JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the defensive tackle position in this post-2019 NFL Draft look at the Jaguars’ roster…
Position: Defensive tackle (9).
Projected starters: Abry Jones/Taven Bryan, Marcell Dareus.
Others: Dontavius Russell, Eli Ankou, Khairi Clark, Michael Hughes, Andrew Williams, Roderick Young.
Arrivals: Russell (2019 NFL Draft, Round 7), Clark (undrafted collegiate free agent), Williams (undrafted collegiate free agent).
Departures: Tackle Malik Jackson (released, Philadelphia Eagles).
Offseason breakdown: The Jaguars released Jackson for cap reasons, but the major move before the draft here was working the contract of Dareus so the veteran could remain with the team. The Jaguars selected Russell No. 235 from Auburn and signed Clark and Williams as undrafted free agents.
Oehser analysis: This is a critical position to watch this offseason – and that has little to do with newcomers and everything to do with what already ready on the roster. An area of strength two seasons ago, defensive tackle dropped off in terms of production because 2017 Pro Bowl selection Malik Jackson went from 8.0 sacks that season to 3.5 last season. He also struggled enough against the run last season that the team inserted Jones into the lineup in the second half of the season. Jones played at his usual consistent level late in the season, and Dareus continued to play at the near-elite level he has reached during most of his season and a half in Jacksonville. Dareus has rare ability to not only stuff the run from the nose-tackle position but to be a factor in passing situations. The key for this season: the development of Bryan, who must take a Year 2 step up in production and reliability. The Jaguars’ first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Bryan played 16 games as a rookie with one start and improved in the second half of the season after struggling to acclimate to the NFL early in the season. He also appeared to play better while playing predominantly on the interior late in the season. While his inconsistency troubled many observers last season, a start-and-stop rookie season is normal in the NFL – particularly for player selected outside the Top 10. But the Jaguars selected Bryan No. 29 overall in 2018 with the idea that he would be ready to make a significant contribution – and to be a strength – on the defensive line in Year 2. It’s Year 2 now. It’s time for Bryan to at minimum take a serious step toward fulfilling his physical potential.
Sexton analysis: Bryan didn’t fit as a big end in his rookie season, looking lost on the edge and lacking the instincts that made Calais Campbell a Pro Bowl selection the last two seasons; Bryan flashed after taking some snaps from Jackson and the move inside to the three-technique spot gave him a chance to use his power and quickness in a more familiar role. The Jaguars are counting on Bryan to take a big jump in his second season; with Jackson now in Philadelphia, there is pressure on him to perform. He looks like a young Derek Wolfe in Denver with great size, length and – most of all – power. He dominated the line of scrimmage in Miami in December; if he can recreate that every Sunday, the coaching staff should be thrilled. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone didn’t hesitate to put the spotlight on Dareus as well. The one-time All Pro played like his former form at times last season and was unstoppable against the run. Dareus made a habit of rag-dolling the offensive line but wasn’t as effective as a pass-rusher. The disconnect is he made his reputation as an interior rusher in Buffalo. Dareus and Bryan could be a troublesome twosome inside for offensive coordinators if they can stay healthy and play to expectations. Then there’s the curious case of the oft-overlooked Jones; the run defense wasn’t nearly as strong without Jones on the field last season. He’s a slippery 300-pound man whose strength and sense of timing give him an advantage against the run. He’s not a pass-rushing threat, but he helps collapse the pocket and force the quarterback into the arms of Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen off the edge. Ankou, Lyndon Johnson and rookie Russell will all have a chance to work into the rotation. Ankou is a stout run defender, Johnson has excellent length and knows how to use his leverage while Russell is highly thought of as a disruptive interior lineman with plenty of upside to his pass-rush ability. You don’t normally feel as good about a group when you lose a player of Jackson’s abilities, but the shrewd move to draft Bryan in 2018 gives the Jaguars the luxury of having a “jar on the shelf.” I expect this group to be very, very productive in 2019.