TUESDAY TAKE: JAGS HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH TALENT AT LB TO THRIVE WITHOUT TELVIN SMITH
The Telvin Smith saga has been one of the oddest sequences of events that I've ever seen transpire in Jacksonville. There will be plenty of time this offseason to continue discussing what's going on with him as a person. I truly do hope that he gets the help he needs to get his mind right.
But for now, I'd like to talk about the linebackers the Jaguars currently have at their disposal. The Jacksonville linebacker group sans Telvin Smith has more than enough talent to succeed on Sundays this fall.
Before diagnosing the Jaguars linebackers individually, it's essential to understand how the game is played, schematically, in our day and age. The middle linebacker (MIKE) and the weakside linebacker (WILL) are on the field for the Jaguars nearly every play. But the third linebacker, the strongside linebacker (SAM), sees much less playing time. Instead of deploying a strongside linebacker, the Jaguars will play a nickel cornerback the majority of the time. That means the SAM only sees about 20-30% of the snaps in a given game.
Now, let's take a look at the Jaguars linebackers.
Myles Jack is an above average starter, at the very least. He didn't make the jump in year three that many expected, but he was still a plus on the defensive side of the ball for the Jaguars. The great thing for the Jaguars when it comes to Jack is that he can play in the middle or on the outside. If the Jaguars want him to continue to be the defensive play-caller, they can leave him at MIKE. If the coaching staff wants him to fill Telvin Smith's vacated role at WILL, Jack can do that too. If he improves at all in year four, Jack will be playing at close to a Pro Bowl level.
Jack is the only Jags linebacker that's guaranteed to be on the field almost 100% of the time in 2019, but there's plenty of talent to go around at the other positions. In the Jaguars elect to move Jack outside, they've got the severely underrated Jake Ryan in the middle. Ryan missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL, but prior to his injury Ryan was a standout linebacker for the Packers in his third season in the league. Assuming he recovers fully from his knee injury, Ryan should be an easy player to slot in as the starting middle linebacker. He's a reliable tackler and is good enough in coverage to not be a significant liability.
If the Jaguars want to leave Myles Jack in the middle, then they've got Quincy Williams, the second of the Jaguars 2019 third round picks, who should be ready to compete in year one. Many may not have heard of him before the draft, but he's clearly got the skill set to thrive at WILL for the Jaguars. He's got the speed and overall athletic ability to get sideline to sideline, and he packs a punch when he arrives at the ball. Making the jump from Murray State to the NFL may take some adjusting, but Williams could earn playing time sooner rather than later. I have a strong feeling that he'll prove a lot of doubters wrong.
At SAM the Jaguars have Leon Jacobs, who played that role as a seventh-round pick in 2018 and played adequately. If he progresses at all, then he'll be plenty good enough to play meaningful snaps. But I think there's a different scenario that seems more likely for the Jaguars SAM linebacker position. The Jaguars first round pick, Josh Allen, has a lot of versatility. In college, he played off the ball quite a bit and showed excellent coverage and movement skills. If Allen has the stamina and mental makeup, I think he'll rarely come off the field for the Jaguars next year, playing with his hand in the dirt in clear pass rushing situations and operating as the SAM in base sets.
With Myles Jack, who can thrive both inside and outside, Jake Ryan, who can be a functional starter at MIKE, Quincy Williams, who can fill the WILL role, and Josh Allen/Leon Jacobs at SAM, the Jaguars have more than enough talent to thrive at linebacker without Telvin Smith. They've got versatility, and they've got options. The Jaguars added even more options after the draft, signing four linebackers in a two-day span. The team added Ramik Wilson, Najee Goode, DJ Alexander, and James Onwualu.
It seems that many are forgetting just how much of a liability Telvin Smith was on the field in 2018. It wouldn't take much for this group to be better than the Jaguars group was last year.
Don't be surprised when this group shines in 2019. You heard it here first.
Think I'm crazy? Agree with me? Let me know in the comments below!
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