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On to '22: Too early look at the defense

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JACKSONVILLE – The 2022 offseason is upon us.

We'll move forward in the offseason examining the Jaguars' defense, which ranked 20th in the NFL in total yards and 28th in points allowed in 2021. Here's a position-by-position look:

Defensive tackles/nose tackles/defensive end (7)

2021 starters: DT Malcom Brown (17), NT DaVon Hamilton (8), DE Roy Robertson-Harris (14), DE Adam Gotsis (3).

Others on the roster: Jay Tufele, Taven Bryan, Jeremiah Ledbetter.

Pending free agents: Gotsis, Bryan.

Season in review: This was an improved area for the Jaguars in 2021 compared to 2020, with the defense improving significantly against the run – in large part because of '21 offseason acquisitions of Brown and Robertson-Harris and the continued consistent play of Gotsis. Brown, acquired in an offseason trade with the New Orleans Saints, was one of five Jaguars players to start all 17 regular-season games and finished with four tackles for loss, two sacks and three pressures. Robertson-Harris finished with four tackles for loss, three sacks and nine pressures. Gotsis in his second season with the Jaguars had six tackles for loss, three sacks and seven pressures.

Possible first-round defensive linemen: Jordan Davis, Georgia; Travon Walker, Georgia; DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M; Logan Hall, Houston.

Chances of Jaguars selecting a defensive lineman in the first or second round: Low in Round 1 and far better in Round 2 – with a strong possibility of edge defender in either round.

Too-early look at the offseason: This figures to be an offseason focus; while the Jaguars improved here in '21 they must get stouter and more disruptive on the defensive interior front moving forward. The Jaguars were better here in 2021 – and good in stretches – but they must get closer to great on the interior to be consistent and disruptive enough to contend. Teams play rotations here, so using major equity in the draft and/or free agency is an option. Storylines to watch: the free-agency future of Gotsis, who has been consistent and reliable in two Jaguars seasons, and Bryan – a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft who started 17 games in four seasons with 5.5 sacks.

Take a look at the best pictures of the Jaguars defensive line from the 2021 season.

Defensive ends/outside linebackers (7)

2021 starters: Josh Allen (15), K'Lavon Chaisson (8), Dawuane Smoot (10), Jihad Ward (1).

Others on the roster: Jamir Jones, Lerentee McCray, Jordan Smith.

Pending free agents: Ward, McCray.

Season in review: This was a solid area in 2021 – with spectacular moments from Allen and consistency from Smoot. Allen, the No. 7 overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, led the team with 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks with 14 pressures. Smoot, a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, had seven tackles for loss with six sacks and a team-high 16 pressures while playing multiple positions along the front. The Jaguars had 32 sacks overall, which tied for 27th in the NFL. Chaisson, a first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, had three tackles for loss with a sack and four pressures.

Possible first-round edge defenders: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan; Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon; George Karlaftis, Purdue; David Ojabo, Michigan; Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina; Drake Jackson, Southern California; Arnold Ebeketie, Penn State; Jermaine Johnson, Florida State; Cameron Thomas, San Diego State; Travon Walker, Georgia; Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati.

Chances of Jaguars selecting an edge defender in the first or second round: High, perhaps in Round 1.

Too-early look at the offseason: This figures to be a high-profile story in the offseason, with the Jaguars having a solid season here in '21 – but also needing to generate more pressure and disruption from the area. The Jaguars hold the No. 1 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, with both Hutchinson and Thibodeaux widely considered worthy of the selection. A storyline to watch here is Allen, who will enter his fourth NFL season in 2022. That means he is eligible to renegotiate his rookie contract. How to approach that situation figures to be a key question for the Jaguars' next head coach and the team's decision-makers this offseason.

Check out the best photos of the Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker group from the 2021 season.

Linebackers (7)

2021 starters: Myles Jack (16), Damien Wilson (17), Chapelle Russell (1).

Others on the roster: Shaquille Quarterman. Tyrell Adams, Dakota Allen, Dylan Moses.

Pending free agents: Wilson, Allen, Russell.

