The 2021 NFL Draft season is upon us and the first wave of free agency is now over. Now, scouts, coaches, and general managers will hit the road as all eyes will turn to the draft.
Among the 32 teams building their rosters to compete for the next Lombardi Trophy is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hold 10 picks in this season’s draft -- including the No. 1 overall pick. The Jaguars are entering a new era under Head Coach Urban Meyer, and the 2021 draft will serve as a catalyst to the Jaguars’ rebuild moving into the future.
As we march closer and closer to April’s draft, we will look at individual draft prospects and how they would potentially fit with the Jaguars. Instead of looking at any negatives, we are going to look at what the players do well and if they could match what the Jaguars need at the specific role or position.
In this edition, we take a look at Miami edge defender Jaelan Phillips, whose stock has been soaring since he put on a complete and total show at Miami's pro days earlier this week.
Even though the Jaguars drafted a first-round edge defender in each of the last two drafts, should they make it a third consecutive year with the selection of Phillips at No. 25?
An illustrious high school recruit, Jaelan Phillips has always had his name marked down as a potential star. Phillips was ranked by 247Sports as the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2017 class and is still regarded as the recruiting organization's No. 41 highest-graded recruit of all-time.
Phillips opted to stay in California after racking up sack after sack for Redlands East Valley High School, committing to UCLA over Alabama (where he was recruited by current Jaguars defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi), LSU, Florida, Michigan, and other top programs.
As a true freshman, Phillips played in seven games for the Bruins and recorded 21 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two pass deflections, and 3.5 sacks. Phillips's time at UCLA would not be long, however, as he medically retired in December 2018 following two seasons in which injuries and concussions plagued him.
Phillips would return to the game of football shortly thereafter, however, entering the transfer portal and announcing his transfer to Miami in February 2019. Phillips spent one year on the field with the Hurricanes after redshirting in 2019, recording 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2020 and reminding the NFL why he was the nation's top-rated recruit just a few years ago.
What Jaelan Phillips Does Well
It is very clear when watching Phillips that he is immensely comfortable in playing in space. Whether he was asked to rush with his hand in the dirt, from a two-point stance, or even drop into coverage, he routinely showed the fluidity one hopes to see from an impact edge defender. He adjusts his play speed and change of direction with ease to manipulate blockers and slip through the offensive line and into the backfield at high rates.
His athleticism is a big plus on film, and even more so after his elite pro day. He isn't overly explosive with a dominant first step, but he has all the quickness and flexibility needed to win the outside against a pass-setting offensive tackle. He moves laterally very well and his length gives him a good bit of range as a tackler. He isn't an overly explosive closer on the football, but he has enough burst to capitalize when given a lane to the quarterback or ball carrier.
As a pass-rusher, Phillips's best tool right now is his length and how he uses it to create separation between him and blockers as he flattens around the arc. He is able to synchronize his hands and feet with easy, fluid movements to ensure he isn't slowed down as he attempts to turn the corner and attack the quarterback. He needs to work on counter moves, but he has a great swipe move that frequently earned him easy pressures.
Phillips also plays with a non-stop motor, which helps him make a lot of plays he would otherwise have no business making (check out his pursuit tackle of Trevor Lawrence in 2020). He rushes off the edge with his hair on fire and gives tremendous effort until the whistle is blown. He is a player who the defense will never have to worry about whether he was prepared for the next snap.
How Jaelan Phillips Would Fit With the Jaguars
As a pure scheme fit, Phillips has the size, length, athleticism, motor, and ability to play in space standing up to fit perfectly. If any pass-rusher in this class resembles the pass-rushers built in the mold of the Baltimore Ravens' defenders, it is likely Phillips.
The question that is tough to answer is just how much of a need the Jaguars view the outside linebacker position in their new 3-4 defense. The previous regime drafted edge defenders in the first round in each of the last two seasons in Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson, and each of those players is expected to play a crucial role for the Jaguars and defensive coordinator Joe Cullen in 2021.
But behind them, the Jaguars have very little. Jihad Ward and Lerentee McCray are the only true depth the Jaguars have on the edge, which can not be the case entering Week 1. The Jaguars saw last year how much their pass-rush can go down the drain if just one of their top two rushers misses extended time, so they can't afford to not provide pass-rush insurance this year.
If the Jaguars were to draft Phillips, he likely would split snaps with Chaisson early on. He would give the Jaguars a trio of pass rushers who can win from multiple alignments (you can play all three on third-down by using Chaisson as a roaming blitzer), but there is a problem with his skill set as it correlates to fitting in with the rest of the roster.
If Phillips has a negative on the field, it is his play strength and consistency as a run defender. This sounds awfully close to Chaisson's biggest issue, though Phillips has much more room to add size and strength. If the Jaguars wanted to add an edge defender who could truly make their defense multiple, one who could be trusted against the run early on would likely be a better fit.
With this said, Phillips is a natural edge rusher who fits the Jaguars' scheme to a tee thanks to his ability to play in space. If they want to bolster that position, nothing about his game suggests he doesn't fit at least solidly, even if he isn't dominant against the run.
The scenarios in which Jacksonville has a chance at Phillips is if his injury concerns push him out of the first -- which seems unlikely after his elite performance at his pro day and in 2020 -- or if those same concerns and lack of run defense push him to No. 25.
If Phillips is there when the Jaguars pick, he should at least be strongly considered. Edge defender isn't one of Jacksonville's top needs, but drafting for needs in the first round is how the Jaguars ended up 1-15 last season. The Jaguars should simply take the best player on the board, and there is a very real chance that is Phillips considering his production in 2020, elite athleticism, and track record as a former star.
The Jaguars need to add some weapons around Trevor Lawrence and in the secondary, but would anyone really question taking Phillips at No. 25 and giving the Jaguars a young trio of him, Allen, and Chaisson to build their pass-rush around? This would be a more athletic and high-ceiling edge group than when they had Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler, and that shouldn't be ignored.
Jacksonville has other needs, but Phillips is a great player whose future is bright as long as he stays healthy. If the Jaguars realize they are not in a position to draft for need, then he is a logical choice.
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