There have been few position groups in the 2021 NFL Draft class criticized as much as the interior defensive line. One year after two defensive tackles were drafted within the top-14 picks, it appears there is a real chance only one defensive tackle is drafted in round one next Thursday.
But that doesn't trouble Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer. One year after the Jaguars had one of the worst pass-rush units and worst run defenses in the league, Meyer has made it a personal mission to overhaul the team's defensive line group.
Meyer doesn't go against the grain when it comes to comparing this year's defensive tackle group and edge defender group. Like most, he sees one side as the clear stronger position. But that doesn't mean he isn't impressed by players in both position groups.
“The edge is a little deeper than the interior, but there are some really quality players on the inside as well," Meyer said on Wednesday.
"We addressed some of the needs on the defensive line in free agency; that was obviously a high need area for us. We’re not done yet, but actually today, this afternoon, we’re going to finalize—that’s one of the final pieces. When Trent said we’re finishing the board, that’s one of the final pieces that we’re actually working on. It’s obviously, ‘How good is your team? How good is your defensive line?’ That’s the first answer."
The Jaguars were hard at work to add both starters and depth players to the defensive line in March. They signed free agent defensive linemen Roy Roberts-Harris, Malcom Brown (after trading for him), and Jihad Ward, while they also re-signed Dawuane Smoot and Adam Gotsis. Jacksonville had also agreed to terms with Tyson Alualu at one point before he ended up going back on the deal and re-signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jacksonville has promising players along the edges in Josh Allen (2019 first-round pick) and K'Lavon Chaisson (2020 first-round draft pick), but those two combined for just 3.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Jacksonville's six primary defensive tackles last season — Doug Costin, Taven Bryan, Abry Jones, DaVon Hamilton, Daniel Ekuale, and Caraun Reid — combined for just 2.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 13 quarterback hits.
"We have some really solid pieces right now that we even believe will play better as they get a little more mature and we move on and the scheme fits some of our personnel," Meyer said on Wednesday.
The Jaguars are better equipped currently to use a top pick on an edge defender, even with both Allen and Caisson on the roster. The value of this year's edge group, which could see five or more players drafted in the first-round, outweighs a defensive tackle group that has some solid players but is mostly unspectacular.
For context, this year's consensus big board from The Athletic has five edge defenders within the top-32 players in the draft. Meanwhile, there is only one defensive tackle: Christian Barmore at No. 27.
"The challenge is in this draft, which is so light at defensive tackle -- I mean, it is what it is. It's the worst defensive tackle group that I've seen since I started in 2003," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said on Wednesday.
"I mean, I've got two guys really -- when you talk about Barmore and Onwuzurike, whatever order you want to put those in, I have Onwuzurike, but those are the only two guys I would be fired up in the first 75, 80 picks. It's just a really thin, thin year."
The Jaguars seem likely to address the defensive line at some point during next week's draft. Whether they choose to chase the value in the edge group or the need along the interior defensive line is the question the Jaguars will ultimately have to ask themselves.