One of the Jaguars' position groups that massively underperformed in 2019 was the linebackers. A unit that featured starters Myles Jack (MIKE), Leon Jacobs (SAM), and Quincy Williams (WILL), struggled to fill rushing lanes and was severely outmatched in coverage. As a group, those three allowed 70/84 passes to be completed in coverage and missed a combined 27 tackles.
Of the three, Leon Jacobs was the only one to have an impressive overall season in 2019. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the SAM position only exists in base downs, and the team is in nickel more often than not. So Jacobs only saw 325 snaps.
Quincy Williams was particularly terrible. Can you blame him? A rookie strong safety from Murray State thrust into an NFL starting lineup at a new position isn't ideal. But that's what can happen when a player like Telvin Smith decides to retire during the offseason. Williams struggled to process the speed of the game and had one of the worst seasons that a Jaguars' defender has had in some time.
Myles Jack also struggled. Fresh off a shiny new contract worth over $14M per year, Jack had his worst season as a pro. To be fair, he was trying to play hero ball far too often. Quincy Williams was often out of place and missing assignments. After a couple of games, Jack began trying to do too much on the field, and as you might have guessed, his play suffered. After excelling in a role that saw Jack playing SAM on base downs and MIKE in the nickel in 2017, he's struggled to adjust to playing middle linebacker full time. Jack was much better in 2018, with Telvin Smith at his side, but 2019 was flat out ugly at times.
So, how should the Jaguars handle their linebacker group this offseason?
First things first, I'd let Quincy Williams take on a backup role on base downs this year. Let him learn how to defend the run from the safety of the sidelines and see if he can compete for a starting job in 2021.
Leon Jacobs remains a quality SAM linebacker and is still on his rookie deal. He's young, affordable, and a good ballplayer. I'd likely let him keep his job as the starting SAM linebacker.
Now, to Myles Jack — he is one of the most talented players on the team and perhaps the most physically gifted linebacker in the game right now. The Jaguars need to let him loose in 2020. Allow him to play his most natural position on base downs as a weakside linebacker and put him in the middle in nickel situations. Some might argue that Jack shouldn't be thrust into yet another position, but he played WILL in college and it should be a natural move. Everything that Jack does well works with what the WILL position is asked to do in Todd Wash's defense.
So, with Jack on the weakside and Jacobs on the strongside on base downs, the Jaguars just need to add a base middle linebacker. Someone that can get the team lined up and ready to go against the run AND be an enforcer.
There are plenty of candidates for this role in both free agency and the draft. Danny Trevathan is 34 years old but could be the perfect fit to be a base down linebacker that knows how to get everyone around him lined up properly. Trevathan has proven to be a staunch run defender throughout his career and could be a nice stop-gap for a team looking to win now.
Other free agents like Wesley Woodyard, Corey Littleton, and Nigel Bradham, could make sense. The Jaguars should attempt to add a veteran here because to be the proverbial "QB of the defense" is a big responsibility. For a team that desperately needs to clean up their run defending deficiencies from 2019, having a guy that's been there and done that would be a major boon.
But the Jaguars shouldn't stop there. They should also add a talented middle linebacker to develop behind their veteran free agent signing. On the first day of the draft, Dave Caldwell could target Patrick Queen or Kenneth Murray to fill that role. Later on, players like Malik Harrison or Evan Weaver would make a lot of sense.
The Jaguars should also retain one of their depth players at linebacker. Both Donald Payne (restricted free agent) and DJ Alexander (unrestricted free agent) are serviceable backups. Both also excel on special teams. The Jaguars should brick back at least one of them.
MLB - Veteran Free Agent
WLB - Myles Jack
SLB - Leon Jacobs
In nickel situations:
Myles Jack + whichever linebacker proves they aren't terrible in coverage.
Alternatively, the Jaguars could move Jack back to SAM in base and MIKE in the nickel. This would move Jacobs to a reserve role but then would require the offseason additions of a base down MIKE and a WILL. I'd role with the option that requires me to only add one new starter in the offseason.
Another alternative (that I'm not in favor of)? The Jaguars could leave Myles Jack at middle linebacker and simply add a weakside linebacker this offseason. I think the Jaguars limit Jack by keeping him at MIKE, but he wasn't terrible there in 2018. With a competent WILL next to him in base, he could potentially improve in the middle.
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