Post-draft analysis: Safeties

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JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the safety position in this post-2019 NFL Draft look at the Jaguars’ roster…

Position: Safety (7).

Projected starters: Ronnie Harrison, Jarrod Wilson.

Others: Cody Davis, C.J. Reavis, Andrew Wingard, Zedrick Woods, Joshua Moon.

Arrivals: Wingard (undrafted collegiate free agent), Woods (undrafted collegiate free agent), Moon (undrafted collegiate free agent).

Departures: Tashaun Gipson (unrestricted free agent, Houston Texans).

Offseason breakdown: No Jaguars defensive position has undergone so large an overhaul this offseason as safety. That’s particularly true if you include the release late last season of strong safety Barry Church, a starter from 2017 Week 1 through the first 11 games of 2018. The Jaguars released Gipson, the starting free safety the past three seasons, shortly before free agency. They then signed Wingard, Woods and Moon as collegiate free agents.

Oehser analysis: Consider this the great defensive unknown for the Jaguars entering 2019 – at least to observers. That’s because in less than 12 months, this position has gone from a pair of experienced veterans in Church and Gipson, to a pair of relative NFL unknowns. While experience isn’t everything in the NFL, it’s a positive at safety – and the Jaguars will enter the 2019 season with comparatively little. Whereas Church and Gipson entered 2018 with a combined 163 NFL starts, Harrison and Wilson will enter 2019 with a combined 10 starts. Still, the Jaguars are confident that their move to youth is a positive. A major reason for that is what they saw from Harrison in 2018. After being selected in Round 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft, he adapted quickly to the NFL and played with confidence and aggression while working at the big nickel spot early in the season – and after replacing Church at strong safety late in the season. Wilson, who originally signed with the Jaguars as a collegiate free agent following the 2016 NFL Draft, played mostly special teams in three seasons before starting two games late last season. Perhaps as pressing a question here as the experience of the starters is depth. Special teams ace Cody Davis has five NFL starts – all with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016 and 2017 – and the rest of the safety position has played a combined four NFL games. Unless the team addresses depth with a veteran between now and the start of the regular season, this position will open the season phenomenally young and inexperienced.

Sexton analysis: This might be the biggest question mark on the Jaguars’ roster in 2019. Church and Gipson are gone after patrolling the middle of the field together since 2017; in their places are the comparatively inexperienced Harrison and Wilson. Harrison took to the position so naturally and effortlessly that the defensive staff during last year’s training camp created the “big-nickel” package to get him on the field; whispers about his star potential built all season. He’s tall, long, athletic and played at Alabama – which prepared him to step into a starring role immediately. Gipson and cornerback Jalen Ramsey each spoke highly of him, which says a lot about his potential. Wilson is a big dude at 6-feet-2, 210 pounds. He played a lot late in the season when Harrison was dinged up and showed his abilities in Miami and Houston late in the season. He’s been a mainstay on special teams, but the front office saw enough of him on the field and in practice to offer him a three-year deal worth more than $7 million. Davis is the next safety off the bench – and though he signed to contribute to special teams, he has surprising speed to make up ground. He is the kind of heady veteran who can be counted on to do his job. Reavis was injured in the preseason in 2018 and didn’t get a chance to contribute on the field until Week 13. The former undrafted rookie has the size and instincts to earn a spot but has plenty to prove about his special teams abilities if he’s going to earn a job. They’ll keep four safeties – and this group admittedly is shallow and inexperienced. Harrison is going to be very good player, and if Wilson can be a consistent tackler in the middle of the field this group can hold up its end.

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