JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the defensive end position in this post-2019 NFL Draft look at the Jaguars’ roster…
Position: Defensive end (7).
Projected starters: Calais Campbell/Yannick Ngakoue.
Others: End/linebacker Josh Allen, Lerentee McCray, Dawuane Smoot, Shane Bowman, Lyndon Johnson.
Arrivals: Allen (2019 NFL Draft, Round 1), Bowman (undrafted free agent).
Offseason breakdown: The Jaguars stayed relatively status quo here, with the major early offseason move working Campbell’s contract to ensure he will stay with the Jaguars at least another season. The key addition came when the Jaguars selected Allen from the University of Kentucky with the No. 7 overall selection in the draft.
Oehser analysis: How important is pass rush and being strong up front to the Jaguars’ defense? Pressure off the edge might be the biggest key to the team’s success or failure, and the Jaguars left no doubt about that when they selected Allen in the recent ’19 draft. Even before that, this was the Jaguars’ strongest position along with cornerback – particularly at the two starting positions. Campbell was a 2017 first-team Associated Press All-Pro selection and the runner-up for AP Defensive Player of the Year that season – and while his statistics dipped somewhat last season, his level of play in 2018 may have been just as good as it was in 2017. Ngakoue, a 2017 Pro Bowl selection, also maintained his level of play in 2018 despite not matching his statistics. Much of the drop-off in numbers for the pass rush in 2018 was due to the offense rarely getting the Jaguars leads, so there’s little reason Campbell/Ngakoue can’t have strong – i.e., Pro Bowl-level – seasons in 2019. The Jaguars made a strong unit even stronger with the selection of Allen, who many considered a Top 3 selection and as good as any pass rusher in the draft. Allen was ecstatic regarding his selection with the Jaguars, talking the next day of helping bring “Sacksonville 2.0” to Jacksonville – and his 17 sacks as a senior indicate he could so just that. A concern at end before the draft was depth because the position looked relatively thin in terms of impact pass rusher after Ngakoue/Campbell. Smoot must make a significant step in 2019 to live up to his 2017 third-round draft status, while McCray continues to be a front-line special teams player with enough pass-rush potential to contribute there in spots. Either way, Allen’s presence could prevent any drop-off from Campbell/Ngakoue and make a strong position that much stronger.
Sexton analysis: It was funny to read national media criticize the Jaguars’ selection of Allen with their first-round pick. It seems that the need to give quarterback Nick Foles better protection or more weapons was deemed more important. But the Jaguars’ defense wasn’t as dominant in 2018 as it was in 2017, and the decline started with a pass rush that generated 18 fewer sacks and far fewer game-changing plays than it did when “Sacksonville” started rolling in 2017. This team’s personality is its defense and the chance to add a difference-maker on that side of the ball was too great to pass. Allen’s a 265-pound pass rusher which fits in between the 290 pounds Campbell offers and the 230 pounds presented by Ngakoue. The addition of Allen has been likened to having Dante Fowler Jr. in the rotation but he’s bigger than Fowler, and his length and height are right where you’d like to have for an edge rusher who stays on the field for every down in today’s game. That trio puts the Jaguars near the top of the league when it comes to game-wrecking potential. Campbell and Ngakoue have combined for 50 sacks the last two seasons and neither appear to be going away anytime soon. The addition of Allen should allow defensive coordinator Todd Wash to find favorable matchups and take advantage of situational opportunities. The Jaguars weren’t going to be very deep at defensive end without Fowler. If Campbell or Ngakoue need a rest or are struggling with an injury, the lack of depth at the position was going to cause problems. Smoot offers a big body against the run but lacks the pass-rush skills, while McCray brings some heat but struggles against the run without a lot of bulk. Allen ties this group together and gives the defense a chance to return to its pass-rushing, game-changing stature of 2017. They needed Allen and didn’t hesitate when he dropped into their laps.