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On to 2024: Examining Jaguars Defensive End Position Group

032024 on to 24 DE

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars/NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' defensive ends in this position-by-position look at the '24 offseason

Position: Defensive end.

  • Position coach: Bill Shuey.
  • 2023 starters: Josh Allen (17), Travon Walker (17).
  • Others: K'Lavon Chaisson, Dawuane Smoot, Yasir Abdullah. 
Jaguars 2023 Defensive End Position Group At A Glance:

This was perhaps the Jaguars' strongest and most consistent area defensively in 2023, with Allen in his fifth NFL season setting a franchise record with 17.5 sacks – second in the NFL to T.J. Watt (19) of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Walker, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, in his second season emerged as a dominant run defender and registered seven sacks in the final eight games to finish with 10 sacks for the season. The 27.5 sacks by Allen – the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft – and Walker as a tandem ranked first in the NFL. Chaisson, the No. 20 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, played as a reserve behind Allen/Walker and registered two sacks with Smoot – a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft – registering one sack. Abdullah, a fifth-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, was inactive in 12 of 17 regular-season games.

Offseason Storyline:

The storyline here is multifold, with the Jaguars transitioning from a 3-4 scheme under former defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell to one that will feature more straight four-man fronts under new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. That is expected to mean Allen and Walker playing more "hand-on-the-ground" defensive end, with one storyline being just how much Walker could move around on the defensive line. This also is an offseason of transition for personnel at the spot, with Chaisson signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Carolina Panthers after four seasons with the organization and Smoot not yet re-signed after seven seasons with the team. The rotation at the position – and the key members of that rotation – will change with the new scheme and new coordinator. That change will be key for a position that provided significant production from the starters but needs more production from the depth moving forward.

Free agents as of March 13: Chaisson (signed with Carolina), Smoot.

Bucky Brooks' Top Three Free-Agent Defensive Ends/Edge Defenders:
  1. Jonathan Greenard, Houston Texans (signed with Minnesota Vikings)
  2. Danielle Hunter, Vikings (signed with Texans)
  3. Bryce Huff, New York Jets (signed with Philadelphia Eagles)
Bucky Brooks' Top Three Collegiate Defensive Ends/Edge Defenders:
  1. Dallas Turner, Alabama
  2. Laiatu Latu, UCLA
  3. Jared Verse, Florida State

Oehser Analysis: This position, while a clear position of strength, remains a major offseason storyline. Allen received the franchise tag from the team rather than becoming an unrestricted free agent. He therefore is expected to be with the team in 2023 – either on a one-year deal or on a multi-year extension if he and the team can agree to terms. He emerged as one of the NFL's top pass rushers and top playmakers among edge defenders – and he also is one of the team's most consistent, reliable players on defense. Walker's late-season improvement as a pass rusher was a positive sign that his ability there is beginning to match his ability against the run, where he has been very good-to-dominant since entering the NFL. The keys here: How will Nielsen seek to use Walker – as an outside rusher, an inside rusher or combination? And how will the Jaguars seek to get additional pressure aside from their two high-end edge players.

Brooks Analysis: Despite preseason concerns regarding the pass rush, the Jaguars' edge defenders exceeded expectations as the most dominant unit on the team. Allen and Walker combined for 27.5 sacks, exhibiting complementary games on the edges. With Allen overwhelming opponents with his superior first-step quickness and dynamic closing burst, Walker settled in as a punishing, power-based rusher with a "bull-in-a-china-shop" approach that routinely led to quarterback takedowns. Although the Jaguars received minimal contributions from the backups behind the duo, the stellar play from the starters enabled the defense to create "splash" plays without the need to bring excessive blitz pressure on crucial downs. As the Jaguars turn the page to 2024, the team has to find more sack producers on the front line to lighten the load on their "stars" to generate every big play for a defense that feasts on turnovers.

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