The NFL Draft is almost here. After a free agency period in which the Jacksonville Jaguars prioritized value, versatility, and filling holes on the roster, it will now have the luxury of being able to select the best player available with each of its ten draft picks.
With that said, there are still position groups that need an injection of talent more than others- here are our rankings of what Jacksonville’s biggest draft priorities should be on the defensive side of the ball.
After quarterback and tight end, a playmaking defensive back may be what Jacksonville needs the most. Safeties Jarrod Wilson and Rayshawn Jenkins won’t make many mistakes and are dependable starters but haven’t proven to be difference-makers either. Sidney Jones allowed the seventh-fewest yards per coverage snap in the slot (among 50 qualifying players, per PFF) when he last played nickel full-time back in 2018 for Philadelphia, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for Jacksonville to look for an upgrade there as well.
One of the many reasons to be excited about the 2021 NFL Draft is that it will provide insight into how the Jaguars coaching staff envisions its personnel and schemes, and if defensive coordinator Joe Cullen does in fact mold his defense after Baltimore’s, dime packages and three-safety sets could be common in Jacksonville- which is why the Jaguars should add talent to the position even with the aforementioned depth and sophomore Daniel Thomas waiting in the wings.
TCU product Trevon Moehrig has been the most-mocked player at 25th overall for the Jaguars (per Grinding the Mocks), but there are also plenty of exciting options at safety on Day 2 including Javon Holland, Richie Grant, and Andre Cisco. Players who could fit in as slot corners/box safeties include potential values like Aaron Robinson or Shaun Wade.
Even after adding approximately 27 players to the defensive line in free agency, it will still be a position group to focus on for Jacksonville come draft weekend. The new regime did a commendable job adding depth, versatility and upside with players like Roy Robertson-Harris, Malcom Brown, and Jahid Ward; but again, there are no clear difference-makers at the position and talent will continue to be added.
Brown and 2020 third-round pick Davon Hamilton make up a strong rotation at nose tackle, but prospects who can play across from opposing guards and tackles will be at the top of the list for Jacksonville later this month. Christian Barmore, Daviyon Nixon and Levi Onwuzurike are all strong second-round options, and Milton Williams out of Louisiana Tech could be a steal a round or two later.
Whether Jacksonville prioritizes interior run defense, considering the type of offenses that Indianapolis and Tennessee have built, or pass rush, considering the trajectory of the rest of the league, will be another factor to watch.
This position may be slightly more complete than many believe, as Joe Giles-Harris made a case for playing time with solid play last season and Ward may be used at outside linebacker as much as defensive end, and 2020 first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson showed improvement throughout his rookie campaign- but it’s clear that added talent alongside 2019 Pro Bowler Josh Allen would be welcoming.
The 2021 edge class is unique in that there are no freaks of nature prepared to dominate from day one- it looks like this will be the first draft since 2012 that didn’t feature an edge rusher selected in the top-five overall.
However, there are still plenty of versatile, high-upside players available that could bolster the edge of Jacksonville’s defense. Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari would be a slam dunk should he fall to pick 25, as his command against the run would fit nicely next to Chaisson’s pass-rushing ability, while Rashad Weaver and Quincy Roche are options to look for later in the draft.
The Jaguars’ strongest current position group is likely off-ball linebacker, as Myles Jack was playing at an All-Pro level before an ankle injury in Week 4 and former Pro Bowler Joe Schobert will look to keep the momentum of improving play from the second half of last season into his second season with the organization. The team also recently signed Damien Wilson, who started all but three games in the past two seasons for Kansas City, and still have a high-ceiling project in Quincy Williams plus a special teams contributor Shaquille Quarterman.
Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah would be an intriguing first-round pick should he fall to the Jaguars due to his explosiveness and versatility, and Georgia’s Monty Rice is an aggressive inside linebacker who Cullen could use in situational packages who will be available a few rounds later.
Again, it’s difficult to project Jacksonville’s draft plans considering its defensive blueprint is not yet fully public, but its priorities should likely be centered on adding an explosive defensive back and then searching for value to fill out the rest of the roster.