Don’t look now, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are transforming into a Super Bowl contender.
Team General Manager, David Caldwell, set out to build a winning culture. He did just that during the NFL Free Agency period, signing notable impact talents for the Jaguars.
Most of the attention was spent on the defensive side of the ball, especially the defensive line unit, which needed to find a compliment at right end for Jared Odrick and his 5.5 sacks from a season ago.
Going into the 2016 season, the Jaguars know they have the services of Odrick, and 2015 first round pick, Dante Fowler, who sat out last season due to injury. They also gain their most notable free agent signing of the 2016 offseason, Malik Jackson to a five-year $90 million deal, who comes over from Denver. He contributed 45 tackles and five sacks for the Super Bowl champions last season.
The move to acquire Jackson gives the Jaguars one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL, and will only improve on the teams relatively strong run defense that ranked 15th in the league last season.
It’s expected that Odrick and Jackson will start at the two defensive ends, with Fowler possibly spelling Odrick at times. However, don’t rule out the possibility of Odrick moving to tackle to allow Fowler more playing time. It’s also feasible the Jags end up selecting more defensive line help in the draft.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, Jacksonville added key pieces to their defensive backfield as well. The team signed both Tashaun Gipson from the Cleveland Browns to a five-year $36 million deal and former first-round pick Prince Amukamara of the New York Giants to help bolster their safety and cornerback spots, as they join a less than stellar group of Johnathan Cyprien, Aaron Colvin, and Davon House.
The pair of Amukamara and Gipson will provide instant help to a Jaguars passing defense that ranked 29th in the league last season, giving up 268.2 yards a game. Both have a pedigree of success in the NFL. Amukamara is a Super Bowl champion, while Gipson was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2014.
The Jaguars improved heavily on defense, addressing obvious needs. As mentioned before, they could also look to add help in the draft. Sitting at number five, Jacksonville could have a few tempting choices to select from. Two of those possible options could be Ohio State’s premier defensive end, Joey Bosa, or Florida State’s elite defensive back, Jalen Ramsey.
If Jacksonville has to choose between the two, it makes more sense to select Ramsey. Many scouts believe he is one of the finest defensive back prospects in years. The Jags would thrive with Ramsey playing opposite Amukamara. And seeing as Amukamara only signed a one-year deal, drafting Ramsey and easing him into action might prove to be very wise.
Some possible scenarios could also see the Jaguars select an offensive lineman with the 5th pick, and going defensive lineman or defensive back in the second round. Players such as Baylor defensive tackle, Andrew Billings, Eastern Michigan defensive end, Noah Spence, Clemson defensive back, Mackensie Alexander, and Baylor defensive back, Xavien Howard, are all projected to be selected when the Jags pick at 38.
Jacksonville’s defense is far from a finished product. Caldwell will undoubtedly look to add more pieces via the draft or free agency. There end result of this defensive overhaul won’t be known for 2-3 years, but it’s looking really good right now.
Follow Daniel James Gentile on Twitter @dgentleman9288