For the Jaguars to flip the proverbial switch in 2020, they will need several of their young contributors to become more reliable.
In particular, Jacksonville could use breakout seasons from the first two defenders they selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Jaguars first-round pick from that draft class, Taven Bryan, was quietly one of the Jaguars’ biggest playmakers on a per snap basis in 2019 and will need to carry over his success into a bigger role in ‘20.
The second defensive player the Jaguars added via the 2018 draft? Ronnie Harrison.
The versatile safety from Alabama inexplicably fell to the third round, as less talented safeties like Terrell Edmunds and Tracy Walker went before Ronnie Harrison.
The selection of Harrison was a bit of a luxury for the Jaguars at the time — they had two quality starters in Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church. But declining returns from Church saw Harrison find the field during his rookie year, and he eventually took over the starting job in week 13, only to suffer a season-ending injury two weeks later.
Entering 2019, Harrison was a player who many believed would take a leap to become a quality starting safety. But as was the case for many Jags’ defenders in 2019, consistency was an issue.
Harrison had some standout performances for the Jaguars last season, but he also had his fair share of stinkers. The second-year safety struggled out of the gates, picking up three penalties in the first three games of 2019, and was a bit of a liability in coverage. But over the course of the season, Harrison’s play improved. In 14 games, the young safety picked up 71 tackles, nine passes defended, two interceptions, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. In the two games Harrison missed due to injury, the Chargers and the Buccaneers moved the ball against Jacksonville’s defense with ease.
Expectations should be relatively high for the former All-SEC safety. Entering his third year as a pro and second full season as a starter, Harrison’s ability and experience should allow him to become a more consistently impactful defender. The talent in front of Harrison won’t hurt either. Having Joe Schobert at middle linebacker and Myles Jack on the outside should help the entire defense play with more cohesion. With Al Woods and DaVon Hamilton clogging up rushing lanes, Harrison should be able to move more freely towards the ball. His versatility is key for the Jaguars, as they don’t utilize the traditional strong and free safety roles, rather Todd Wash deploys two safeties that can both play the run and the pass. He’s shown the propensity to be a playmaker, but as I said before, he needs to eliminate the low valleys in between the high peaks of his play.
Where specifically can Ronnie Harrison improve?
He has proven to be a strong tackler, but at times his angles and anticipation have been lacking in run support. If he could clean up the mental side of things just a bit, that would help. In coverage, Harrison has certainly been above-average, but a few more big plays here and there would really enhance his value.
At 23 years old, Harrison will be playing in the second-to-last year of his rookie contract in 2020. A breakout campaign could see his value rise greatly. And with a plethora of cap space set to be available to the Jaguars in 2021, Harrison could be a candidate for an early extension if he develops the way the coaching staff expects him to in the upcoming season.
“I think he’s (Ronnie Harrison) someone that just needs to keep continuing on the path he’s going,” said Jaguars’ head coach Doug Marrone. “And he can be — he is a good player for us now — but he has the ability, if he keeps working hard, to be an excellent player in this league.”
I tend to agree with Marrone. Hard work on and off the field will allow Harrison to develop into one of the better do-it-all type safeties in the NFL today. Make no mistake — he’ll need to put in the work to take the next step.
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