As the Jacksonville Jaguars turn their attention to the offseason, it’s clear that they need to do a lot to improve the roster after a 3-14 season that resulted in the firing of first-year coach Urban Meyer and the team picking first overall in the draft for the second year in a row.
Despite having the most cap space in the league last season, Jacksonville didn’t do much big spending, a strategy it will likely look to rectify this time around as it will once again have among the most available space in the NFL. There are several free agents the team could look to target, but Pro Football Focus identified three of them.
Two of them are edge rushers, headlined by Detroit’s Charles Harris.
The former first-round pick had a bit of a career revival down the home stretch in Detroit following injuries to several of the Lions’ key edge rushers. Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, so far, has only received one head coach interview with the Denver Broncos, but what he was able to do with a Lions defense that was decimated by injury — and not good to begin with — was nothing short of miraculous.
Glenn demonstrated a strong ability to put players in positions to succeed, and Harris is a perfect example. Harris played 375 more snaps in 2021 than he had in any season prior, and his 78.6 pass-rush grade was a career-best by a full 10 points. Harris finished top 20 in quarterback pressures among edge defenders (52), and his 17.4% pass rush win rate ranked 17th. Harris did not have the benefit of playing opposite either of the Lions’ highly paid edge rushers — Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara — either. In addition, the Lions had a young and inexperienced group along the interior as well.
PFF also suggested the Jags look into Los Angeles Chargers end, Uchenna Nwosu.
Nwosu delivered the best stretch of his career during the second half of the 2021 season, and it was perfect timing. From Week 8 through the end of the season, Nwosu did not record a single game grade below 65.0 — a remarkable run of consistency at any position. His 27 quarterback pressures over the final 11 weeks of the season were as many as he’s accumulated in any full season prior.
The Chargers’ lack of talent along the defensive line outside of Joey Bosa is an ongoing problem, but Nwosu stepped up in a major way down the stretch. Nwosu handled becoming a starter quite admirably, as he posted a career-high 68.5 pass-rush grade. He can also effectively drop into coverage on a handful of snaps a game, as he allowed just 32 receiving yards from six receptions for the season, making him a strong fit for teams employing a 3-4 defensive front.
Edge rusher is a clear position of need for the Jags. Though Josh Allen had a very solid season and seems to be a player the team can build around, K’Lavon Chaisson has disappointed on the other side with no player clearly stepping up this season. Many expect the team to take an edge rusher with the first pick in either Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux, but addressing the issue in free agency would give the team the flexibility to target a player like Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal instead.
The third player PFF noted the Jags could be interested in is Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse.
Kearse had a breakout 2021 campaign as a full-time starter for the first time in his career, putting all the pieces together and delivering in every facet of safety play. Kearse’s 69.7 run defense grade — generally a strong suit — was his lowest, but he also recorded a 90.0 tackling grade, 79.1 pass-rush grade and 76.2 coverage grade on over 1,000 total snaps this season. Kearse accrued 11 quarterback pressures from just 39 pass-rush snaps — more pressures than in his first five seasons combined.
Kearse missed just three tackles all season despite finishing eighth among safeties with 83 total tackles. His 3.2% missed tackle rate was second-best among safeties with at least 25 tackles on the season, and his 10 tackles for loss or no gain were tied for third.
This one makes considerably less sense. Safety was a position the team addressed with Rayshawn Jenkins last free agency, and though he wasn’t overly impressive, the Jaguars are likely stuck with that contract. They also drafted Andre Cisco in the third round, who impressed, and second-year player Daniel Thomas also played well. Pending restricted free agent Andrew Wingard was a common scapegoat for some, but he was solid this season before his injury and has at least earned a rotational role moving forward.
Given the team’s other needs, safety seems like a position they are much more likely to address in the draft if it feels like it needs more depth. Still, the two edge rushers are certainly players the Jags could find themselves in a bidding war for.