JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars' defensive ends as the 2020 season approaches
Position: Defensive end.
Projected starters: Josh Allen, Yannick Ngakoue.
Others: K'Lavon Chaisson, Dawuane Smoot, Lerentee McCray, Aaron Lynch.
2020 offseason additions: Chaisson (first-round selection in 2020 NFL Draft), Lynch (unrestricted free agent, Chicago).
2020 offseason losses: Calais Campbell (traded to Baltimore for fifth-round selection in 2020 NFL Draft).
Offseason overview: The Jaguars didn't exactly overhaul this position in the offseason, but the major moves they made were as high-profile as possible. They first traded Campbell – a team captain and the team's leading sacker over the past three seasons – to the Ravens for a fifth-round selection, then selected Chaisson from Louisiana State No. 20 overall. They also re-signed McCray, one of the team's top special-teams players the past three seasons and added Lynch as a free agent.
Oehser analysis: It's probably best to call defensive end an "edge" position when analyzing the Jaguars entering 2020. Players such as Ngakoue, Allen and Chaisson will be listed as defensive end/linebacker and could all be playing standing up at times and with their hands on the ground at other times. Still, whatever position you call them – and even with the loss of Campbell – this remains the Jaguars' strongest position. While they will miss the three-time Pro Bowl selection's veteran presence and leadership, he wasn't the same player in 2019 as he had been the previous two seasons – and his loss on the field therefore not be as dramatic nor as impactful as many observers expect. Allen is the first reason the Jaguars should be able to withstand Campbell's loss; he is on his way to being one of the NFL's best edge defenders and could take a significant step forward in Year Two. The position's overall strength could depend largely upon Ngakoue. The guess here is he will play this season because the financial incentive to do so remains strong, but he hasn't yet signed the franchise tender the Jaguars placed on him; until he does, his status will remain uncertain. If Ngakoue indeed plays, he and Allen automatically form one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the NFL and there's little drop-off from previous seasons. If not, Chaisson – selected No. 20 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft – must make an impact something close to Allen's 10.5-sack rookie season last season. Those are a lot of questions and unknowns. The Jaguars need this area to play to its potential and raise the level of some lesser-talented and less-certain areas on defense.
Sexton analysis: What's interesting here is talent level remains insanely high – even after the Jaguars traded Dante Fowler Jr. and Campbell in recent years. Adding first-round picks Allen in 2019 and Chaisson in April to Ngakoue gives them potentially as good a group of pass rushers as there is in the AFC outside of those playing for the Los Angeles Chargers. "Potentially" is the critical word in the last sentence; we're not sure what Ngakoue is going to do in the fall, or how long it will take Chaisson to live up to his billing. Allen went to the Pro Bowl on the strength of his all-around performance last season, but it was the 10.5 sacks that has everyone excited at TIAA Bank Field. He looks like a special player. Chaisson is thought to be a perfect complementary piece to Allen with his blend of excellent size, athleticism and budding pass-rush instincts. The Jaguars' ability to develop those two players will tell the story over the next few seasons. Ngakoue is as good a pass rusher as there is in the game, but his lack of size leaves him out of the mega-dollar contract he wants. I don't expect him to report until the last few seconds on the clock this fall, but I also don't expect him to pass on the more than $17 million he's due on the franchise tag. If all three are willing and able, the Jaguars' pass rush should be lethal in 2020 – and that's before factoring in a much-improved Smoot, who managed a career-high six sacks last season. This is as good as the defensive end group has been since 2017; if Chaisson is as good as they expect, it might be the best group at the position in franchise history.