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Jaguars' 2020 Superlatives: Who's Who On Defense

With the 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars season over, Jaguar Report looks back and highlights certain defensive players and moments, discusses the most disappointing players and moments and gives a nod to those who held our attention the most.

The Jacksonville Jaguars 2020 season had highs, lows, and head-scratching moments that won't long be forgotten. Hindsight is 20/20 (we're sorry for the cliche pun) so Jaguar Report's John Shipley and Kassidy Hill look back at all aspects of the season to award some of the best, some of the worst and some of the most memorable players and plays.

Next up, we look just at the defense.

Related: Jaguars' 2020 Superlatives: Who's Who On Offense

MVP 

Hill: Myles Jack

After a move to the outside spot, linebacker Myles Jack had his best season yet, despite playing his second-fewest snaps during his four-year career (this due to missing two games with injury). Before his injury, Jack led the NFL in total tackles and still managed to finish tied for 15th in the league with 118 total. With that total, Jack posted his best “missed tackles” ratio of his career, only missing a tackle every 13.1 tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 53 “stops” which according to PFF accounts for a negative play for the offense.

Jack was in on run defense, pass rush and pass coverage, sideline-to-sideline, and simply made plays all over the field. His leadership on the field and in the locker room as a captain kept the team together when they had every excuse to fall apart. He was an MVP in every sense of the title this season and can be the linchpin for the defense moving forward. 

Being left out of the Pro Bowl despite being one of PFF's highest-rated linebackers in the AFC was a travesty. 

Shipley: Myles Jack

Much like with James Robinson last week, I wish we could have divided this award up to make it more interesting, but there was simply no other player as deserving for defensive MVP as Myles Jack. 

Jack was the Jaguars' best defender from Week 1 to Week 17. When he wasn't on the field, the already shaky defense became even more flimsy and unreliable. When he was on the field, however, he at least gave them a fighting chance to make a play thanks to his speed, physicality, and ability to simply always be around the football. 

Jack's play fell off a bit toward the middle of the season as he battled injuries, but by the final few games he was once again an electric playmaker. It was, by far, the best Jack has performed in his Jaguars tenure, and he did it all while playing a position he had never taken regular season snaps at. Kudos to him for a job well done in a year where few others did as much.

Most Improved Player 

Hill: K'Lavon Chaisson

When the season first began, Chaisson looked like a puppy trying to break his leash; hungry and excited but in danger of getting hurt—or tearing up the furniture—if allowed to roam on his own. It made him fun yet frustrating to watch. You just knew if you could get a few things fixed, he could be incredible. And as a first-round pick (No. 20 overall) those were/are the expectations.

Chaisson improved in every statistical category as the season wore on into the back half of the 16 weeks. For his position, perhaps the biggest stat to look at is quarterback hurries. In the first eight weeks of the season, Chaisson recorded six hurries. The second half of the season? He notched 14 hurries. A lot of this was credited to a swim and spin move that Chaisson always had in his arsenal but learned how and when to properly use as he grew.

By season's end, he was one of the most exciting players to watch on defense, especially knowing it’s just the beginning. 

Shipley: K'Lavon Chaisson

Can anyone but K'Lavon Chaisson get this award? Myles Jack has a strong argument to make, but otherwise the Jaguars simply didn't see many defenders take a step forward from either last season or the beginning of this season. Chaisson, the No. 20 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, did just that, however.

Chaisson recorded just one sack as a rookie, a Week 2 takedown of Ryan Tannehill. But despite that, he was one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive ends for the final quarter of the season, with the switch clearly being flipped for the rookie pass-rusher. His pass-rush moves looked faster and smoother. He thought less and simply reacted. He moved quarterbacks out of the pocket and created plays for his teammates, and he also stepped up his performances against the run in a big way. 

Chaisson may not have had a rookie season like Chase Young, Nick Bosa, or Josh Allen, but he improved by leaps and bounds from Week 1 to Week 17 and deserves respect for doing so.

Most Interesting Storyline

Hill: Sidney Jones IV

When the Jaguars signed former Philadelphia Eagle Sidney Jones IV, it seemed—and likely was—a move just to add depth to a unit that was suddenly hemorrhaging. The veteran Jones though came in and took over at the corner spot. With Tre Herndon moved inside to replace the injured D.J. Hayden at nickel, Jones started opposite CJ Henderson for a good portion of his playing time as well as other rookies as injuries kept the unit scrambling.

Jones suffered injuries himself and was only able to play in seven games as a result. But he stood out in every performance. Despite playing in less than half of the season’s games, Jones led the defense with nine passes defended and was second on the team (behind Joe Schobert) with two interceptions. He also caused a third for Hayden versus the Houston Texans.

