The Jaguars defense was, at times, marvelous in 2017. They broke numerous franchise records collectively and individually. But this is a team that had the potential to break NFL records, not just franchise records. The remarkable thing about the Jaguars defense isn't just how good they were, but how much room for improvement they actually have moving forward.
Yes. I'm saying the 2018 version of the Sacksonville defense should be even better than it was in 2017. That might not be a popular opinion, but to me it's the only logical one.
Aside: I also happened to predict the Jaguars defense being a top five unit last year and was promptly laughed at by much of Jacksonville.
So, why do I believe that the Jaguars defense should be better next season?
Let's start with their weaknesses.
In clear passing situations it was, at times, a weakness to have Paul Posluszny on the field. He can't play man and in zones teams can run crossers on him with ease. Posluszny is a fantastic human and a great football player, but he's no longer the middle linebacker that the Jaguars need. The NFL is an air out it league and Pos just isn't built for it. The Jaguars should move on from Posluszny, and while they will be losing a relentless run defender the Jaguars will also be eliminating a weakness. He's set to be an unrestricted free agent in March. That's one less area that opposing offensive coordinators and QBs will be able to target and exploit.
Another weakness? Consistency.
The Jaguars defense allowed point totals of 37, 30, 44, and 42. This team should never allow more than 30 points to be scored in a single game. They're just too talented for that.
So . . .
The Jaguars should be far more consistent on the defensive side of the ball in 2018. Just based off the sheer youth of the Jaguars defense, it's bound to grow more consistent as Jalen Ramsey (23), Yannick Ngakoue (22), Dante Fowler (23 - missed rookie season), and Myles Jack (22) enter their third season as professionals. All of those players were dominant, at times, in 2017. But each will likely take a step forward in the consistency department. Ramsey had mental lapses down the stretch. Ngakoue should continue to grow as a run defender and become more consistent pass rusher. Dante finally realized some of his potential last season and has a ton of momentum going into a season that is going to help define his career trajectory. Myles Jack will grow as a defensive signal caller and should be a much improved tackler. He missed far too many tackles just because he didn't wrap and complete the play.
That's not the only reason the Jaguars should find more consistency on defense . . .
They should also grow more consistent as the entire defense grows more familiar with each other. This defense had 5 new starters in 2017. Going into 2018 they'll have a full offseason together. Marcell Dareus has a good chance of having a dominant season. Now he'll have time to sink his teeth into this scheme and master his roll in it. In the secondary both AJ Bouye and Barry Church had impressive seasons, but both could be even better with another year of familiarity paired with Jalen Ramsey and Tashaun Gipson. Both Bouye and Church had head scratching moments in 2017.
The point is, there's a lot of reason to believe this team could and should be much more consistent on the defensive side of the ball in 2018.
In becoming more consistent I believe the Jaguars defense will have far fewer breakdowns throughout the season, which will lead to better overall numbers. With another full offseason together this defense will not be awful against the run for an entire half of the season. The Jaguars defense was largely a feast of famine type unit last season, but with a bit more consistency they can become a more balanced defense and avoid some of the lows they saw in 2017. This will lead to the Jaguars being number one in the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed.
But I also believe the Jaguars could have a more productive pass rush next season. Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue both came on very strong at the end of the season for the Jaguars. Ngakoue lead the NFL in strip sacks. Fowler had two sacks against the Patriots in the AFC Championship. Both of those players, with more consistency, could easily out produce their 2017 sack totals. Calais Campbell might take a step back in his sack totals, but I don't see him taking a major step backwards. He'll still likely flirt with or eclipse 10 sacks. Jackson, Dareus, and Jones in the middle will all get their fair share of pressure. Jackson has long wanted to get a 10 sack season (he had 8 sacks in 2017). Could this be the year?
The only "starter" besides Posluszny that has a chance of not being in Jacksonville next year is Aaron Colvin - the team's number one nickel corner. He's one of the better nickel guys in the league and is set to become a free agent. But the Jaguars have newly found cap space -- thank you, Blake Bortles and John Idzik -- that is more than enough to pay Aaron Colvin starter money. They should do so on a front loaded contract. John Oehser of Jaguars.com believes it's "very likely" that Colvin is back. Keeping Colvin would be huge for this team, but even if he isn't back the Jaguars have plenty of draft capital and a couple of potential replacements already on their roster.
Of course, none of this accounts for injury. The Jaguars were extremely fortunate on the defensive side of the ball last season. Starters barely missed any time. But even if a couple of guys go down this unit should have enough fire power and depth to continue to play at a high level.
The Jaguars could also have a tough time forcing more turnovers than they did in 2017. They averaged just over 2 turnovers per game. It's not an impossible number to beat, but even if they don't get the 33 takeaways that the 2017 unit did, they could still have a much better overall season.
What do you think? Can the Jaguars defense actually be better in 2018 than they were in 2017?
Let us know in the comments below.
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