JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' defense was good in 2017. Really good.
It should be good again in 2018, but that doesn't mean the unit will be unchanged entering the season – and it doesn't mean it will be ignored in the upcoming '18 draft.
How has it changed this offseason? How might the Jaguars address it in the draft? Glad you asked.
Here's a pre-draft, position-by-position look at the Jaguars' defense with a thought on what the draft might bring for each position:
Defensive ends (6)
Projected starters:Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell.
Projected reserves/others: Dante Fowler Jr., Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips, Hunter Dimick.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars were quiet on this front, having drafted Smoot in Round 3 last offseason and having signed Campbell as an unrestricted free agent last offseason.
About the position:This became a strong, deep area last season, with Campbell registering a franchise-record 14.5 sacks after signing as a UFA from Arizona and Ngakoue registering 12 sacks in his second season. Both players made the Pro Bowl, with Campbell being named first-team Associated Press All-Pro and AP Defensive Player of the Year runner-up. Fowler registered eight sacks, and had two more in the AFC Championship Game. Smoot played in all 19 regular- and postseason games and showed signs of being a strong player in the line rotation this season.
Handicapping the draft:This isn't an immediate need, but the Jaguars were effective enough in free agency that they have few glaring needs entering the draft. With the team's emphasis on maintaining a strong line and pass rush, drafting a pass rusher early wouldn't be a shock.
Defensive tackles (6)
Projected starters:Malik Jackson, Abry Jones.
Projected reserves/others:Marcell Dareus, Eli Ankou, Michael Bennett, Kapron Lewis-Moore.
Offseason to date:This has been another quiet area this offseason, with the Jaguars having acquired Jackson as an unrestricted free agent in 2016 and trading with the Buffalo Bills for Dareus last October. The team also re-signed Jones last offseason.
About the position:An already strong area got stronger when the Jaguars traded a sixth-round selection for Dareus. Jackson registered eight sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time, and Dareus in December and January played at a Pro Bowl level. The presence of Jones gives the Jaguars uncommon depth at the position when all three are healthy.
Handicapping the draft:Like end, this isn't an immediate need – but as also is the case with end, the salary cap and contract structures could force the Jaguars to part ways with contributing veterans following the '18 season. The Jaguars should be able to draft best available player through much of the draft, making tackle – like most defensive positions – a possibility.
Projected starters:Blair Brown, Myles Jack, Telvin Smith.
Projected reserves/others: Lerentee McCray, Ellis Brooks, Deon King, Donald Payne.
Offseason to date:This position underwent significant change last month when Paul Posluszny, the Jaguars' starting middle linebacker since 2011, announced his retirement. Posluszny played all 19 games last season, playing primarily in base situations.
About the position:This is the one defensive position in transition this offseason, with Jack expected to move to the middle in base situations after playing strong-side in that situation last season. Jack and Smith both played in nickel situations last season, meaning the duo was on the field for the vast majority of plays when healthy. The question about the position: whether the team will go with Brown at strong side or draft a player to play middle or strongside. The answer could determine where Jack ultimately plays – strong side or middle – in base situations. It is expected he will start in the middle.
Handicapping the draft:It would be a surprise if the Jaguars didn't address this area in the draft – either for a starter or for the depth lost with Posluszny's retirement. Whoever starts at linebacker alongside Jack and Smith likely will play about 30-to-35 percent of the snaps. That makes it less likely the team would use an early selection on the position, but look for the Jaguars to draft at least one linebacker somewhere later this month.
Projected starters:Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye.
Projected reserves/others: D.J. Hayden, Jalen Myrick, Tyler Patmon, Sammy Seamster.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars lost nickel corner Aaron Colvin when the 2014 fourth-round draft selection signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Houston Texans; the Jaguars then signed Hayden – a first-round selection by Oakland in 2013 – from the Detroit Lions to play nickel and backup Bouye and Ramsey.
About the position:This may be the Jaguars' best position in terms of front-line, elite-level talent. Ramsey, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, was a first-team AP All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection last season. Bouye, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from Houston last offseason, was a second-team AP All-Pro selection and also was named to the Pro Bowl. The question entering the offseason: how will Hayden fare replacing Colvin, who for the past two seasons was one of the NFL's top nickel corners?
Handicapping the draft:Numbers make it likely the Jaguars will take a corner somewhere in the draft, as does the fact that young cornerbacks are valuable for special teams. This could be a late-round selection.
Projected starters:Barry Church, Tashaun Gipson.
Projected reserves/others: Jarrod Wilson, Don Carey, Cody Davis, Charlie Miller.
Offseason to date:The Jaguars focused heavily here in free agency, partly to upgrade the depth behind Church and Gipson but primarily to improve special teams. Davis is one of the NFL's best special teams players, and Carey's addition should add valuable experience and ability. The team did not re-sign unrestricted free agent Peyton Thompson.
About the position:This became a position of strength last season, with Church and Gipson forming one of the NFL's better safety tandems. Church had four interceptions and eight passes defensed, and Gipson registered four interceptions and seven passes defensed. Both players' knowledge of the defense was key to a secondary that finished the season with 18 interceptions, and Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said late in the season he believed Gipson had played at a Pro Bowl level.
Handicapping the draft:This is another area that makes sense for the Jaguars to draft somewhere for special teams and depth – and with an eye on the future beyond '18.