As we inch closer and closer to the 2018 season, I've been taking you around the Jaguars roster, previewing position by position. Today we'll look at our first position group on the defensive side of the ball, defensive end.
The Jaguars defensive end group was responsible for an absurd 36 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns in 2017.
Could they be even better in 2018?
Let's take a look!
The Starters: Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue
Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue combined to be, perhaps, the most dominant defensive end duo in football last season.
Calais Campbell, in his 10th NFL season and first with the Jaguars, took down opposing QBs 14.5 times in 2017 - a franchise and career best - to go along with three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one touchdown, and 67 tackles. His impact as a leader and as an big time performer on the field directly lead to the Jaguars defensive improvement in 2017. While Campbell was phenomenal for the Jaguars in his first year with the team, he did fade down the stretch last season in terms of sack production, recording just 3.5 sacks during the second half of the season and none during the Jaguars three game postseason run.
Yannick Ngakoue was the breakout star at the defensive end position last year, earning him a spot in the Pro Bowl and in the NFL Top 100 Players. In just his second year in the league, Ngakoue recorded 12 sacks, an NFL best six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a touchdown, and 30 tackles. He added another sack in the playoffs. His hunger and work ethic, along with his phenomenal skill set, were on display in 2017. At just 23 years old Ngakoue should continue to improve in 2018.
The Backups: Dante Fowler Jr., Dawuane Smoot, Taven Bryan, Lerentee McCray
The Jaguars backups at defensive end could be starters elsewhere around the league. They're that good.
Dante Fowler Jr., despite a bevy of off-field issues, had his best season as a pro in 2017. He recorded eight sacks in the regular season to go along with two in the AFC Championship game. He also forced two fumbles, a defensive touchdown, and 21 tackles. These numbers are truly impressive for a rotational pass rusher. Fowler wasn't all that consistent, but flashed regularly throughout the season. He just got slapped with a one game suspension and is dealing with an upper body injury that held him out of minicamp and OTAs. For a guy entering a contract season things have not gotten off to a good start for Dante, but time will tell how effective he is in 2018.
Dawuane Smoot, a third round pick by the Jaguars in 2017, is entering his second season as a pro. Despite being buried on the depth chart behind three highly productive pass rushers last season Smoot was able to show his value as a run defender when called upon. In 2018 he'll look to show that he can get it done as a pass rusher as well. His primary role is as a strong side defensive end, but to make a name for himself in "Sacksonville" he'll need to be able to do more than just stop the run. He could see a bigger opportunity in 2018 if Dante Fowler misses any time in training camp and should certainly see an uptick in reps during week one, while Fowler serves his suspension.
Taven Bryan, to the surprise of many, was selected by the Jaguars with the 29th overall pick in the 2018 draft. He's listed at DT on the team's official site, but has been training behind Calais Campbell at strong side defensive end. Coming out of the University of Florida Bryan was known as the "Wyoming Wild Man". He has some ridiculous physical traits. His combination of size, strength, and athleticism had scouts salivating throughout the draft process. But his on field play was less consistent than many would have liked. The Jaguars believe he'll be a better pro than he was a college player and with Calais Campbell schooling him up, they've got a good shot at being proven correct.
Lerentee McCray is another defensive end that is listed elsewhere on the roster. For some reason he's been listed as a linebacker since arriving in Jacksonville last offseason. His primary role is as a special teams player, but when his number is called on defense he has the ability to get after the passer, his one and a half sacks and one pass deflection despite an extremely limited role as evidence. He should be a lock to make the team again in 2018 and is a valuable, versatile backup for the Jags.
The Long Shots: Carrol Phillips, Hunter Dimick, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Darius Jackson, Lyndon Johnson
Carroll Phillips was the only one amongst this group to make the team last season. He appeared in four games but recorded no stats.
Hunter Dimick was an undrafted free agent by the Jaguars in 2017 after a statistically impressive career at Utah. He doesn't have the typical athleticism that NFL teams are looking for at the defensive end spot, but his work ethic could earn him another spot on the Jaguars practice squad in 2018.
Darius Jackson and Lyndon Johnson (what a name) are both undrafted rookies and will have a shot at making the Jaguars practice squad.
Kapron-Lewis Moore is entering his fourth NFL season and has been active for five games in his career. He could be nearing the end of his NFL journey.
Overall Grade: A
The Jaguars defensive end group combines talented veterans, rising stars, talented unproven youngsters, and a nice bit of depth. Campbell and Ngakoue might represent the best duo of pass rushers in football, while Fowler is one of the more productive rotational pass rushers in the game today. Dawuane Smoot and Taven Bryan are both highly talented backups that could make a name for themselves in 2018. It would be difficult to put together a better group than this one.
This group has the potential to be even more dominant in 2018 than they were in 2017.
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