The Jacksonville Jaguars have averaged 28.3 sacks per year for the past three years. That total is better than exactly two other NFL teams: the Las Vegas Raiders and Atlanta Falcons. The team had two major problems going into the draft and free agency, and by drafting Anton Harrison they addressed the offensive line. The Jaguars’ pass rush, on the other hand, will look eerily similar to 2022. Last year, their “star” DE Josh Allen had seven sacks. The number one overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, Travon Walker, played on the other side of the defensive line. Walker finished the year with 3.5 sacks, six sacks behind number two overall pick Aidan Hutchinson in Detroit. One of the team’s first-round picks in 2020 was edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson from LSU. He has three years of NFL experience, and he also has exactly three sacks in his career. The Jaguars are going into 2023 hoping that their current stable of pass rushers will improve, but how realistic is that?
The Jacksonville Jaguars Pass Rush Is The Team’s Biggest Weakness
The Jaguars Did Not Make One Move To Improve Their Pass Rush
Jaguars owner Shad Khan has not been afraid to spend money in free agency. Just last year Khan brought in Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, Evan Engram, and Foyesade Oluokun. All four of those players were big contributors to the playoff run. However, it has also been clear that Khan has listened to his “football people” in his recent decision-making, especially after the Urban Meyer debacle. Trent Baalke and Doug Pederson are making the football decisions for the Jaguars. They decided that the same basic edge rushers from 2022 would improve without changing anything.
Walker, Allen, and Devin Lloyd could have the biggest impact on the Jaguars’ pass rush. Each player has one word next to their name, and it is a description of the best-case scenario for this football team.
Travon Walker: Improvement
In three years at Georgia, Travon Walker had 9.5 sacks. Ironically, that is the same number of sacks that Aidan Hutchinson had in his rookie season in Detroit. Walker was the number one pick in the draft not because of his stats or what he did on the field at Georgia. After the Bulldogs won the national championship, Walker was graded in the middle or bottom of the first round. His performance at the NFL Combine changed everything. His combination of size, speed, strength, and intelligence is hard to match. On the flip side, the number of sacks he produces is far from prodigious.
When you hear experts say, “he affects the game in multiple ways” about a defensive end, that is a red flag. That is also what many people say about Walker. When you think about great edge rushers, you think of sacks. You do not think of “setting the edge” or “playing the run.” The team is expecting Walker to improve, and he probably will. The jump from year one to year two can be astounding. The problem with expecting huge improvements from Walker, however, is that he did not even really get to the quarterback in college, what makes anyone think he will start in 2023?
Josh Allen: Potential
The word “potential” is finicky. It sounds good, and everyone wants to have it. But after a while, it starts to mean something different. If you “have potential” for too long, it probably means you are not reaching yours. Josh Allen has had a lot of NFL potential since 2019, the question is when will he finally reach that potential. He started his career out with 10.5 sacks in his rookie season, and he has not reached eight sacks in any of the following three seasons. He is a good role model, a team leader, a family man, and a great off-the-field addition to the community. The question the Jaguars have to ask is whether or not he can anchor their pass rush. So far, the answer is a resounding no, and 2023 has to be his make-or-break year.
Devin Lloyd: Health
Many people forget that Devin Lloyd had a hamstring injury that forced him to miss most of the preseason. For a rookie, that means something. Lloyd looked lost for much of the year and never seemed to really pick up the defense. One obvious thing, however, is that he is a top-notch athlete. In Utah, he would take over games defensively and disrupt the running and passing game of whoever the team was playing.
One thing the coaches in Jacksonville have discussed is mixing up their defensive lineup. Is there a scenario where Walker would move inside and Lloyd and Allen would be on the edge? With his athletic ability, Lloyd can get to the quarterback, and there is some talk in Jacksonville of turning him loose to do just that on occasion. Lloyd is good in coverage, but it seems like he may get a few chances to go after the quarterback as well.
Could The Jaguars Pass Rush Improve?
With a second-year head coach, second-year defensive coordinator, and a couple of second-year players that could impact the team, the Jaguars’ pass rush could improve. Walker could take a huge leap and Josh Allen could reach his potential. A lot of things could happen, but the keyword is could. There is no “sure thing” on this defense that should give confidence that the pass rush will improve. On the other hand, if the Jaguars get 24 combined sacks from Walker and Allen and the rest of the team pitches in here and there, the city of Jacksonville could be very happy at the end of the 2023 season.
Side Note: Dawuane Smoot is what he is, Chad Muma and Oluokun are not pass rushers, Jordan Smith is a fourth-rounder coming off an ACL, and the inside of the line will get a sack here and there. The three players listed above, however, could have a major impact on getting to the quarterback.
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