It was always a longshot that Yannick Ngkaoue would play any snaps at all for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020, but there was at least a minimal possibility of it happening until the team reportedly agreed to trade him to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Now, the Jaguars officially know they won't have Ngakoue's services during the 2020 season. They likely already knew they would have to play this year without him, and they of course have gone through all of training camp preparing for the year without him on the field, but it wasn't official until today.
So with Ngakoue playing in a Jaguars uniform no longer remaining a reality in any sense of the word, what can we expect their defensive end depth chart to look like once the season begins on Sept. 13 against the Indianapolis Colts?
Note: Jacksonville's base defense will almost assuredly feature the "big end" spot, which means this depth projection will mostly be looking at which defensive ends line up for the Jaguars on third downs and in obvious passing situations.
No. 1: Josh Allen
This one is obvious. Josh Allen is not only Jacksonville's best defensive end, but he is their best overall defensive play. Allen shined in a rotational role behind Ngakoue last season, leading the team and all rookies in sacks with 10.5, along with 44 tackles, 23 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Allen absolutely benefited from Ngakoue's presence as a rookie, but it was always the expectation for him to become the team's de-facto primary pass-rusher this season. Allen has had a strong camp, coming into practice with a leaner and more athletic-looking build. The Jaguars will need him to not just get to the quarterback as often as he did last year, but they will instead need him to even step up his rate of disruption now that Ngakoue is no longer beside him.
No. 2: K'Lavon Chaisson
The Jaguars didn't draft LSU defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson with the No. 20 overall pick to sit him on the bench. It was clear from the second the pick was announced that Chaisson was drafted to either replace Ngakoue after 2020 or serve as insurance in the event he didn't play for the Jaguars this year, and that is exactly why he is set to play a big role as a rookie.
Chaisson has to prove he can be more consistent at the NFL level, but his final year at LSU saw him earn All-SEC honors thanks to a 6.5 sack season that saw him dominate offensive lines in LSU's biggest games of the season. Training camp has been a mixed bag at times for Chaisson, however, with it being clear that he still needs to add strength and improve at shedding blocks. With that said, he has all the athleticism, flexibility and traits to suggest he can turn into a solid pass-rusher off of the edge.
No. 3: Dawuane Smoot
Dawuane Smoot will likely have a good shot to be the Jaguars starting "big end" in base downs, but there is a case to be made for him staying on the edge when the Jaguars go into their nickel formations and want to give either Allen or Chaisson a breather. Smoot had a rough first two years of his career, but he broke out in in 2019 with six sacks, earning him praise from the coaching staff entering 2020.
While Smoot isn't a quick-twitch pass-rusher like Ngakoue, Allen or Chaisson, he can still win off of the edge with power and technique. He has displayed great rush moves and improved quickness in training camp, and he has even been a big problem for starting right tackle Jawaan Taylor in one-on-ones. He might not be an ideal edge rusher, but he is a decent option to rotate on the edge considering how well he played last year and in training camp so far this year.
No. 4: Cassius Marsh
One of the pleasant surprises of Jacksonville's training camp, veteran outside linebacker Cassius Marsh has flashed plenty of positives as an edge defender for the Jaguars over the past month. Marsh has 14 sacks over the last six seasons, but with Ngakoue gone and Lerentee McCray and Aaron Lynch both not on the roster in 2020, he is Jacksonville's best fourth option as pass rusher.
Unlike Smoot, Marsh is a more prototypical pass rusher off of the edge thanks to his quickness. He has a really impressive first step, and he has been able to give the Jaguars offensive tackles a tough time with his speed rush all camp. None of the backups have been able to block him, and he has even given the starters fits during team drills. He will likely be the starting strong side linebacker, but that is a position which isn't on the field on third downs, meaning Marsh can come down to defensive end.
No. 5: Leon Jacobs
Like Marsh, Leon Jacobs is another strong side linebacker who could play some snaps at defensive end in nickel packages. Jacobs has done so in recent years and has even seen snaps at defensive end throughout training camp at times, so it isn't a surprise to think he could be considered for looks at defensive end in a rotational role in 2020.
Jacobs has been a solid blitzer off of the edge in his career, and he has solid quickness and well-above-average strength that can help him defeat blocks. With this said, he is behind Smoot and Marsh on this list because of a lack of a sample size. He has just two sacks in his career, though he has gotten pressure when given opportunities.
Note: This is a free preview of our premium room. We will be launching our premium membership program soon.