We next have the problem's with our defensive line. At times, when our defense was healthy, we made real progress stopping the opponents run game. Our franchise hasn't had an effective pass defense since 2011 when were the ranked 8th best pass defense and this trend has prohibited us from competing with the elite teams who have high powered passing offenses. The Jaguars defensive line made a secondary devoid of playmakers much worse because we could not consistently affect the opponents quarterback. Dave Caldwell said in a press conference on Thursday, that if he had his way in free agency we would have “an influx of pass rushers.” The free agent pool for successful pass rushers is deep, and even with Dante Fowler Jr. expected to come back next season the Jaguars still simply need to add more talent at the position. Here are a few names that the Jaguars could pursue in free agency this offseason.
Defensive End/ Leo Free Agents
Von Miller (DEN)
Oliver Vernon (MIA)
Bruce Irvin (SEA)
Aldon Smith (OAK)
Muhammad Wilkerson (NYJ)
Jason Pierre Paul (NYG)
Greg Hardy (DAL)
William Hayes (LA)
First, it’s important to preface a discussion of the draft by noting that, like the secondary prospects, the 2016 Defensive Line draft class is loaded and is as deep as it’s been in many years. It would not be a stretch to say that at least five to seven defensive line players could be taken in the first round. That being said, if the Jaguars do decide to take a player in the secondary at five, a quality defensive line prospect could be found early in the second round. Let’s start with the Defensive Tackle position.
Defensive Tackles projected in the first round:
A’Shawn Robinson (ALA)*
Robinson had a great year, being an integral part of Alabama’s championship defensive line. Robinson, who is 312 pounds, is large enough to stop the run and and is also able to rush the passer effectively, making him a clear first round prospect. Robinson had average stats on the season but shared reps with Jarran Reed (another first rounder), and the deepest defensive line in college football, the Crimson Tide. He finished with 45 tackles (18 solo).
Robert Nkemdiche (MISS)*
Nkemdiche has had his troubles with both injuries and off the field issues this season, but his talent level has been apparent ever since he was the number one overall prospect coming out of high school. His stats were the least impressive of the first round defensive tackle prospects at only 29 tackles (14 solo) and 3 sacks on the year, but don’t let this fool you. When focused, he is a game changing defender.
Jarran Reed (ALA)
Jarran Reed was also a part of the Alabama defensive line this season and had just as good a season as his aforementioned teammate A’Shawn Robinson. Reed had 57 tackles (17 solo) but only registered one sack on the season. It is possible that Nick Saban used Reed more on first and second down, which explains why he saw less sacks. Regardless, Reed was a vocal and physical senior leader for the Tide this year and would be a promising addition to any NFL defensive Unit.
Andrew Billings (BAY)*
Most people, upon hearing that Andrew Billings played for the Baylor Bears, would assume that he wouldn’t be the best fit for an NFL defense, because of Baylor’s history of having weak defenses. That assumption would be incorrect. Billings registered 39 tackles (31 solo), and also came away with 5.5 sacks. That is the best ratio of tackles to solo tackles out of all the defensive tackle prospects, and shows that he can tackle in space against speedy BIG-12 quarterbacks and running backs.
Defensive Ends projected in the first round:
Joey Bosa (OSU)*
Joey Bosa, like Nkemdiche, is a prospect that has been highly touted ever since coming out of high school. His true talent is remarkable, as he can line up anywhere on the defensive line. His stats, however, did not paint that picture. He accounted for 51 tackles (31 solo) for five sacks and an interception in 2015. His combine and pro day will likely mesmerize every NFL team and it is a very real possibility that the Jaguars select him at 5, if Ramsey is not available.
Deforest Buckner (UO)
Deforest Buckner from Oregon had by far the best stats out of the prospects predicted to go in the first round, which is why I rank him as the second best pass rush option available behind Bosa. In his senior season Buckner racked up 83 tackles (45 solo) and had a staggering 10.5 sacks. He did however play at Oregon, which means, outside of the Stanford game, he did not face much of a power run game. He, along with Shaq Lawson, might be the best pass rush players available but Buckner probably would not be valuable to the Jaguars at fifth.
Shaq Lawson (CLEM)*
Shaq Lawson was a member of the highly successful Clemson defense. He is extremely versatile and can line up anywhere on the defensive line. Lawson had a dominant 12.5 sacks on the year, as well as coming up with 58 tackles (35 solo). Look to see Lawson’s draft stock rise, as he may go early in the first round.
John Bullard (UF)
John Bullard is a very interesting prospect because of his unique versatility. He had 63 tackles (40 solo) and a total of 6.5 sacks, but unlike the previous prospects, did it from the defensive tackle position for most of the year. It may be that he is being listed as a defensive end because he weighs in at only 283 pounds. Bullard could slip to the second round and team up once again with his former teammate Dante Fowler Jr. in Jacksonville.
Second round options:
There are many options at the DE/DT positions in the second round for the Jaguars, should they elect to address the secondary in the first round. Some names that will intrigue our coaches at the defensive end position are Emmanuel Ogbah (Ok St.), Kevin Dodd (Clem), Shilique Calhoun (MSU), Carl Nassib (PSU), and Shawn Oakman (BAY).
At the defensive tackle position we have Kenny Clark (UCLA), Sheldon Rankins (UL), Austin Johnson (PSU), and Vernon Butler (LT).
* = Underclassman
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