Aaron Lynch, Rodney Gunter, and Al Woods are gone. Now what?
On the final day of July, veteran free agent signing Al Woods informed the team of his intention to opt-out of the 2020 season. This development was a major cause for concern because Woods was brought in to stop the run, an area of the game the Jaguars have struggled with in recent years.
Then, on consecutive days this week, the Jaguars announced the retirement of defensive tackle Rodney Gunter (aortic heart condition) and defensive end Aaron Lynch (personal reasons).
To understand what kind of predicament this attrition puts the Jaguars in, you need to know the type of defensive fronts the Jaguars like to use. The Jaguars typically have two outside rushers with a 1 or 2-tech (nose tackle) and a 3-tech in the middle. The nose tackle's responsibility is usually to clog up the middle and plug rushing lanes. The 3-tech is a penetrator.
The Al Woods development was a major cause for concern because he was brought in to stop the run, an area of the game the Jaguars have struggled with in recent years.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, they drafted an Al Woods clone — one with a little bit more pass-rushing juice — in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. DaVon Hamilton, the 6'4'', 320-pound defensive tackle will now be thrust into a featured role in his rookie year.
The Jaguars also have Abry Jones, the team's longest-tenured player, who can play the run in the middle of the Jaguars' defensive line. He had a down year in 2019, but Jones has come back with a fire during training camp, and the team is leaning on him for leadership and production. He's shown in the past that he's capable of anchoring a defense.
The Jags added Timmy Jernigan on Monday. The former Florida State star has played for the Ravens and Eagles since entering the NFL as a second-round pick in 2014. Jernigan has been versatile; he can play all over the line and is effective against the run and the pass. But over the last two seasons, he's missed more games than he's played. Various injuries have held him back. But Jernigan is healthy right now and should step into a fairly significant role if he can prove that he's still got it. Jernigan, from my perspective, is a direct replacement for Rodney Gunter.
As for the loss of Aaron Lynch, it certainly hurts the defensive line's depth, but Lynch wasn't likely to start, so it'll require other guys to step up in the rotation.
At defensive end, the Big Cats boast Josh Allen, one of the brightest young stars in the league. Jacksonville drafted edge rusher K'Lavon Chaisson with the 20th overall pick in the draft. They've also got Dawuane Smoot, who played very well in a limited role in 2019, racking up six sacks. Free-agent signing Cassius Marsh has plenty of natural ability and should have a decent role as well. Adam Gostis and Josh Mauro will compete to make the back end of the roster at defensive end as well.
Of course, I have yet to mention Yannick Ngakoue. The star pass rusher has yet to sign the franchise tender and hasn't reported to training camp. But last week, he fired his agent and was also in contact with Jaguars' GM Dave Caldwell. It seems possible that he'll report to camp before all is said and done. He'll be passing on $17.78 million if he decides not to show.
With this group of players, I actually think the Jaguars have enough to have a solid combination or starters and rotation players upfront. But what happens if another interior defensive lineman goes down? In short, the Jaguars would be in big trouble. They'd likely need to trade for a proven starter, which Doug Marrone mentioned as a possibility in his press conference yesterday.
No team in the NFL has endless depth. But if the Jaguars have Josh Allen, DaVon Hamilton, Taven Bryan, and K'Lavon Chaisson in the starting lineup, with Dawuane Smoot, Abry Jones, Timmy Jernigan, and Cassius Marsh rotating in, that would be a fine group. Add in Yannick Ngakoue, and you could have one of the better defensive line rotations, especially coming off the edge, in football.
The Jaguars did an excellent job acquiring talent via free agency and the draft this offseason. Losing Al Woods, Rodney Gunter, and Aaron Lynch certainly hurts their depth. But bringing in a versatile guy like Timmy Jernigan alleviates a lot of the pressure. The Jaguars' defensive line isn't in as good a spot as they were less than a month ago, but it's not time to panic yet.
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