Gone is the Jacksonville Jaguars' old, tired defensive scheme. Instead, TIAA Bank Field will now be home to the team's new-look defensive unit.
More aggressive. More multiple. More bold. These are all words that have been used to describe Jacksonville's shift in defensive philosophies, a seismic adjustment that became official when head coach Urban Meyer introduced a new defensive staff led by Joe Cullen earlier this month.
With the change in the scheme means a change in the prospects of a number of Jaguars defenders. The old defensive scheme wasn't exactly a fit for the entire roster, with a number of players instead set to benefit greatly from Cullen's hiring.
So, which five defenders could benefit the most from the Jaguars' new defensive ideas? We attempt to answer here.
While many have called K'Lavon Chaisson the biggest winner of Jacksonville's shift away from the old 4-3, Seattle-style defense, we believe it is the Jaguars' other first-round pick who will benefit the absolute most from the Jaguars' new look defense. The primary reason is because of the addition of Cullen as defensive coordinator, which should realistically bring a scheme to Jacksonville that not only fits Henderson perfectly. In fact, Cullen's scheme is likely as close to Henderson's college scheme at Florida, which he thrived in, as one could get at the NFL level.
Cullen, who was Baltimore's defensive line coach for the last five years, has already indicated he will be bringing large parts of Baltimore's scheme to Jacksonville. This would mean a healthy dose of man coverage, as well as asking the team's secondary to get more involved in terms of stopping plays at or before the line of scrimmage.
Henderson's two best traits at Florida just happened to be his man coverage ability and the fact that he was an elite blitzer. He has the size, physicality, and speed to match with any receiver in man coverage, and his otherworldly athleticism makes him a heat-seeking missile as a blitzing cornerback. He should be allowed to show off his game more in each of these areas under Cullen and the new staff.
Henderson had his fair share of ups and downs as a rookie and played in only eight games, but the No. 9 overall pick from 2020 should be thrilled with Jacksonville's new direction on defense -- and the Jaguars should be thrilled for Henderson's future.
Myles Jack and Joe Schobert
"You’re looking at two ‘backers that are kind of in the prime of their career because the length of time that they have been in the NFL, but guys that can make plays and guys that will become the staple of our defense. If you’re not good at linebacker, then you really don’t have much of a chance to play really good defense."
That was Jaguars assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Charlie Strong at his introductory press conference earlier this month. He, of course, was referencing Jaguars linebackers Myles Jack and Joe Schobert, with each being positioned to take a central role in the Jaguars' defensive future. It is no surprise to see Strong mention the pair as potential staples of the defense during his first media appearance as their coach, especially considering the importance of inside linebackers in the Ravens' defensive scheme in recent years.
Jack and Schobert were more or less asked to read and react last season, helping take responsibilities from the immensely younger players around them. As a result, it is fair to say neither Jack nor Schobert were truly "unleashed" last season, with the Jaguars limiting the scope of each's role by necessity.
With the shift in the scheme, this should be no more. Baltimore asks much, much more out of the inside linebackers in terms of versatility than the Jaguars asked of theirs in 2020. They blitz more, are key pieces of the pre-snap and post-snap movement, and are asked to play more man coverage. Jack and Schobert are athletic players who thrive when asked to create turnovers, so putting more on their plates in terms of play-making opportunities creates a solid situation for each.
While Josh Allen deserves strong consideration here, we opt to instead give 2020 No. 20 overall pick K'Lavon Chaisson the nod for this spot. The reasoning? While Allen will likely benefit a strong amount from the change in scheme, he has already proven to be a productive and disruptive player regardless of scheme. He could have still made it work in the old scheme. Chaisson, meanwhile, always seemed out of place in Jacksonville's 4-3 defense.
Chaisson was at his best as a rookie when standing up off the edge and when asked to move gaps after the snap. His only sack as a rookie came when he slanted inside from the end position, and numerous of his pressures came on stunts when he was able to use his agility and natural bend to maneuver around offensive linemen.
At his size and with his limited length, Chaisson is better off standing up at the line of scrimmage so he can move around the formation. He looked overpowered too many times when having his hand in the dirt, and it is no coincidence that some of his top moments came when he was allowed to get creative with his alignment.
Chaisson was a 3-4 edge rusher leaving college for these reasons. For this very reason, there is a lot of evidence that points to a belief that he will benefit from the Jaguars' shift to a more aggressive and multiple defense. He finished the season as one of Jacksonville's best defenders and his upward trajectory should only continue under Cullen and the team's new defensive staff.
It remains to be seen how big of a role Daniel Thomas will have with the Jaguars in 2021. The 2020 fifth-round pick has zero connection to the Jaguars' new brass, though his safeties coach from his rookie year (Joe Danna) was retained as the Jaguars' nickels coach.
With that said, Thomas' rookie film should convince the Jaguars' to give him a chance to earn playing time, in large part because his playstyle fits perfectly with their supposed new brand of defense. Thomas appeared in 10 games and played just 161 snaps on defense as a rookie due to Josh Jones entering the season as a starter. But once he was given a chance with the starting unit he shined until a season-ending injury in Week 11, in large part because he was one of the most physical and hardest-working players on the field.
In the mold of numerous Ravens safeties of years past, Thomas plays the game with an aggressive edge. Combine this with his athleticism and he has the traits to become a legitimate playmaker, just as he showed as a rookie. He can make plays in coverage, jar the ball loose after the catch, and can step up in the box as a run defender. He also flashed some man coverage ability, which could make him invaluable as a third safety and potential dime defender for the Jaguars.
Thomas doesn't have a lot of NFL tape under his belt yet, but the tape he does have suggests he is a perfect fit for the Jaguars' new scheme. The Jaguars should give him a chance to prove this, too, considering the potential rewards are massive.