In this series, I've graded the Jaguars' safeties and offensive tackles; the groups earned C and C- grades, respectively. Today, I'll break down a position room that should expect a fair amount of improvement in 2020.
It's time to grade the Jaguars' defensive tackles.
It's important to understand that the Jaguars' defensive scheme usually features a 3-tech defensive tackle — a position designed to create penetration in the B-gap between the offensive guard and tackle — and a 1 or 2-tech defensive tackle — a player that's expected to be a space-eater in between the center and offensive guard. Of course, the Jaguars will be multiple with their fronts in 2020, but the primary alignment for their defensive tackles will be as I described above.
Who will fill these roles for the Jaguars?
Entering his third year in the NFL, former first-round pick Taven Bryan will take on a full-time starting gig for the first time in his young career. Coming out of the University of Florida, Bryan was touted as a raw player with massive upside due to his supreme strength and explosiveness. There have certainly been flashes of that type of potential during Bryan's first two seasons, and down the stretch in 2019, when Bryan earned more and more playing time, he performed at a high level. Now, Bryan will be the starting 3-tech in Todd Wash's defense. He'll be tasked with blowing up and rerouting runners in the backfield, but his most important job will be to create pressure against opposing QBs. I expect Bryan to have a breakout of sorts in 2020. It's not always easy to understand a DT's impact on a given game by breaking down the box score. More film study is generally required to know how well or poorly a DT is playing. Based on Bryan's film over the last quarter of the 2019 season, he projects to play well in his new role as a starter. Even though the Jaguars' defense as a whole played poorly against the run, it was rarely due to a mistake from Bryan. In fact, many of the long runs allowed by the Jaguars in 2019 were when Taven was on the bench. He'll be tested early in 2020 as the Jaguars take on Quenton Nelson and the Colts in week one. Bryan has all the physical tools to become one of the premiere 3-techs in football.
Next to him, Al Woods will likely take the reigns as the starting run-stuffing defensive tackle. Woods comes over from Seattle, where he was a reliable defender against the run. It's easy to see why: at 6'4'' and 330-pounds, Woods is an absolute ox. He's physical, strong, and understands how to take on multiple offensive linemen at a time. At 33 years old, Woods is more of a stop-gap replacement for Marcell Dareus (who missed most of 2019 due to a core muscle injury), than a long-term replacement. But Woods should do more than enough as a run-stuffer for a defense that desperately needs to improve against the run in 2020.
The defensive tackle group has some nice depth as well. Dave Caldwell brought over Rodney Gunter from Arizona this offseason. Gunter should be able to play multiple roles along the defensive front for the Jags. He's never been a high snap count guy, but Gunter can adequately slow down the run and get after opposing QBs. He's a pro's-pro that will help the Jaguars' depth and versatility in 2020.
Abry Jones is well versed in this defense and is the longest-tenured Jaguar. Jones had a down year in 2019, as much of the Jaguars' defense did, but he's a solid pro who can get the job done against the run. He should enjoy a bit of a bounce-back in his age 29 season.
The Jaguars also added DaVon Hamilton to the mix in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He's a bit of a one year wonder when it comes to elite production, but Hamilton had solid reps earlier on his career before breaching the starting lineup for the Buckeyes. Hamilton was more productive than either Javon Kinlaw or Derrick Brown in 2020 and has many similarities to Al Woods in his game. But Hamilton does possess a bit more pass-rush upside than Woods.
The Jaguars will likely also work Dawuane Smoot into the middle in clear passing situations, where he can use his speed and athleticism to sneak past heavy-footed interior offensive lineman.
Beyond the players I've already broken down, a couple more guys will be fighting for roster spots. Dontavius Russell was a seventh-round selection by the Jaguars in 2019 but failed to make an impact on the field in his rookie year. Brian Price (third-year pro) and Doug Costin (rookie) will also compete to stay on the roster.
The Jaguars defensive tackles may not have much star power entering the 2020 season, but there is plenty of talent, depth, and versatility. Taven Bryan should be expected to produce in his third year, while Al Woods should routinely clog lanes next to him. They make for a solid pair of starting defensive tackles in the Jaguars' defensive scheme. With Rodney Gunter, DaVon Hamilton, Abry Jones, and even Dawuane Smoot on passing downs, the Jaguars have a talented defensive tackle room. With all the depth and experience, it's difficult for me to predict a negative impact on the Jaguars' season from this group. If Taven Bryan plays with just a tad bit more consistency, this could be one of the better defensive tackle rooms in the AFC. At the very worst, this is a group that will be stout against the run and allow the edge rushers and linebackers to be playmakers in the passing game.
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