According to Pro Football Focus, it was Jones’ best season yet from a defensive grade standpoint and he posted a 74 or better in coverage four times in seven games.

What makes Jones such an interesting storyline is because—as mentioned above—he was brought in to be a depth player and experienced voice amongst a sea of rookies more than anything. Then he had his best season yet. He served as a reminder that sometimes guys just need to be in a different situation. He also will lead the front office to ask questions about his possible future in Jacksonville with his one year deal now up with the club.

Shipley: The Resurgence of Myles Jack 

This article is going to talk a lot about Myles Jack for obvious reasons. He was a legitimate star on an otherwise historically bad Jaguars defense. But his strong play in 2020 isn't the only reason he was the defense's best storyline this year.

Simply put, Jack looked like a failure at middle linebacker in 2019. His play was just OK at the spot in 2018, but he struggled as much as any other defender in 2019. This led to questions of whether he was actually going to be a big piece of Jacksonville's future, as well as questions of where he could play in the 4-3 defensive scheme. 

Instead, Jack put all of these questions to rest in his first year at weak side linebacker. He thrived for really the first time since 2017, when he split time between strong side linebacker and nickel middle linebacker. He went from a questionable member of the defense to its heartbeat, one year after the worst season of his career. To see him do such a 180 will be remembered for some time.

Top Defensive Assistant 

Hill: Mark Collins

We already discussed how much Myles Jack broke out this season, and at a new position no less. He and Schobert formed one of the better linebacker duos in the league. In addition to Jack’s aforementioned stats, Schobert was fourth in the NFL in total tackles (141) along with his four passes defended, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), two forced fumbles, and two and a half sacks. He also finished with 51 defensive stops.

Some of that has to do with how often they were on the field as a result of offensive ineptitude, yes, but both guys didn’t let their play lack even as the progress of their team did. That is a credit to their coach. Collins was given a player in a new position, a player in a new defense with little offseason, and a rotating door at SAM. Yet his corps—led by Jack and Schobert—was one of the most assured aspects of the defense all season. 

Shipley: Joe Danna

I know, I know. Jacksonville's pass defense was abysmal in 2020 and it is likely a bit boggling to list one of their two primary secondary coaches in here, but Joe Danna is deserving of the honor. 

As much as Jacksonville struggled against the pass in 2020, their young and inexperienced cornerback room was much more of a factor in that regard than their safety play. Danna, the team's safeties coach, did an excellent job with developing a young group of safeties in 2020 despite all of the issues Jacksonville's defense had in 2020. 

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Jarrod Wilson, Andrew Wingard, and Daniel Thomas all made big plays in coverage throughout the season and were among the team's best defensive backs. If not for a season-ending injury after just his second start, Thomas likely would have impressed even more. Nonetheless, Wilson was once again steady, Wingard was much better in coverage than the year before, and Thomas made plays every time he was given a chance. That is a sign of good coaching, at least for that position group. 

Best Defensive Play

Hill: Myles Jack's INT versus the Bengals 

When the Jaguars faced the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, the season was still young and hopes still relatively high. Quarterback Gardner Minshew II threw for 351 yards albeit in a 33-25 loss, but one of the most impressive plays of the day came on defense.

Facing 3rd and goal from the half-yard line, Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow rolled out of the pocket and lofted a rainbow pass to the corner of the endzone for tight end Drew Sample. Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack was in coverage, with his back completely turned to Burrow.

At first glance, it looked like horrible defense. His back was to the ball, he never turned his head to locate said ball and thus he should not have been able to make a play on any ball. But Jack had one goal in mind…don’t let Sample make a play. His hands knifed Sample’s outstretched arms, prepared to part them as soon as he could get away with it without a flag. As the ball floated down into the bucket, Jack took advantage of his hand placement and grabbed the ball as it bounced down Sample’s helmet.

The “no-look interception” was a combination of technique, strength and pure “want-to.”

Shipley: CJ Henderson's INT versus the Colts 

In a game that seems like it happened 20 years ago, I am opting to give CJ Henderson the award for Jacksonville's best defensive play this season. A few other plays, such as Andrew Wingard's interception in Week 1 and Joe Schobert's pick-six against the Vikings, earned consideration, but we opted to lean toward Henderson's interception of Philip Rivers. 

Henderson did everything perfectly on this play. He baited Rivers with terrific eyes then broke on the ball with quickness. He outmuscled the receiver for the ball and created the first turnover of his career in his first game, which was one of the most impressive opening statements any Jaguars rookie has made in some time. 

