Way-Too-Early Depth Charts: Projecting the Jaguars' Edge Defender Group
For now, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the other 31 NFL clubs are restricted to a virtual world and have yet to take any fields together for offseason team activities. Competitions for starting roles have yet to be had but rest assured, they will still eventually be battled.
But with the season still scheduled as of today to begin on time, it can still be a worthwhile exercise to project how certain position groups may shape up come the regular season. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are set to trot out one of the league's youngest rosters in 2020, there are a number of positions that still needed to be sorted out from top to bottom, whether it be at the starting role or along the depth.
As this offseason progresses, we will take a look at each position and give our best guess as to what the depth chart will look like come September, or whenever the season does start.
We already covered the quarterbacks and running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, the offensive line, linebackers, and safeties, Now, we will move onto Jacksonville's edge rushing group, which we will label as just players who will see the majority of their reps at defensive end (or outside linebacker in 3-4 sets).
For context, there will be two edge rushers who are atop of the depth chart in this edition because teams use two separate players on the edge at all times. We won't be labeling players as defensive ends or outside linebackers but will instead simply list the players who will play on the edge of the defensive line more often than not. For example, Josh Allen and K'Lavon Chaisson may play different positions in the base defense next year, but for the purposes of this exercise, we will look strictly at what they do on third downs.
The Jaguars are facing quite a bit of uncertainty in their edge group entering 2020, largely because of the unknown future of fifth-year pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Ngakoue has been vocal in his desires to play elsewhere in 2020 and thus far he has not signed the franchise tag tender the Jaguars placed on him in March.
With how serious Ngakoue appears to be about his divorce from the Jaguars, it isn't unreasonable to think he could potentially not play this season. Ngakoue has been one of the league's most consistently productive pass-rushers since entering the league in 2016, so any event in which the Jaguars are missing him would be a rather significant blow.
So, how do we see the Jaguars' edge defender depth chart shaking out once Week 1 comes along? We give our best guesses here:
Edge No. 1A: Josh Allen
Edge No. 1B: Yannick Ngakoue
Since the Jaguars, and any football team, will have two edge defenders on the field at the same time, there is no real reason to put either Josh Allen or Yannick Ngakoue over the other. Sure, the Jaguars will have a few snaps here and there where they come out with a heavy formation and have three interior players and just one edge defender, but this won't happen often enough to make a difference.
Ultimately this will obviously hinge on whether Ngakoue plays for the Jaguars in 2020. It doesn't appear as if any trade for the Pro Bowler is on the horizon so it is more or less up to Ngakoue if he takes the field for Jacksonville in the fall. If Ngakoue doesn't play, Allen will obviously be Jacksonville's unquestioned No. 1 edge defender. If he does play, look for them to have a more balanced sharing of snaps than they had in Allen's rookie season last year.
As a rookie, Allen (No. 7 overall pick in 2019) was a dominant force for Jacksonville. He didn't get as many reps as Ngakoue and there is a strong argument to make that the Jaguars underutilized him, but he still managed to set a franchise rookie record in sacks (10.5) and led all rookies in the category as well. Add in Allen's 11 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles and it is hard to not be optimistic about his sophomore season and what he could do in an expanded role.
While Ngakoue failed to hit double-digit sacks for the second time in two years, and the third time in four years overall, he was still an impact player for the Jaguars' otherwise shaky defense in 2019. He was second on the team in sacks with eight and recorded four forced fumbles, 13 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits, and one interception returned for a touchdown. He helped free Allen up to make quite a few of the rookie's big plays, and when the duo was on top of their game they were nearly impossible for offensive lines to handle.
Edge No. 2: K'Lavon Chaisson
Chances are that No. 20 overall pick K'Lavon Chaisson will play a role similar to Allen's from 2019 as opposed to being an every-down pass-rusher. We expect for Chaisson to start at strongside linebacker since the Jaguars appear to be high on his ability to impact the run and pass game from a two-point stance, but he will still see snaps on the edge on third downs as a way to relieve Allen and Ngakoue, in the event he plays. Don't expect the Jaguars to put too much on Chaisson's plate too soon, but they didn't draft him No. 20 to not let him at least have some attempts to get to the quarterback.
"It’s funny because when we drafted K’Lavon, I made a comment to a friend of mine and I’m like, ‘I sleep much better at night knowing that we have some pass-rush studs," general manager Dave Caldwell said after the draft concluded in April.
Edge No. 3: Aaron Lynch
A player with the ability to play inside or outside, Jacksonville signed Lynch on May 5 to bolster their depth along the defensive line. He hasn't recorded more than three sacks in a season since 2015 and totaled five sacks in two seasons with Chicago from 2018-2019. He has experience in a 3-4 defense so the Jaguars could utilize him on the edge in specific formations, but there is no reason to expect him to get more snaps than any of the players in front of him.
Edge No. 4: Lerentee McCray
Unless any of the Jaguars' top three edge defenders go down with an injury, it is hard to see Lerentee McCray seeing many snaps on third down. A special teams ace, McCray has just 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hits in three seasons in Jacksonville. He gets defensive snaps as part of the defensive line rotation, playing 61 snaps in nine games last year, but he is a seldom-used pass rusher.
Edge No. 5: Cassius Marsh
Edge No. 6: Leon Jacobs
Cassius Marsh and Leon Jacobs will each be playing strongside linebacker, but they do offer some pass-rush ability off of the edge. Jacksonville has enough players in front of them to keep them off of the field on third downs, but each could be featured in a rotation with Jacksonville's top edge players. Look for Marsh and Jacobs to play more on base downs than anywhere else.