JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' safeties in this position-by-position look at the '23 offseason:
Position coach: Cody Grimm
- S Rayshawn Jenkins (17)
- S Andre Cisco (16)
- S Andrew Wingard (3)
- Daniel Thomas
- Tyree Gillespie
- Ayo Oyelola
- Deionte Thompson
2022 at a glance: This was a key area of the ’22 Jaguars’ defense, with the secondary as a whole struggling at times early in the regular season then making multiple clutch – and critical – plays in the late-season run to the AFC South title. The safeties were key to that improvement and were critical to the team's dramatic improvement creating turnovers – which defined the Jaguars' defensive improvement and keyed the late-season playoff push. Cisco, a third-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, moved into the starting lineup in his second NFL season and improved as the season continued; he finished with 70 tackles, 46, solo, with one tackle for loss – and three interceptions with 10 passes defensed. Jenkins, who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in the 2021 offseason, finished third on the team in 2022 with 112 tackles, 71 solo, with three tackles for loss – and three interceptions with 12 passes defensed. He turned in two of the biggest plays of the Jaguars season, returning an interception for a game-winning touchdown in an overtime victory over Dallas and forcing a sack-fumble that outside linebacker Josh Allen returned for the game-winning touchdown in an AFC South-clinching victory over the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season finale. Wingard registered 23 tackles, four solo, with two tackles for loss – and one pressure, one fumble recovery, a forced fumble and an interception.
Offseason storyline: The offseason for this group to date has been about ensuring continuity and stability at a solid position rather than making changes. Jenkins performed well enough in his second season with the team to return as a key starter despite his original 2021 Jaguars contract leaving the possibility of parting ways this offseason. The Jaguars moved quickly in free agency to retain depth here, re-signing Wingard – a 2019 collegiate free agent signee who became an unrestricted free agent after last season.
Free agents as of March 15: Wingard.
Bucky Brooks' top three free agent safety prospects:
- Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals (signed with Atlanta Falcons)
- Juan Thornhill, Kansas City Chiefs (signed with Cleveland Browns)
- Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers (Houston Texans).
Bucky Brooks' top three collegiate safety prospects:
- Brian Branch, Alabama
- Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M
- Ji'Ayir Brown, Penn State
Oehser analysis: This was a solid area for the Jaguars in 2022, and one that improved as the season continued. Jenkins, after missing the last three games of the 2021 season with a broken ankle, emerged as one of the best playmakers on the Jaguars' defense in 2022 – and turned in a pair of plays that will long be remembered as pivotal plays in one of the most memorable seasons in franchise history. Cisco began to show the turnover-creating ability he showed collegiately; how he builds on that improvement will be key to the Jaguars' defense in 2023. Wingard, as he has throughout his Jaguars career, was a team leader and special-teams ace who provided energy and game-turning plays when given the opportunity defensively. The Jaguars could address this area for a developmental future starter/special teams players in the middle rounds of the draft.
Brooks' analysis: The Jaguars' three-headed monster at safety was pivotal to the defense's success in 2022. Jenkins, Cisco and Wingard thrived in their assigned roles as multi-dimensional playmakers in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell's aggressive scheme. Jenkins and Cisco, in particular, excelled as big play specialists in the middle of the field. Jenkins' instincts, awareness, and savvy resulted in a handful of key plays, including the game-winning interception against Dallas and the game-clinching strip-sack against Tennessee in the season finale. Cisco earned rave reviews for his work as a first-time starter after barely playing as a rookie. The Syracuse product showcased outstanding ball skills, diagnostic skills, and awareness as the centerfielder between the hashes. With Wingard making key contributions as the third safety/big nickel defender, the Jaguars' playmaking trio sparked the Jaguars' defensive resurgence.