The defense: A pre-draft look

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JACKSONVILLE – This side stayed relatively status quo.

That’s no surprise. We’re talking about the Jaguars’ defense, and not much was expected to change with that unit during the 2019 offseason.

Things have gone relatively as expected, with the only major changes a couple of longstanding veterans – defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Tashaun Gipson – being released for salary-cap reasons shortly before the March 13 start of the 2019 NFL League Year.

Aside from that, the core of a unit that finished fifth in the NFL in yards allowed last season returns – leaving the major question about the area just what the team might do to solidify for the future what in recent seasons has been a strong defensive front.

The guess here is that the Jaguars might address that area early in the 2019 NFL Draft. Aside from that, the likely moves for this defense appear to be about solidifying depth.

That’s what we’ll study in detail in this position-by-position look at the defense as the Jaguars move closer to the 2019 NFL Draft April 25-27:

Defensive ends (4)

2019 projected starters: Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell.

Others on roster: Lerentee McCray, Dawuane Smoot.

Offseason additions: None.

Offseason departures: None.

About the position: This continues to be one of the strengths of this team, with Ngakoue and Campbell forming perhaps the best defensive-end tandem in franchise history. The concern here is Campbell’s age – 33 next season – and the lack of depth at edge rusher behind Ngakoue. The Jaguars look very strong at defensive end so long as Campbell and Ngakoue are healthy. If not …

Possible first-round defensive ends/edge players: Nick Bosa, Ohio St; Josh Allen, Kentucky; Clelin Ferrell, Clemson; Jachai Polite, Florida; Zach Allen, Boston College; Brian Burns, Florida State; Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech; Montez Sweat, Mississippi State.

Chances of Jaguars selecting defensive end in Round 1: Relatively high.

Defensive end draft thoughts: The Jaguars seem likely to address this area in the draft because it’s a relatively thin area behind Campbell and Ngakoue, with McCray largely a special-teams ace and Smoot not yet fulfilling his third-round draft status from 2017. Another reason this area could be addressed on the draft: it’s a very, very good draft for edge rushers with as many as four or five projected in the Top 10. If an elite edge rusher is available when they select No. 7 overall in Round 1, it should be no surprise if the Jaguars use the pick on the position. That’s no guarantee that the Jaguars will address the area. But considering the numbers at the position – and considering the importance of pass rush – it makes sense.

Defensive tackles (6)

2019 projected starters: Marcell Dareus, Abry Jones/Taven Bryan.

Others on roster: Eli Ankou, Lyndon Johnson, Michael Hughes.

Offseason additions: None.

Offseason departures: Malik Jackson (released, Philadelphia Eagles).

About the position: Like defensive end, this is an area of strength. Dareus had a Pro Bowl-level season a year ago, then restructured his contract to ensure he will remain with the organization for at least one more season. Jones, the team’s most-tenured player entering his seventh season with the Jaguars, remains an underrated interior player and quality run defender; when he has been injured in recent seasons, the drop off against run has been noticeable. The key for this group this season will be the development of Bryan, who likely get starter-level snaps and who must fulfill the potential that made him a first-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Possible first-round defensive tackles: Quinnen Williams, Alabama; Ed Oliver, Houston; Rashan Gary, Michigan; Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State; Dexter Lawrence, Clemson; Dre'Mont Jones; Christian Wilkins, Clemson; Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame; Gerald Willis III, Miami (Fla.).

Chances of Jaguars selecting defensive tackle in first round: Relatively high.

Defensive tackle draft thoughts: This isn’t an immediate need, but Dareus’ high cap figure for 2020 means the Jaguars could theoretically select a tackle early in the draft. Making it more possible is the presence of a strong defensive tackle class. If a player such as Williams – a projected Top 5 talent – falls, the Jaguars may not be able to pass on him.

Linebackers (8)

2019 projected starters: Telvin Smith (weakside), Myles Jack (middle), Jake Ryan/Leon Jacobs (strongside).

Others on roster: Nick DeLuca, Christian Kuntz, Donald Payne, Blair Brown.

Offseason additions: Ryan (UFA, Green Bay Packers).

Offseason departures: None.

About the position: The Jaguars moved to bolster this position in free agency, signing Ryan from the Packers. He could strengthen the strongside position and could give the team depth in the middle. This area was solid last season, but not as dynamic as expected with Smith not matching the big-play-laden season that earned him Pro Bowl and second-team Associated Press All-Pro honors in 2017 and Jack not emerging as the Pro Bowl-level played many expected. This is a good area that must be better if the Jaguars are going to be the turnover-creating defense they were in 2017.

Possible first-round linebackers: Devin White, Louisiana State; Mack Wilson, Alabama; Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion; Devin Bush, Michigan.

Chances of Jaguars selecting linebackers in first round: Extremely low.

*Linebacker draft thoughts: *The Jaguars aren’t likely to select a linebacker early, though drafting depth and special-teams help at this spot always is a possibility.

Cornerbacks (6)

2019 projected starters: A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, D.J. Hayden (nickel).

Others on roster: Tre Herndon, Quenton Meeks, Breon Borders

Offseason additions: None.

Offseason departures: Tyler Patmon (UFA, unsigned).

About the position: Along with defensive end, this is the Jaguars’ strongest position on the team – and not just because Ramsey in his third season has established himself as perhaps the NFL’s best player at the position. While Bouye didn’t match his elite-level season from 2017, he remained a strong cover corner; if he can return to his 2017 form, the Jaguars again could have the NFL’s best cover tandem. Hayden missed six games last season with a toe injury but was a strong presence at nickel when healthy.

Possible first-round cornerbacks: Greedy Williams, Louisiana State; Deandre Baker, Georgia; Byron Murphy, Washington; Julian Love, Notre Dame; Kris Boyd, Texas; Trayvon Mullen, Clemson; Rock Ya-Sin, Temple; Justin Layne, Michigan State.

Chances of Jaguars selecting cornerback in first round: Extremely low.

Cornerback draft thoughts: The Jaguars appear unlikely to address this area in the draft. Not only do Bouye, Ramsey and Hayden form one of the NFL’s best trios at the position, the team also liked what it saw from Meeks and Herndon after signing them as collegiate free agents following the 2018 NFL Draft.

Safeties (4)

2019 projected starters: Ronnie Harrison, Jarrod Wilson.

Others on roster: C.J. Reavis, Cody Davis, Cody Brown.

Offseason additions: Brown (signed as free agent, spent 2019 season with Salt Lake of Alliance of American Football).

Offseason departures: Tashaun Gipson (released, Houston Texans).

About the position: No position on the defense has changed so much since the beginning of the 2018 season, with both ’18 Week 1 starters – Gipson and Barry Church – no longer with the team. Church was released with three weeks remaining in the season, while Gipson was released shortly before the beginning of the 2019 NFL League Year. Harrison showed star potential while playing in the team’s big-nickel package last season, while Wilson has played mostly on special teams in three seasons. The Jaguars’ re-signed Wilson before free agency began, and the team feels good about entering the season with Wilson/Harrison starting.

Possible first-round safeties: Johnathan Abram, strong, Mississippi State; Nassir Adderly, free, Delaware; Juan Thornhill, strong, Virginia; Deionte Thompson, free, Alabama; Taylor Rapp, free, Washington; Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, free, Florida.

Chances of Jaguars selecting safety in first round: Low.

Safety draft thoughts: The Jaguars likely will address safety somewhere in the draft, thought it would be a surprise if the move came in the first two rounds. A drafted safety likely would be a special teams players/reserve capable of playing both safety positions.

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