JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and Jaguars/NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks examine the Jaguars' outside linebacker/edge position in this position-by-position look at the '22 offseason
Position: Outside linebackers/edge.
Position coaches: Bill Shuey.
2021 starters: Josh Allen (15), K'Lavon Chaisson (8), Dawuane Smoot (10), Jihad Ward (1).
Others: Jordan Smith.
2021 at a glance: The Jaguars in 2021 transitioned to a 3-4 base defense under coordinator Joe Cullen from the 4-3 base they played the previous five seasons under then-coordinator Todd Wash. That meant Allen moving from the end position he played in his first two NFL seasons to a more standup-based 3-4 outside linebacker position, and it meant a similar move for Chaisson. With the Jaguars also playing multiple fronts in the hybrid scheme, players such as Smoot and Ward also played multiple positions along the front depending on formation and scheme. Smoot, the most versatile player on the defensive front having also played tackle and big end during his first four NFL seasons, played multiple positions again in 2021 – but played most extensively opposite his friend and offseason workout partner, Allen. Allen led the Jaguars with 7.5 sacks and had 14 pressures. Smoot had six sacks with a team-high 16 pressures. The Jaguars finished 31st in the NFL in sacks (18) and pressures (116) in 2020. They improved as a pass-rushing team in 2021, but still finished 25th in pressures (46) and 27th in sacks (32).
Offseason storyline: The Jaguars' primary 2022 offseason storyline here likely will focus on the draft. They didn't acquire an edge rusher in the first wave of unrestricted free agency, instead focusing on cornerback (Darious Williams), inside linebacker (Foye Oluokun) and defensive tackle (Foley Fatukasi). They also signed as an unrestricted free agent former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key, who is expected to play a role as a pass rusher – though not necessarily as a pure "edge" player. Could a premiere edge rusher be selected in the draft to package opposite Allen, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft? Many analysts believe that will be the case, with Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson an increasingly popular selection in mock drafts to be selected No. 1 overall by the Jaguars. The Jaguars also this offseason allowed Ward – who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Baltimore Ravens last offseason – to sign as an unrestricted free agent with the New York Giants.
Bucky Brooks' top edge/outside linebacker prospects: Hutchinson, Michigan; Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon; Travon Walker, Georgia; George Karlaftis, Purdue; Jermaine Johnson, Florida State.
Offseason acquisitions: None.
Offseason departures: Ward (Giants).
Oehser analysis: The Jaguars' edge defenders in 2021 mirrored the defense overall in the sense that at times they were really good – and at times they played in dominant fashion. There also were times of inconsistency without the big plays and disruption needed from the position. This was particularly true of Allen, who stood out during a dominant midseason stretch that included a memorable victory over the Buffalo Bills in which he turned in the best performance of his career: a sack, a fumble recovery and a game-turning interception off Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Smoot, too, continued to develop in 2022 into a reliable – and often underappreciated – player whose versatility and consistency is key with defensive lines needing to go six or seven players deep to be effective. One issue that has continued to plague the Jaguars' pass rush – and therefore, the edge defenders – is a multi-season trend of the team rarely playing with leads and often trailing by double digits early in games. Pass-rushing and defensive big plays are often about being able to rush and penetrate when opponents are in must-pass situations; offenses face fewer of those when their teams are controlling games. The guess here is the Jaguars' pass rush will improve correspondingly when/if the offense improves and begins keeping pace with or outplaying opponents.
Brooks analysis: The Jaguars have not been able to create a consistent pass rush off the edges. Despite Allen's effort as a Pro Bowl-caliber player, he is a one-man show who is in desperate need of a reliable sidekick. The fourth-year pro has just 10 sacks over his past 24 games following an impressive 10.5 sack campaign as a rookie. Smoot has emerged as a solid contributor but the veteran is more of a role player than an every-down disruptor. Chaisson has yet to play up to the standard as a former first-round pick with just two sacks in 31 career games. The Jaguars need to upgrade the position with multiple blue-chip playmakers coming onboard. With the No. 1 overall pick, the defense could select the pick of the litter from a deep and talented collection of pass rushers in the 2022 draft class. The depth of the class could also encourage Head Coach Doug Pederson and General Manager Trent Baalke to double-dip and add another disruptive edge player with a Day 2 pick.