In fewer than 100 days, the Jacksonville Jaguars will return ... at least as things stand today.
While there is still some uncertainty surrounding the start of the NFL season, the league office has made it clear that they are planning to kick the season off on Sept. 10 and then have every other team play on Sept. 13.
By going off that timeline, we are now just 51 days from watching the Jaguars take the field against the Indianapolis Colts for the first regular season game of 2020.
In an effort to countdown to the start of the season, we will now be going from 95 through 1 to determine the best players to don the teal, black, and white for the Jaguars at each specific number.
So when considering each player has worn the No. 51 since Jacksonville's first season in 1995, who has been the most impactful? Since the team's inception, here are the players who have worn the jersey number:
- Paul Posluszny: 2011-17
- Clint Ingram: 2006-09
- Akin Ayodele: 2002-05
- Kevin Hardy: 1996-01
- Mark Williams: 1995
So with a number of talented linebackers on the list, who takes the top spot? We make our arguments below.
No. 3: Akin Ayodele
One of the most underrated defenders in team history, Akin Ayodele likely would have been even higher on this list if he had a longer tenure with the team. But the addition of Ayodele from Purdue in the third-round of the 2002 NFL Draft helped solidify Jacksonville move past the departure of Kevin Hardy, while keeping the tradition of strong linebacker play alive and well.
In four seasons in Jacksonville, Ayodele appeared in 64 games and started 46, along with one playoff start in 2005. The athletic and rangy Ayodele frequently flew around the field for the Jaguars, totalling 349 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He didn't have the longevity of other Jaguars linebackers, but he was right up there with most of them in terms of pure talent.
No. 2: Paul Posluszny
There is a strong argument to make that one of the biggest reasons the Jaguars completely imploded following the 2017 season was due to the retirement of middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. Posluszny had his role reduced to its smallest measure of his Jaguars career by the 2017 season, with Myles Jack taking his place on the field on passing downs, but he was still the leader of Jacksonville's defense, and team, on and off the field. The loss of his leadership and level-headedness was never mitigated, and the Jaguars have suffered on the field and in the locker room since.
Posluszny was far from a complete linebacker during his time in Jacksonville due to his issues defending the pass, but he is still one of the most purely productive defenders the team has had. He is second all-time in franchise history in tackles with 973, and he also totaled 45 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. There haven't been many better pure inside linebackers in the team's history than Posluszny, earning him the No. 2 spot.
No. 1: Kevin Hardy
There can be a debate over whether Posluszny should hold the top spot here, but we give the edge to former No. 2 overall pick Kevin Hardy instead due to his playmaking ability, versatility and presence during the best era of Jaguars football. Still tied with Tony Boselli and Luke Joeckel as the highest-drafted players in Jaguars history, Hardy helped transform Jacksonville's defense right from the jump in 1996, and the next five years would feature him as one of the defense's most important faces.
In six seasons in Jacksonville, Hardy appeared in 86 regular season games, starting 83 of those (along with eight starts in the playoffs). Jacksonville's all-time leader in playoff tackles, Hardy is fifth in team history in tackles with 789 despite having a shorter tenure with the team than most others on the list. Hardy also recorded more than 30 tackles for loss, 28.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and five interceptions, making him one of the most productive and versatile defenders in team history.