JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' cornerback position in this look at the '19 offseason
2018 starters: A.J. Bouye (13), Jalen Ramsey (16), D.J. Hayden (5), Tyler Patmon (1).
_Others:_Breon Borders, Tre Herndon, Quenton Meeks.
2018 at a glance: Ramsey in his third season remained one of the NFL's top corners, leading the team with 13 pass breakups and three interceptions. Bouye registered eight pass breakups and an interception. Hayden missed six games with a sprained toe but registered four passes defensed and interception and a sack in his first season with the team after signing as an unrestricted free agent. Patmon played a key role early in the season at nickel in Hayden's absence, and Herndon and Meeks showed flashes after making the roster as collegiate free agents.
_Offseason storyline:_This position seems likely to experience little turnover in the offseason, with Patmon the only player with an expiring contract and with all other players at the position likely to return.
Free agents as of March 13:Patmon.
_Oehser analysis:_While this group didn't reach its league-best 2017 level, it still was a very good unit in 2018 – perhaps the team's second-best position group behind the defensive line. Ramsey, despite a notably rough game at Indianapolis in early November, played near an All-Pro level and was named to a second consecutive Pro Bowl. One of the biggest misconceptions nationally is the notion that Ramsey's off-field actions were a major problem for the Jaguars last season; while they were a story, he was in no way a "cancer" and needs to be major part of the Jaguars' plan moving forward. The major difference at corner was the play of Bouye, who was among the NFL's top cornerbacks in 2017 and who wasn't nearly as effective in 2018. Hayden emerged as perhaps the most positive surprise of the group, replacing nickel Aaron Colvin and proving himself a superior coverage corner. Perhaps the most positive development of the season was the emergence of Meeks and Herndon, a pair of undrafted rookie free agents who played solidly in limited opportunities. But while the group didn't match its 2017 performance, it remains perhaps the biggest reason for optimism around the defense. With Ramsey, Bouye and Hayden expected to return, the Jaguars could have the best corner trio in the NFL next season. That gives the defense a chance to be one of the NFL's best.
Sexton analysis:The drop off here was pronounced in 2018. Ramsey remains perhaps the NFL's best cornerback, but he bought into the hype and wasn't as good as his All-Pro season in 2017. Yes, his skills are extreme – and yes, he gets the best team's best week in and week out, but he gave up some plays last season that I didn't think he should. His performance in Indianapolis in November was dreadful, and to his credit he acknowledged it as the worst game of his career. If Ramsey the player shows up ready to go, he is without question the best in the game; the sense here is the whole GQ thing is past and Ramsey the businessman is focused between the lines – and not everywhere else as was the case last season. The other half of the "best cornerback tandem" in football went missing last season. Where was the Bouye who was so smooth in 2017 that he actually ran receivers' routes for them on his way to a career-best six interceptions and a spot in the Pro Bowl? Bouye was sidelined by calf injury and those can linger, but he just didn't look like the same guy. The Jaguars must count on his professionalism and pride to show up with him next summer. If that happens, this defense is instantly back to the very top of the league; he's that good and that important. Folks worried the loss of Colvin would be a blow, but Hayden was very good when healthy and on the field; his absence was felt while he battled turf toe for much of the season. Help could be on the way in the form of Herndon and Meeks who both impressed as undrafted rookies. Meeks started against the Eagles in London with Bouye out and was surprisingly good. This spot looks promising.