Welcome to the first installment of our 2021 offseason positional previews! We're kicking things off with the Jaguars' safeties. The Jaguars' safety room looks fairly different than it did at this time just a year ago, but some familiar faces are still here.
Jaguars' head coach Urban Meyer and defensive coordinator Joe Cullen have repeatedly talked about the need for versatility from their safeties, and it appears they've found that versatility with this group as it is currently constructed.
Andre Cisco, 6'0", 209 lbs., 21 years old
Rudy Ford, 6'0", 204 lbs., 26 years old
Rayshawn Jenkins, 6'1", 220 lbs., 27 years old
Josh Jones, 6'2", 220 lbs., 26 years old
Daniel Thomas, 5'10", 215 lbs., 22 years old
Jarrod Wilson, 6'2", 210 lbs., 27 years old
Andrew Wingard, 6'0", 209 lbs., 24 years old
Last year the Jaguars entered the regular season with Jarrod Wilson and Josh Jones as their starters at safety. Both players are still on the roster, but neither project to be starters. At least not for long.
Jarrod Wilson has the best shot of the Jaguars' 2020 starters to keep the same role moving into 2021. Wilson is a steady presence at free safety who's reasonably reliable in pass coverage and sturdy against the run. Over the last two seasons, Wilson has 148 tackles, eight tackles for loss, eight QB pressures, and seven passes defended. He established himself as a leader on the defensive side of the ball in 2020. Wilson appears to be more of a steady eddy type than a real difference-maker at safety, which is okay. 2021 is a contract year for Wilson, so we could see his best effort yet, but he'll have plenty of competition for the starting job.
Josh Jones signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars in 2020 and throughout training camp played his way into a starting job as the Jaguars elected to trade away Ronnie Harrison just before the regular season. The former second-round pick struggled mightily in coverage last season and was outplayed by rookie Daniel Thomas down the stretch. The new regime in Jacksonville elected to bring Jones back in March of this year. He made some standout plays during OTAs, but Jones has been inconsistent during his time in the NFL and should be viewed as more of a depth piece at this point in time.
The Jaguars signed unrestricted free agent Rayshawn Jenkins to a four-year, $35 million deal this offseason, all but ensuring that he'll have a spot in the starting lineup. The former Charger has experience in split zone coverage, single high, in the box, and covering the slot. His versatility, leadership, and playmaking ability made him an attractive free agent for the Jaguars this spring. At 27 years old, Jenkins has four years of experience and served as a starter for the Chargers from 2019-2020. During his two seasons as a starter, Jenkins recorded 138 tackles, eight passes defended, eight QB pressures, sevens tackles for loss, five interceptions, and one sack in 31 games. The Jaguars' coaching staff values his versatility and leadership. While Jenkins can do a lot on the field, he doesn't do any of it at a consistently elite level. He should be a quality defender who will be mostly reliable but won't necessarily excel in any one area of the game. He'll make his fair share of impressive plays. He possesses good size and length for the position.
Andre Cisco, the top selection in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, is coming off an ACL tear but should be 100% in time for the start of training camp. First things first — there's no denying Cisco's ability to make game-changing plays. As a freshman at Syracuse, he picked off seven passes and forced a fumble. The following season he intercepted five more balls and forced another fumble. He played just over one game in 2020 before going down with an ACL tear but still managed an interception. His ball-hawking ability is undeniable, as is his range. Cisco will need to play more disciplined and be more consistent in pursuit at the next level, but there are plenty of high-level moments from Cisco making bone-jarring hits on ball carriers. How quickly he can crack the starting lineup will depend on the health of his knee and his development in the mental side of the game. Cisco will likely earn playing time early and should be starting next to Rayshawn Jenkins before seasons' end.
Daniel Thomas is the wild card of the group. A 2020 fifth-round pick, Thomas is short in stature but is an elite athlete for the position. He's fast and explosive. He started over 30 games at Auburn and was a reliable playmaker as a split zone safety and rolling downhill in the box. After injuries ahead of him on the depth chart in 2020, Thomas entered the starting lineup and made the most of his opportunities, showing some playmaking ability with an interception. Still, Thomas isn't likely to beat out Rayshawn Jenkins, Andre Cisco, or Jarrod Wilson for a significant role in this defense in 2021, but he'll provide solid depth.
Rudy Ford and Andrew Wingard figure to be fighting for special teams jobs. The Jaguars signed Ford to a two-year deal worth $4.2 million with a team out after 2021 this offseason. Wingard is a former undrafted free agent and hold over from the previous regime. Neither should be expected to find the field often on defense unless there's attrition ahead of them on the depth chart.
I expect Rayshawn Jenkins, Jarrod Wilson, and Andre Cisco to see by far the most defensive snaps from this group. Jenkins and Wilson are both veteran leaders that have positional versatility. If Wilson regains his form from early in 2020, he may be able to hold off Andre Cisco for a time.
This group appears to have a solid baseline of play as both Rayshawn Jenkins and Jarrod Wilson can perform at a reasonable level as starters. The real upside here comes from Cisco. If he is fully recovered for training camp and can master his role in the defense, the young safety could become an impact player for the Jaguars early on, thanks to his speed and penchant for creating turnovers.
I'd give this group a C+ with the potential to have a ceiling in the B range in 2021. The added talent and depth at the cornerback position should also help the Jaguars' safeties. As for their defensive scheme, they'll be tasked with filling many roles, including split zone, man coverage, and run defense. They'll certainly be allowed to attack more than they were under the previous coaching staff.
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