The NFL season is rapidly approaching, at least if everything goes according to plan. COVID still looms large, but NFL training camps are likely to begin in late July, as they regularly do. There's no clear plan for the preseason yet, but the NFL's regular season is set to kick off in early September.
There's not a ton of football news at the moment. With that in mind, I'm going to give the Jaguars a grade for each of their position groups.
We'll start with the last line of defense, the safeties.
The Jaguars have two returning starters at the safety spot. Jarrod Wilson, the Jags' starting free safety, and Ronnie Harrison, their starting strong safety both figure to assume those same roles when the 2020 regular season commences. One key factor to keep in mind when evaluating these safeties is that the Jaguars don't use them as a traditional defense would. Instead, both safeties are asked to be versatile. They need to be able to hang with tight ends, slot receivers, and runnings backs in coverage while also being able to lay the wood in run defense. They're also tasked with covering deep and intermediate zones. Instead of having one coverage specialist and one run-stopper, the Jaguars ask both safeties to be well-rounded in their responsibilities.
At strong safety, Ronnie Harrison enters his third NFL season and second full season as the starter. The former third-round pick has plenty of skill. When he's playing at his best, Harrison is a strong tackler with excellent athleticism and a nose for the football. He also possesses above-average coverage ability, especially for a strong safety. The problem with Harrison is there is a vast chasm in the level of play between his peaks and valleys. At his best, Harrison has Pro Bowl ability. At worst, he can look a bit lost on the field. In 2019, he was an asset for the Jaguars more often than not but still had some glaring poor tape throughout the season. If Harrison can become a more consistent player in his third season, he could vault the Jaguars' safety group to another level. But if inconsistencies remain prevalent, it'll be another frustrating year for the Jaguars' safeties.
Jarrod Wilson is more of a steady eddy. He doesn't make a ton of standout plays on the field but won't get burned too often. He had a few slip-ups here and there — see the first half of the Jaguars' win over the Raiders — but he's not going to lose you many games. The former undrafted free agent is entering his second season as the starting free safety. His length and football instincts are his best assets, while he's somewhat limited athletically for the position.
Behind Harrison and Wilson, Andrew Wingard enters his second year in the league. He was a long shot to make the team as a UDFA in 2019, but his special teams ability made an impression. Wingard was forced into action when Harrison missed some time last year, and he performed admirably given the circumstances. He's likely to keep a spot on the roster due to his special teams value alone.
Two intriguing rookies from the SEC will also have a shot to make their mark. Daniel Thomas, the Jaguars' fifth-round pick out of Auburn, and JR Reed, the UDFA from Georgia, both have a wealth of starting experience at the highest level of college football.
Daniel Thomas is a thumper and believes he can be one of the best strong safeties in the game, but he's limited by his length. Still, in a role where he can roam close to the line of scrimmage and cover in shallow zones, Thomas could excel at the next level, thanks to his athleticism and instincts. He wasn't tested much in deep zones at Auburn, so it remains to be seen if he can succeed down the field in the NFL. Thomas should also succeed as a core special teamer.
JR Reed went undrafted, but I had him graded as a fifth-rounder heading into the 2020 NFL Draft. Reed is a bit more well-rounded than Thomas. While Thomas has a clear role he can thrive in, Reed has shown the ability to drop back in coverage and make plays on the ball. He has a mean streak as a tackler but often overextends himself and gets out of position. Reed will compete to be the last safety on the roster.
Doug Middleton, a third-year pro, and Josh Jones, a fourth-year man, round out the Jaguars' depth at safety. Neither has the inside track to make the roster, but anything is possible with a strong camp.
Overall, the Jaguars' safety group is average. There should be a reasonable amount of enthusiasm for Ronnie Harrison, who can thrust himself into the conversation as one of the better overall safeties in football in 2020. But he'll need to raise his floor in order to do so. Jarrod Wilson isn't going to dazzle you, but he's also not going to be the reason you lose. When it comes to depth, there's reason to be encouraged with Andrew Wingard, Daniel Thomas, and JR Reed in the fold.
Grade: 75 C
There's room for this group to grow, but it all comes down to Ronnie Harrison's development. And if Jarrod Wilson could become just a hair more consistent, he could solidify his standing as a starting safety in the NFL. Before they can be considered a real asset to this team, we need to see more from Harrison and co.
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