When the Jacksonville Jaguars entered the 2020 offseason, there was one glaring need in the heart of the defense: nose tackle.
The Jaguars' defense had been pushed around all of 2019 as Marcell Dareus spent the year injured, and the Jaguars would move on from Dareus during the offseason. To replace his immediate impact they signed veteran nose tackle Al Woods, but the Jaguars knew they needed a long-term developmental option at the spot.
Enter DaVon Hamilton, who the Jaguars selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft with the No. 73 overall pick.
With Woods opting out before the season began and with other veteran nose tackle Abry Jones currently on injured reserve, the rookie Hamilton has had to grow up quickly in the middle of Jacksonville's defense.
Hamilton's first-career start saw him struggle in ways he likely never even struggled at Ohio State, as the Detroit Lions moved him off the line of scrimmage with ease in Week 6. But in Week 7 Hamilton took a big step forward with the "light switch" obviously being turned on.
Hamilton earned PFF's top rookie defender grade in Week 7 for his performance against the Los Angeles Chargers, a game in which he recorded 8 tackles (4 solo), one tackle for loss, three pressures and two quarterback hits.
So, what was so impressive about Hamilton's breakout performance in the 39-29 loss? We break down five plays that tell the story here.
What His Coaches Said
"I think that you look at DaVon Hamilton, he had an excellent game last game. He really did, he played really well. How do you build on that?" -- Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone.
"I think with DaVon Hamilton, I think those reps are at that time where you start to see it go and I think each person’s a little bit different on where it hits. I agree with the term when that light switch goes on, but what’s controlling that light switch is the amount of reps that he gets to all of a sudden now he can perform at that level," -- Marrone.
Play No. 1
When offenses go "quick game" to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands faster, one can typically expect for a nose tackle to be rendered useless. Most nose tackles aren't explosive enough to create pressure on a three-step drop, let alone record a quarterback hit, but Hamilton does exactly that here.
Center Dan Feeney is unable to anchor when Hamilton rips through his outside shoulder, a great display of power, quickness and effort from the rookie nose tackle. Any pass rush you can get from a nose tackle is gravy on top of what they do in the running game, and this game showed Hamilton can be a legitimate pass rusher from the one-technique position.
Play No. 2
Is there any better way for a player to start a half than this? On the first play of the third quarter Hamilton was able to force Feeny back on contact, disrupting the flow of the zone run. Hamilton powers through Feeney while keeping his eyes on the ball-carrier and pressing Feeney away from him, forcing the running back to attempt to cut back after Hamilton creates a massive pileup on the right side. Hamilton is then able to shed the block and make the one-on-one tackle on the running back, ending the play behind the line of scrimmage.
Play No. 3
Hamilton records another quarterback hit on this play, though this one occurs in the red zone and helps lead to an incomplete pass instead of a completion like play No. 1. With Taven Bryan and Josh Allen slanting inside, Hamilton showed off his quickness for his size by looping around the offensive line and laying a massive hit on Herbert in space to disrupt the pass. It may not have been a sack, but this is Hamilton impacting the passing game from nose tackle. If he didn't have as much athleticism as he does for the position, Herbert likely completes that pass with a defender in his face.
Play No. 4
On this run play, Hamilton is on the backside of the play and is facing off against left guard Forrest Lamp. Hamilton simply makes Lamp look silly on this rep, creating separation by pressing him off of his frame and then quickly knocking his hands aside as he reads the play develop. This play showed much more about Hamilton's instincts and smarts than anything -- he knew exactly where this run was hitting and what gap he should have found himself in, leading to the run stop.
Play No. 5
For my money, this was the best play of the game from the defense. Facing a third-and-1 with a chance to gain some momentum, the Chargers came out in a running formation. They made it clear the Jaguars would have to win up front to get off of the field ... and that is exactly what the Jaguars did due to Hamilton and Quincy Williams. Hamilton resets the line of scrimmage on this play, forcing the center back on contact and making it easier for him to slip by the block and make the tackle with Williams. Had Hamilton not been the left side of the back to shut down any chance to get yards after contact, there could have been a chance for him to pick up what he needed for the first down.