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Quick Thoughts: Three positions to watch

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton (52) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton (52) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on three positions to watch entering the 2021 offseason …

Oehser …

1.Defensive line. If there is one obvious, overriding area to watch on the Jaguars' roster this offseason – outside of quarterback – it's the interior of the defensive line. The Jaguars were 2-14 over the final eight games of the last two seasons, and a big reason was teams figured out if they just continued to run right at a defensive line that lacked stoutness and depth, the Jaguars would eventually wear down defensively. That was particularly true as the last two seasons wore on. Rookie DaVon Hamilton showed flashes during a midseason starting stint this past season and there were good performances from rookie free agent Doug Costin. Overall, this feels like a position that could feature major offseason turnover. Look for the Jaguars to address this position in a big way, possibly making it a top priority in free agency and using one of their first four selections in the draft here.

2.Wide receiver. This is less obvious than tackle, but the thought here is that wide receiver could be a less-obvious – but equally important – area to watch entering the offseason. Yes, there is talent at the position with DJ Chark Jr. having made the Pro Bowl following the 2019 season and with Laviska Shenault Jr. flashing during a promising 2020 rookie season. But it remains to be seen how the Jaguars' new decision-makers will view the position. Is Chark a true No. 1? Or could they see the receiving corps as still needing a true No. 1, which would make Chark an outstanding "1a" and Shenault a very dangerous third option? The thought here is that the Jaguars could make a bigger move this offseason at receiver than many expect, and that the focus could be on making sure the addition adds speed to a talented group.

3.Cornerback. Safety is one major issue defensively, but corner is also an area to watch. CJ Henderson showed flashes as a rookie this past season, but he must be more consistent and healthier than he was in 2020. And while Sidney Jones IV played at a high level in six games as a starter, he missed six of the last seven games with an Achilles injury – and he will be an unrestricted free agent when the 2021 League Year begins in March. If the new decision-makers don't see Jones as a long-term option, the team could enter the offseason needing a No. 2 corner and a nickel corner – not to mention depth at a position where teams often need four and five quality players to navigate a season. The Jaguars invested huge capital here last offseason with the selection of Henderson, but an early draft selection and/or big free-agent money is more possible than perhaps some observers are currently thinking.


1.Safety. I remember watching Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers attack the middle of the Jaguars defense on the opening drive of the season and thinking, "This team has no one that can defend that third of the field." Every opposing quarterback in 2020 went after the Jags' safeties until Henderson and Jones were done for the year; then everyone, everywhere back there became a target. I wish we could have seen more from rookie safety Daniel Thomas, who was an impact player the moment he went into the lineup in Houston until the moment he intercepted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Jacksonville. He looks like a guy with the size and toughness to play up front and the range to roam down the field. Jarrod Wilson and Andrew Wingard are nice chess pieces and great special teams performers, so go and find another starter in free agency to pair with Thomas and you can solidify a spot; this passing era of professional football demands an answer in the middle of the secondary.

2.Defensive tackle. I'll spare you the numbers, but the Jaguars haven't stopped the run since Marcell Dareus went down in Cincinnati in 2019. Even then, they weren't as good as they were when Dareus and Malik Jackson were together in 2018. Hamilton, like Thomas, left the field too soon this past season. Before he did, he left a strong impression on people whose evaluation I trust. He's powerfully built, and he plays like a bulldozer in the middle of the line. He's also unusually quick and light on his feet, which showed in his ability to suddenly change direction and chase the play. Anything that Taven Bryan showed late in 2019 was non-existent in 2020; though they have Al Woods under contract, he isn't a known quantity and is a salary cap savings. The top of the draft doesn't seem stocked with defensive tackles, so depending on what you find in free agency you may be using the late-first and early-second round picks on one or more of those guys who are there. The linebackers are a good group but could become a very good group with good, big guys in front of them.

3.Tight end. Everyone loves the tight end, me included. I've been a fan of the position going back to the St. Louis football Cardinals in the 1970s. Something about the ability to knock a defender off the ball in the run game on first down then catch a pass down the seam on third caught my attention. We haven't had that guy in Jacksonville since Marcedes Lewis left in 2018, and even he wasn't the same guy at that point he had been earlier in his career. I hold out some hope for Josh Oliver, who hasn't been on the field the last two years but sure looks like a guy who can be this team's future. I wouldn't let my hopes rule the day, I would hedge those with either a Hunter Henry-type via free agency or a rookie somewhere early on Day Two of the draft. I don't see Florida tight end Zach Pitts in teal, but the next best tight end would be nice.

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