JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' linebackers position in this look at the '19 offseason.
2018 starters: Weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith (16), middle linebacker Myles Jack (16), strong-side linebacker Leon Jacobs (3), strong-side linebacker Nick DeLuca (2).
Others: Christian Kuntz, Donald Payne, Blair Brown.
2018 at a glance: Smith led the Jaguars with 134 tackles, registering a sack, four tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, two interceptions, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Jack was second on the team with 107 tackles, registering 2.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, four quarterback hurries, an interception, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Jack returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown in a Week 1 victory over the New York Giants and Smith returned one 33 yards for a touchdown in a Week 16 victory over Miami. Jacobs as a rookie was the starter at strong-side backer much of the season, but he came off the field when the Jaguars were in nickel, pass-defense situations.
Offseason storyline: The Jaguars almost certainly will address depth here; the question is whether they will need to address a starter. Jack and Jacobs are certain to return. There is speculation among observers that Smith could be released or traded, but his speed and playmaking ability make that a difficult – and unlikely – decision.
Free agents as of March 13: None.
Oehser analysis: This position could go one of two ways in the offseason. It is likely to be very quiet, with little done except adding a late-round selection for depth. Less likely is a major transition. The would happen in the unlikely scenario that the team parted with Smith, which would mean a lot of questions at the position. Would the team move Jack to the weak side? Would it mean drafting Smith's replacement? Could Jacobs move to the middle with a drafted player at the strong side? Whatever the solution, this position must make more impact plays. Jack and Smith both made huge plays during the 2017 AFC South-title season and subsequent run to the AFC Championship Game; Smith made the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro that season, and Jack made a game-changing play in every playoff game. Smith didn't have near the impact in 2018 and appeared to often be out of position. Jack was good in the middle but didn't overall have the play-making impact needed from a player of his ability and instincts.
Sexton analysis: The Jags could stand pat with their linebackers in the fall, even if they didn't deliver as expected in 2018. Jack made the full-time move to the middle and by all accounts was a good player. But Jack brings incredible physical abilities to the equation and should have been much more of a difference maker. He finished with 107 tackles and scored a key touchdown on an interception at a crucial moment in a Week 1 victory over the Giants, but beyond that was quiet. Jack is supposed to be loud every Sunday. Smith is a much greater concern as I see it. He put up some impressive numbers, but those are misleading because he didn't have the same impact on the game. He isn't a big, physical presence and perhaps teams figured him out – but it seemed as if he was either overmatched, a step late or just not in position to make the same kinds of plays that earned him a big contract. Finding a way to get him back to his previous performance level is key because his salary says he has to be that guy. We didn't see enough from Jacobs to know whether he is the guy his teammates raved about during the preseason – or just a guy. Jacobs certainly looks the part and as a strong-side backer showed the kinds of coverage skills necessary to be on the field every down. Maybe it was his seventh-round status or the scheme which called for more sub-defensive packages in 2019, but he didn't play enough or make enough plays to think you shouldn't be looking for another SAM this spring … just in case. Brown and Payne are both role players whose special-teams contributions were key in 2018 but younger and cheaper wins the day when a team is up against the salary cap. That means both men need productive offseasons to be a part of the equation this fall.