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, and linebackers. Now, we will move onto the safety group, which will be headlined by two of Jacksonville's leading tacklers from 2020 and a handful of rookies.
Jacksonville opted to add to the safety position via the mid-rounds and undrafted free agency of the 2020 NFL Draft, choosing to not use a premium investment on the position. With two returning starts and revamped depth, the Jaguars will be hoping for solid contributions from young players and development from key veterans.
So, how do we think the safety depth chart will eventually shake out, both among the starters and key backups?
FS No. 1: Jarrod Wilson
The ironman of the Jaguars' defense in 2019, Jarrod Wilson held down the free safety position in his first season as a full-time starter. The former undrafted free agent success story was Jacksonville's in-house replacement for the released Tashaun Gipson, and Wilson is now set to be one of the few carryovers in 2020 from last season's defense.
"J-Dub [Jarrod Wilson] has been solid. He’s played a ton of snaps for us. He’s played special teams for us. When you look at the snaps on the team, which I do every week, he’s probably one of the guys that has the most snaps, so that’s valuable," head coach Doug Marrone said last season. "He’s going out there, he’s being productive for us. He’s a really good communicator."
Last year, Wilson recorded a team-best 79 tackles, six tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, two interceptions, four pass deflections, and one fumble recovery. While he wasn't consistently a playmaker in Jacksonville's sometimes shaky back end, he had instances of strong play against both the run and the pass throughout the season. Now, he will have to prove he can take a step forward in his development in his second year as a starter in hopes of locking down the position on a long-term basis.
SS No. 1: Ronnie Harrison
Another player entering his second season as a full-time starter, Ronnie Harrison was one of Jacksonville's most productive defensive backs in 2019. The 2018 third-round pick started eight games as a rookie but he stepped into a role from day one of 2019 in which the Jaguars' defense was set to lean on him and he answered the call more often than not.
In 14 games last season, Harrison recorded 71 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, nine pass deflections, one interception, and one fumble recovery. Harrison displayed considerable improvement in year two, specifically when it came to downfield coverage and playing the ball in the air, and this undoubtedly left an impression on the Jaguars. Harrison still has to shore up any inconsistencies that are in his game, but if he continues to improve then he could establish himself as one of the best playmakers on the defense.
"Ronnie’s [Harrison] still a young player. I look at Ronnie as he continues to get better each week. I think he has all the ability to make plays for us, which I think he’s starting to show us," Marrone said last season. "He’s a physical player, he has 41 tackles. He’s good, he has the ability to take away the ball, he has the ability to defend, too, which is important in man coverage. So, I think Ronnie’s just going to get better and better. He’s an intense player on the field, he plays at a high level of emotion, which I like. He’s in-tune to what’s going on, he practices during the week, he’s available. I think he’s someone that just needs to keep continuing on the path he’s going and he can be, he is a good player for us now, but he has the ability, if he keeps working hard, to be an excellent player in this league.”
FS No. 2: Daniel Thomas
SS No. 2: J.R. Reed
The two backup safety spots here go to rookies who have yet to take an NFL snap, which could prove risky for the Jaguars in the event that either Wilson or Harrison misses time. But following the departure of former No. 3 safety Cody Davis, there is a great opportunity for either of Daniel Thomas or J.R. Reed to step in and contribute to the defense and on special teams.
Thomas was drafted in the fifth round (No. 157 overall) in this year's draft and the Jaguars have stated they see him as an option at free safety. In 2019, the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Thomas recorded 74 tackles. 5.5 tackles for loss, one pass deflection, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. In Thomas' four years at Auburn, he recorded 199 tackles, five interceptions, nine tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
“I can do both, being versatile. But I feel like I’m more comfortable close to the box. I don’t miss tackles in the box. You can go pull the film. Anytime I was close to the box, I didn’t miss a tackle. So I mean, if I’m in there it’s gonna be a guaranteed tackle, for sure tackle, I’m very confident in that. Best thing part of my game, I can tackle really well," Thomas said after he was drafted.
Reed signed with Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent following a 2019 season with Georgia in which he was named a Jim Thorpe Award finalist. In his final season at Georgia, Reed recorded 54 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, seven pass deflections, one fumble recovery, and one forced fumble.
"They are definitely getting a leader on and off the field and again, you know, great player -- one of the greats in Georgia history, one of the greats that have come through Georgia, did a lot of things for that team, made a lot of plays," Reed said this offseason.
Backup: Douglas Middleton
Beating out Andrew Wingard for the fifth and final safety spot on this list is Douglas Middleton. While Wingard started a handful of games last season, Middleton has more NFL experience, size, and looked to play better in coverage on limited snaps. Wingard, however, was a special teams ace last year, so this slot could come down to that factor, though Middleton is a valuable special teams contributor in his own right.