JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton examine the Jaguars’ defensive tackle position in this look at the ’18 offseason
Position: Defensive tackle.
2017 starters: Malik Jackson, Abry Jones.
*2017 reserves: *Marcell Dareus, Eli Ankou.
*Others: *Michael Bennett, Kapron Lewis-Moore.
*2017 at a glance: *This was a strong area that got stronger with the mid-October addition of Dareus, who was acquired from the Buffalo Bills for a sixth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Jackson made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career, finishing his second season with the Jaguars with a career-high eight sacks and four forced fumbles with three passes defensed. Dareus played at or near a Pro Bowl level late in the regular season and throughout the playoffs, splitting time at nose tackle with Jones – the later of whom remained in the starting lineup after the Dareus trade and remained a key part of the Jaguars’ rotation along the defensive front.
*Offseason storyline: *As is the case for the defensive-end position, this seems likely to be a quiet area for the Jaguars this offseason. There likely will be no major additions – and the collective strength of Jackson, Dareus and Jones make any major releases at this spot seem unlikely. Jackson is under contract four more seasons, and he would count $6 million if released this offseason. Dareus has a similarly high cap figure – and both Jackson and Dareus played at a high enough level that they appear critical parts of the line at least through the 2018 season. Jones signed a four-year contract last offseason, meaning the Jaguars’ top three players at this position this past last season figure to remain the top three in 2018.
*Free agents as of March 14: *None.
*Oehser analysis: *The Jaguars’ defensive tackles already were good at the start of the 2017 season; they became a team strength – and a difference-making area – with the midseason acquisition of Dareus. His presence made Jackson and Jones better, but most significantly was he perhaps was even better and more dominant than the team expected when they acquired him. Dareus as a former No. 3 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft is a player of rare physical gifts for the defensive tackle position, and he played up to his potential throughout the second half of the season and in the playoffs. While there was brief speculation among observers that Dareus’ acquisition could lead to Jackson being released in the offseason, that speculation seemed premature after Jackson turned in a dominant second half of the season. The Jaguars’ front-line trio here is as strong as they have at any position; while the team could draft a player here in the later rounds, expect no major moves at this position.
Sexton analysis: The Jaguars seem set at defensive tackle for the foreseeable future. Jackson is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and was both dominant and dynamic throughout 2017; he truly earned his 2016 mega-contract, which isn’t something you often say about big-dollar free agents. Dareus showed up in Jacksonville in October; immediately his presence was felt. The Jags gave up 138 yards rushing per game without him in the first half of the season and held teams to an average of 98 yards a game with him in the second. If his numbers don’t dazzle you, turn on the tape. He owned the middle of the line in all three playoff games and was the dominant Dareus who went to Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro early in his career in Buffalo. Jones benefited from Dareus’ arrival; he didn’t have to play more than 15-to-20 snaps per game, which allowed him to stay fresh and be much more effective than he was without Dareus. Ankou played situationally, Bennett was going to before a season-ending Week 2 injury – though neither is anything greater than a few snaps here or there in relief of the Big Three or in case of injury. The Jaguars could look for a young tackle late in the draft but it would have to be a value pick.