Season in review: Jack and Wilson defined this area in 2021, making it one of the most reliable consistent areas on the team. Wilson – who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs in the offseason – was among five Jaguars players to start all 17 regular-season games; he finished second on the team with 108 tackles and registered five tackles for loss with three sacks, five pressures and five passes defensed with an interception. Jack, a second-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft and the team's most-tenured defensive player, led the team with 108 tackles and three tackles for loss with two pressures.

Possible first-round linebackers: Nakobe Dean, Georgia; Devin Lloyd, Utah.

Chances of Jaguars selecting a linebacker in the first or second round: Slim in Round 1 and a possibility in Round 2.

Too-early look at the offseason: Like the entire Jaguars defensive front seven, many details of the offseason here will depend on the defensive scheme – which will be decided after the team fills its head-coaching vacancy. Jack, under contract through 2023, figures to fit productively into any scheme. That's also true of Wilson, who signed a one-year contract last offseason. Specific changes and how aggressively the Jaguars try to upgrade linebackers could depend largely upon defensive philosophy moving forward.

Check out the top photos of Jaguars' safeties from throughout the 2021 NFL regular season.

Safeties (6)

2021 starters: Andrew Wingard (15), Rayshawn Jenkins (14), Rudy Ford (4), Andre Cisco (3), Daniel Thomas (2).

Others on the roster: Bradley McDougald.

Pending free agents: Wingard (restricted).

Season in review: Jenkins and Wingard started here throughout the season when healthy, with Ford developing and contributing as a starting nickel safety after being signed primarily as a special teams player the previous offseason. Wingard, originally signed as a collegiate free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft, finished third on the team with 86 tackles and two tackles for loss with a sack and five passes defensed and an interception. Jenkins, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Los Angeles Chargers last offseason, finished sixth on the team with 66 tackles and a tackle for loss with three passes defensed. Ford, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason, finished with 50 tackles and a tackle for loss with an interception and three passes defensed.

Possible first-round safeties: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame; Jaquan Brisker, Penn State; Jordan Battle, Alabama; Daxton Hill, Michigan; Lewis Cline, Georgia.

Chances of Jaguars selecting a safety in the first or second round: Slim in Round 1, but possible in Round 2.

Too-early look at the offseason: This is among the team's most difficult areas to project, with the group playing solid but also needing to make more game-changing impact plays. Does that mean addressing the area again in free agency, or perhaps in the first two days of the draft? How the team's decision-makers see the position will determine that. Cisco, a third-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, played well in three starts late in the season and has playmaking ability in the passing game.

Check out the best photos of the Jaguars' corners from throughout the 2021 season.

Cornerbacks (8)

2021 starters: Shaquill Griffin (14), Tyson Campbell (14), Tre Herndon (1), Chris Claybrooks (2), Nevin Lawson (2).

Others on the roster: Lorenzo Burns, Brandon Rusnak, Michael Jacquet.

Pending free agents: Herndon, Lawson.

Season in review: The 2021 season featured an early-season trade and a developing rookie here, with the Jaguars trading Week 1 starter and 2020 first-round selection CJ Henderson to the Carolina Panthers in September and rookie Tyson Campbell then moving into a starting role. Griffin, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Seattle Seahawks last offseason, played the No. 1 corner role and followed the opponent's top receiver at times; he defensed seven passes and forced a fumble. Campbell, after struggling at times early, led the Jaguars with 10 passes defensed and two interceptions. The Jaguars finished the season with seven interceptions.

Possible first-round cornerbacks: Derek Stingley Jr., Louisiana State; Trent McDuffie, Washington; Kaiir Elam, Florida; Roger McCreary, Auburn; Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati; Martin Emerson, Mississippi State; Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson; Derion Kendrick, Georgia.

Chances of Jaguars selecting a cornerback in the first or second round: Minimal in Round 1 and perhaps a bit more likely in Round 2.

Too-early look at the offseason: This at first glance doesn't appear to be a major area of immediate need entering the offseason, particularly in terms of acquiring a starter. While Griffin dropped a few interception opportunities early in the season, he was solid in coverage and is a capable starter. Campbell impressed as the season continued, improving playing the ball while in the air and narrowly missing a few more interceptions in the second half of the season. Depth could be addressed here in free agency and/or the draft, with speed at nickel and fourth corner a possible focus.

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