the final two and a half months last season. Jackson played at a high level in his first season with the Jaguars after signing as an unrestricted free agent from the Denver Broncos.
Handicapping the draft:This is an area the Jaguars could address early in the draft – mainly because of the presence of Jonathan Allen of Alabama and Solomon Thomas of Stanford. Either could be the Jaguars' selection at No. 4 overall, and would provide immediate depth and help the team's defensive-line rotation. Jones and Jackson are both in their primes and seem likely to form the core of the interior of the defense for the next couple of seasons. Strong-side defensive end Calais Campbell also can be a factor at this spot, but he's expected to play primarily outside.
Defensive end (6)
Projected starters:Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue.
Projected reserves/others:Dante Fowler Jr., Jonathan Woodard, Malliciah Goodman.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars signed Campbell as a high-profile free agent in March, releasing veteran Jared Odrick and allowing veteran Tyson Alualu to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an unrestricted free agent. The Jaguars also traded end Chris Smith to Cincinnati Tuesday.
About the position:This figures to be a strength next season with the ability to get stronger. Campbell is expected to improve the strong-side position and is a versatile, experienced player who could have an overall positive effect on the entire line. One area to watch: the development of Ngakoue and Fowler. Ngakoue registered a rookie record eight sacks last season. Fowler's development as a player capable of fulfilling his potential as the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft will be key to the pass rush next season.
Handicapping the draft:This is an area the Jaguars seem likely to address at some point in the draft. Ngakoue appears likely to be consistently productive and Fowler has shown potential, but the Jaguars could use at least one more edge rusher.
Projected starters:Myles Jack, Paul Posluszny, Telvin Smith.
Projected reserves/others:Lerentee McCray, Hayes Pullard, Marcus Rush, Raphael Kirby, Sean Porter, Audie Cole, Dan Skuta.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars signed McCray and Coles as unrestricted free agents.
About the position:This appears to be a position of strength and potential, particularly in the starting lineup. Posluszny and Smith both played at a high level last season, and Jack – a second-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft – is expected to play more extensively this season. One possibility is moving Jack to middle linebacker and Posluszny to strong-side linebacker, something that has been speculated upon without official comment from the team this offseason.
Handicapping the draft:This doesn't appear to be a major area of need, though with Posluszny entering his 11th season selecting a young player capable of starting in the near future is a possibility. A linebacker in the first two days of the draft would be a surprise.
Projected starters:Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson.
Projected reserves/others:Peyton Thompson, James Sample, Elijah Shumate, Akeem Davis, Jarrod Wilson.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars signed Church as an unrestricted free agent and allowed strong-safety Johnathan Cyprien to sign with the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent.
About the position:The move to sign Church means for a second consecutive season the Jaguars addressed safety with a high-profile free agent. The Jaguars are expected to adjust their coverage scheme in the secondary in coordinator Todd Wash's second season, perhaps playing a bit less pure single-high safety over the top and having both safeties have strong and free responsibilities. Still Church has played his best in a strong-side role and Gipson has excelled at times at free safety.
Handicapping the draft:A safety early in the draft would be a surprise, but more than a few mock drafts have projected LSU safety Jamal Adams to the Jaguars at No. 4 overall. That is more because of Adams' status as perhaps the best available player in the draft than it is about the Jaguars' having a need at the spot, and it's hard to see the Jaguars going safety in the Top 5.
Projected starters:Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye.
Projected reserves/others:Aaron Colvin, Josh Johnson, Doran Grant.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars signed Bouye as an unrestricted free agent from the Houston Texans and allowed Prince Amukamara to sign with the Chicago Bears as an unrestricted free agent.
About the position:This has taken on the feel of a strength in recent months, with Ramsey emerging as one of the league's top young players at the position as a rookie and with the offseason signing of Bouye. Colvin has played at a high level at nickel in two-and-a-half seasons.
Handicapping the draft:Despite the strength of Bouye/Ramsey/Colvin, there is speculation the Jaguars could go cornerback early. You need depth at cornerback because teams play multiple corner sets against pass-oriented offenses. Could that mean corner for the Jaguars at No. 4 overall? It seems unlikely, but the selection would have merit. It appears likely the Jaguars will select at least one cornerback somewhere in the draft.