The Jaguars' secondary, and defense as a whole, was dealt a major blow late in their victory over the Colts in week one. Starting free safety Jarrod Wilson suffered a hamstring injury and was subsequently placed on the team's Reserve/Injured list after the game. Wilson was a defensive captain and was playing strong football prior to his injury.
With Wilson out for at least the next three weeks, the Jaguars will need to figure out which backup gives them the best shot to hold up against the pass and the run in week two and beyond.
Andrew Wingard, the 2019 undrafted free agent, stepped in for Wilson during week one and came up with one of the plays of the game, intercepting a Philip Rivers pass in the fourth quarter. He's been a special teams stalwart during his time in Jax, but now might be thrust into a more prominent role on the defensive side of the ball. He earned the highest PFF grade of any safety in the league during week one, albeit on just 13 defensive snaps. In 2019, he played significant snaps at safety in just three games. He did a commendable job for a small school rookie making the jump to the NFL.
But Wingard isn't the Jaguars' only option.
Brandon Watson, the cornerback turned safety, had a very strong camp for the Jaguars in 2020. Watson, while on the shorter side at just 5'10'', brings plenty of athleticism to the table at safety and packs a punch. But with virtually no defensive experience in the NFL outside of training camp, inserting Watson, who is new to the safety position, into the starting lineup would be a risky proposition.
Daniel Thomas could be the dark horse here. While the rookie fifth-round pick from Auburn played mostly strong safety in college, he showed the ability to cover in zones down the field on tape. The Jaguars like what they have in him, but like Watson, he has less than ideal height at 5'10''. But Thomas more than makes up for it with his elite strength and athletic ability.
Some have also pointed out that cornerback Sidney Jones, the former second-round pick, who was recently promoted to the active roster, could also step in at free safety. There's little evidence, however, that Jones has the skill set or grasp of the Jaguars' defense to step into such a prominent role.
Wingard appears to be the Jaguars' best option from my point of view. He's got the most experience to lean on and hasn't appeared out of his league when forced into the lineup.
But Jaguars' head coach Doug Marrone feels confident in all of his options. I asked him if the team had a plan in place with Wilson out for at least the next few weeks.
"We've got a couple of guys that we feel good about," said Marrone. "Andrew (Wingard) went in there and played for him in the game. Brandon Watson has been a really good player for us; played corner and has been a really good special teams player for us. And Daniel Thomas is a guy that's been playing, so we feel, even going into the year, we felt like we had depth at that position" ... "we have confidence in them that they'll be out there, and they'll compete."
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