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The fact they have picked first in each of the past two drafts is all we need to emphasize the Jaguars have been a dumpster fire over the last two seasons. The Urban Meyer fiasco is behind them and at least they turned those disastrous seasons into some good young draft talent... we think.
Jacksonville made the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2020. We expect teams to struggle in their first season when making such a change but they are supposed to begin showing improvement in year two. The 2021 Jaguars were in the league's bottom half in virtually every important defensive category. They allowed the highest completion percentage in the league, were tied for 27th in sacks, only three teams gave up more rushing touchdowns, and their nine takeaways were five fewer than the Jets who finished 31st. It is safe to say they have a long way to go.
When Joe Cullen was first hired to take over the Jacksonville defense, he spewed all the same coach speak we are used to hearing from incoming defensive coordinators about how they were going to be multiple, use both three and four-man fronts, yadda-yadda. The reality is that we have not seen many four-man fronts from this group nor have we seen many variations on the three-man looks. Going forward, we can expect a lot of base 3-4 without much imagination.
The Jaguars' defensive line is built like the ones Cullen used to coach in Baltimore. There are no super-stars but they do have a deep collection of solid, hard-to-move contributors that will rotate regularly. In 2021, seven players saw action on at least 300 plays and it had little or nothing to do with injuries. Defensive ends Malcolm Brown and Dawuane Smoot were the only linemen to work on more than 49% of the snaps and Smoot saw some of his action as a linebacker
Jacksonville's linemen will have two-gap responsibilities much, if not most of the time. With two-gap assignments, a lineman's job is to hold ground at the line, soak up blockers to keep the linebackers clean and force the ball carrier to go around the pile. Penetration creates creases so by design, these guys are not going to regularly recreate disruption in the backfield or get a ton of pressure on the quarterback.
Malcom Brown and Davon Hamilton should see most of the action at nose tackle. Brown started at that spot last year and put up the best box score totals of the group. Playing roughly 61% of the snaps, Brown managed a respectable 30-26-2 and was the fantasy game's number 20 interior lineman. Those are very similar to the numbers Brown put up from 2015 to 2017 while with the Patriots and are about what we can expect as a ceiling for him. Consider him a decent DT2 without much upside.
Dawuane Smoot is listed as a defensive lineman on the team roster but it was Smoot that provided the most versatility last year. He saw some snaps as an outside linebacker but most of his work came on passing downs where he worked at defensive end in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks. At 264 pounds, Smoot is too small to consistently stay on the field on early downs in the base 3-4. The swing role netted him roughly a 61% share of the playing time and the second-most sacks on the team with six but his low tackle production of 22 solo and 14 assists did nothing to help his fantasy value. With the addition of rookie Trevon Walker at outside linebacker, Smoot could lose that sprinkling of edge rush opportunities, lowering his IDP potential even further. At this point, he is not a draft-day target but Smoot is a player to keep an eye on once the season starts, especially if there are injuries.
The rest of the defensive line rotation will consist of Davon Hamilton, Jay Tufele, Foley Fatukasi, Adam Gotsis, Roy Robertson-Harris, and Arden Key. Hamilton will see a good bit of action at nose tackle and has a shot at starting there. If he does start, I look for Tufele to be his backup and for Malcolm Brown to start at one of the defensive end spots. Fatukasi started for the Jets over the past two seasons and will likely land one of the jobs at end. Robertson-Harris and Gotsis are solid rotational guys that will have a significant rotational role at end. Arden Key is similar to Smoot in that he is not big enough to play defensive end in a 3-4 on every down. Coming off the best production of his career with six sacks for the 49ers, I see Key in a similar role to that of Smoot, seeing action on passing downs.
In summary, Jacksonville has good enough talent and scheme fit up front that the defensive line will not be the cause if they flounder again in 2022, but there is nothing here for IDP managers to get excited about.
- DE Foley Fatukasi – Marginal impact at best
- DE Roy Robertson-Harris – No impact expected
- DE Dawuane Smoot – No grand expectations but worth keeping an eye on
- DE Arden Key – Marginal impact at best
- DE Adam Gotsis – No impact
- NT Malcom Brown – Decent DT2 with little or no upside
- NT Davon Hamilton – Possible DT2 if he wins the starting nod
- NT Jay Tufele – No impact
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