Henderson didn't make a ton of plays as a rookie due to his injuries, but Week 1 was a display of his potentially elite talent. And no play summed his day up better than a gorgeous interception of Rivers.

Most Disappointing Player

Hill: Taven Bryan

If it wasn’t for Dwayne Haskins, Jaguars defensive lineman Taven Bryan would be one of the most disappointing former first-round players of the past three drafts in the league this season. He ranked near the bottom of all defensive linemen in every statistical category as his snap count continued to go down throughout the season.

In the Week 17 finale versus the Indianapolis Colts, Bryan played eight snaps. Eight. He finished the season with 18 total tackles (13 solo, five assisted) and one sack with four hurries. All were his worst marks in his young three-year career.

It would be one thing if Bryan was injured or if there were older, more experienced and productive players ahead of him. But he was healthy all season and was playing in a unit that saw player opt-outs, injuries and COVID misses from training camp to the Week 17 loss. Yet Bryan was consistently usurped by rookies or free agents who simply outplayed him with ease. 

Shipley: Taven Bryan

Taven Bryan genuinely looked like he was on the right track in 2019. He was more disruptive against both the run and the pass and was seemingly finally earning the trust of his coaching staff and teammates. There was genuine excitement both inside and outside TIAA Bank Field about what Bryan could potentially do in his third season.

Well, all of that goodwill got spent in 2020. For as much as Bryan improved in 2019, he took that big of a step backward this season. He was frequently washed out against the run and he was more often than not ineffective as a pass rusher. There wasn't a single game in which Bryan truly stood out in a positive way in 2020, which wasn't the case the year before. 

Bryan had genuine momentum entering the season, but that momentum quickly went off the rails. As a result, he only lasted half the season as a starter before undrafted rookie Doug Costin took his spot and then continued to outplay him.

Best Rookie

Hill: CJ Henderson

His rookie season was unfortunately cut short, but what CJ Henderson was able to do in the games he did have proved the Jaguars were smart to take him in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Henderson had arguably one of the best rookie debuts in club history, with three pass breakups and an interception while allowing future Hall of Fame Philip Rivers only a 28.3 passer rating when throwing towards Henderson.

Save a Week 3 loss versus the Miami Dolphins—which was an abysmal game for every Jaguars player—Henderson never finished with a failing grade in pass coverage according to PFF. His six pass breakups were second on the team, even while playing only eight games.

CJ Henderson breaks up a pass versus the Green Bay Packers. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis via Imagn Content Services, LLC

CJ Henderson breaks up a pass versus the Green Bay Packers. © Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wis via Imagn Content Services, LLC

There were some rookie mistakes, like letting a Dolphins player get up after the catch, forgetting that the player wasn’t down automatically like in college, but all were fixable. His instincts in pass coverage and willingness to be physical—like when he was the only secondary player to take on Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry head-on—all made for an exciting start to what should be a promising career. 

The last game Henderson was able to play before being placed on Injured Reserve was against the Packers. His play to chase down Devontae Adams and force a fumble—leading to a Myles Jack recovery—was a lasting image of his tenacity and effort.

Shipley: K'Lavon Chaisson/Doug Costin 

I am going to cheat and give both K'Lavon Chaisson and Doug Costin some credit here. DaVon Hamilton likely would have been the pick had his season not ended halfway through the year, same with CJ Henderson. Instead, I opt to recognize Chaisson and Costin for their strong performances. 

We talked about Chaisson plenty above, but I am giving him this award due to his impact as a pass-rusher toward the end of the season. That outweighed Henderson's up-and-down play and Hamilton's limited sample size. Meanwhile, Costin was one of the best run defenders of any rookie defender in the NFL this season. He didn't create a lot of negative plays, but he frequently held the point of attack and made things easier on the rest of the defense. 

Best Microsoft Teams Host

Hill: Myles Jack 

We’ve talked a lot about what Myles Jack did on the field this year, but it’s nothing compared to the impact he can have off the field. He’s captivating when passionate and we were greeted to a small glimpse the few times Jack sat at the Teams table this season.

Whether he was talking about his time training in Australia last offseason or why he deleted social media but still respected fans approaching him at gas stations about Trevor Lawrence, or promising to continue to fight even when there was nothing else to fight for, Jack commanded attention each time he was on camera.

The (former candle) entrepreneur used his time to go to bat for his teammates and his head coach and took blame that wasn’t his to take, all making him one of the most refreshing players to talk to no matter the point in the season. 

Shipley: Josh Allen  

Watch one Josh Allen press conference and get back to me. You won't find a player on the team with more charisma ... or anyone else who will individually say goodbye to every single person on every single call. 

Josh Allen has an incredibly bright future in the NFL. After that, he may just have a bright future on the camera.