Over the course of the next nine games, nothing is more important for the Jacksonville Jaguars than the development of their rookie class. Among the key developments to watch will be third-round nose tackle DaVon Hamilton, whose role has expanded with Abry Jones injured.
Drafted in the third-round (No. 73 overall) in April's 2020 NFL Draft, Hamilton started the season on a slower note as Jones' backup. But in the final game before Jacksonville's Week 8 bye, Hamilton flipped the switch and put forth a dominant performance, recording eight tackles, one tackle for loss, three pressures and two quarterback hits vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.
In many ways, Hamilton's performance was the kind of eureka moment the Jaguars are hoping to see from each of their rookies in due time. For example, it wasn't long ago that Hamilton struggled in major ways against the Detroit Lions. Bur Hamilton kept pushing and growing, and he was able to get out of his slump and begin to make plays.
"You know, he’s a big, strong, physical guy. What we’ve kind of seen as the season has gone on, he’s played well," defensive coordinator Todd Wash said on Thursday.
"Maybe hadn’t play as well and then played well again, so we’ve had a little bit of ups and downs. And I think that is just part of being a rookie, at this phase, missing the whole offseason and stuff like that. They’re continuing to develop."
The biggest area of improvement for Hamilton over the first half of the season has been his ability to diagnose plays. He is beginning to catch up to the speed of the game and quickly recognize blocking schemes and concepts.
Hamilton already had the size and strength to make an impact at nose tackle for the Jaguars, but now the mental part of the game is catching up to the physical part.
"But you see the stoutness that we like in the run game. His ability to run, he plays real hard and extremely smart, so we can do a lot of different things with him. Move him, have some design stuff for him, because he is intelligent," Wash said. "But I think he’s going to be a solid player in this league for a while.”
Hamilton's development hasn't just been noticed by Wash and head coach Doug Marrone, too. His teammates are beginning to feel the impact of his improvement.
When Hamilton plays well, it helps the linebackers in the run game and the rest of the defensive line in the pass-rushing phase. A strong interior presence to push the pocket has been something Jacksonville's defensive ends have missed all season, so just more penetration from Hamilton alone should boost the rest of the defensive line.
"It’s definitely cool to see. Just him progressing each week. It’s just something that we need," defensive end Josh Allen said.
"We need a lot of playmakers up front and he’s definitely been one of those guys and he just brings a lot of push and a lot of motivation for all the other guys to get at the run. [I] hope he continues to play like that and we need that for the rest of the year.”