JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' defensive end position in this look at the '19 offseason
Position: Defensive end.
2018 starters: Calais Campbell (16), Yannick Ngakoue (16).
Others: Taven Bryan, Lerentee McCray, Dawuane Smoot, Lyndon Johnson.
2018 at a glance: Campbell had 10.5 sacks to lead the Jaguars for a second consecutive season, becoming the first player in franchise history with back-to-back double-digit sack seasons. Ngakoue registered 9.5 sacks and has 29.5 through three NFL seasons. Bryan, the No. 29 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, started one game with one sack while playing mostly as a reserve defensive end/tackle. McCray played primarily on special teams, and Smoot improved in the second half of the season after spending the first eight games inactive. Johnson, who signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent shortly before the 2018 NFL Draft, played in the final three games of the season.
Offseason lookahead: The Jaguars picked up their team option on Campbell for 2019, meaning he will return for his third season with the team; that had been a question late last season because of a high salary-cap figure for 2019. Ngakoue will be in the final season of his rookie contract in 2019, and the Jaguars and Ngakoue could negotiate a long-term deal.
Free agents as of March 13: None.
Oehser analysis: This remains a position of strength, stability and – perhaps most importantly – reliability. Campbell and Ngakoue not only were the best players on the Jaguars' defensive line last season, they both played in every regular-season game for a second consecutive season. Campbell, a Pro Bowl selection each of his two seasons with the team and an All-Pro selection in 2017, has been remarkable enough on and off the field since joining the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in 2017 that the team moved quickly following 2018n to assure him he fit into their future. Ngakoue continues to emerge as a team leader and appears more focused than usual this offseason on not only proving he is one of the NFL's best pass rushers but on being a face of the franchise. A concern here could be depth. Bryan likely will move inside to start at three-technique defensive tackle next season in his second season. McCray registered a sack and two tackles last season and is primarily a special teams player, and the Jaguars next season need Smoot to play up to his status as a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Bottom line on the defensive ends: there are fewer worries regarding the two starters here than at perhaps any other position on the team. What happens if Campbell and Ngakoue are uncharacteristically unavailable is a more concerning question.
Sexton analysis: Campbell and Ngakoue combined for 26.5 sacks in 2017 and had everyone's attention when 2018 began. Though their pass-rush production wasn't as explosive last fall, they managed 20 sacks; they just didn't come with as many big plays with scoring opportunities attached. Campbell was dominant against the run and by season's end, no one even considered he might leave because of a big salary-cap hit and age working against him. Beyond what he brings between the lines, he's the best teammate I've ever seen on the Jaguars, and he is without a doubt the heartbeat of the locker room. Ngakoue built his reputation on the strip sack in 2017; he had seven that season, with six leading to touchdowns for teammates. He managed just one in 2018, but it wasn't for a lack of preparation or effort. The Jaguars' offense gave the defense few leads; as a result, teams didn't have to drop back to pass and offer their quarterbacks as a sacrifice to No. 91. Smoot and Johnson are young, unproven players with the physical characteristics the Jaguars want at defensive end. Don't be surprised to see the Jaguars take an end on Draft Weekend and bring a few undrafted rookies on board to challenge here … oh, and Ngakoue was himself a third-round pick. You always need pass rush and the Jaguars will be looking.