In the NFL, a good first act means a lot. But what means even more are the encores which follow throughout the natural course of one's career.
For Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Josh Allen, the first act is already in the books. Featured in Allen's rookie season were record-breaking numbers, first-time accolades, and more. Now it is nearly time for the encore to begin, an encore which will play a large role in the fortunes of the Jaguars moving forward.
2020 is a big year for a number of key figures on the Jaguars. Among those on the team with immense pressure facing them heading into next year is Allen, the 2019 No. 7 overall pick who will now likely be tasked with being the new face of a once-great defense.
Heading into next season, the Jaguars' defense is bound to look as different as it has in several years. Gone are almost all of the starters and major contributors from the elite 2017 defense that propelled the Jaguars to the AFC Championship. In their places remains Allen, a few holdovers such as Myles Jack, Abry Jones and maybe Yannick Ngakoue, along with the rest of the pieces the Jaguars have used to attempt to rebuild the defense.
Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Dante Fowler and Calais Campbell? Traded away. Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Marcell Dareus and Barry Church? Released or waived. Telvin Smith and Paul Posluszny? Retired.
The amount of star-level talent on Jacksonville's defense just three seasons ago was as great or arguably greater than any other team. Entering 2020, the script is flipped and the defense is still in search of difference makers.
Allen was a difference-maker in 2019 but can he be one again in 2020 with several new faces surrounding him? After the departure of Campbell, the Jaguars' leading sacker over the last three years, he will have to be.
"You know, [defensive line] coach [Jason] Rebrovich and I have talked obviously quite a bit about Josh and where we see him. The biggest thing we're looking for him is to continue to improve, continue to make impact plays," Jaguars defensive coordinator said last week.
With Campbell and Dareus no longer in the middle of the Jaguars' defense, Jacksonville's defensive line will be particularly missing a sense of leadership and experience. While Allen will naturally be looked at as a successor to Campbell as the leader of Sacksonville, Wash affirmed that it shouldn't be forced. Instead, it will come naturally as he takes the next step in his development.
"I think as a coach, you always want a young man to continue to develop as a leader within our unit, you know, obviously losing some veterans up front and that kind of stuff," Wash said. "Everybody's saying we need Josh to be a leader. We need Josh to be a leader. But the biggest thing is we need him to continue to improve as a player fundamentally, and I think the leadership stuff will naturally come. I don't think as a coach, you can say hey, this is our leader we want you to become the leader. I think it's just naturally going to happen. He has shown that already in this offseason, taking control of some things within our defensive line unit.
"But the biggest thing we're looking for is just improvement and with him fundamentally and continue to be a playmaker like he was last year."
So with the Jaguars' coaching staff making it clear what they hope to see from Allen, what does history suggest they can see in terms of pass-rushing production? To get to that answer, it is first important to look at what Allen displayed as a rookie in 2019.
What Allen did as a rookie
Allen's performance in 2019 was nothing short of historically noteworthy. In 16 games, Allen was used more so as a rotational defensive end as opposed to an every-down starter. Campbell and Ngakoue started in the Jaguars' base defense and Allen was utilized to give them a breather and also as Ngakoue's tag team partner on third downs.
In 16 games, Allen played only 60% of Jacksonville's defensive snaps. Compare that to Ngakoue (75%) and other pass-rushers such as Nick Bosa (76%), and Allen's production is even more impressive. In his rookie campaign, Allen managed to record 10.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 23 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.
The 10.5 sack figure is particularly noteworthy. By notching 10.5 sacks, Allen led all rookies in 2019 and set a Jaguars rookie record, breaking the record of eight sacks set by Ngakoue in 2016. Despite playing significantly fewer snaps than Campbell and Ngakoue, Allen still led the Jaguars in sacks by 2.5 last season.
Allen's performance as a rookie was so impressive that he was named a Pro Bowl alternative, making him the first rookie in franchise history to ever earn a trip to the Pro Bowl. Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jalen Ramsey all missed out on Pro Bowl honors as rookies, but not Allen.
By recording 10.5 sacks, Allen became only the sixth player since 2011 to record double-digit sacks as a rookie, joining the likes of Von Miller, Aldon Smith and Bradley Chubb. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, only 35 rookies have reached double-digit sacks and only 23 players had at least 10.5.
Simply put, Allen's sack production in 2019 was historical for a rookie both from the league and team perspective. Was he perfect? Of course not. There is even a debate as to whether he was the best rookie defensive end considering Bosa won Defensive Rookie of the Year.
But in terms of simply getting to the quarterback, few did it better in their first seasons than Allen. Most of the players who matched or surpassed Allen's production were known as elite defenders, with several becoming Hall of Famers or setting themselves up to be in the near future.
What history says the Jaguars could expect in Year 2
When looking at each of the rookies in NFL history who have matched or surpassed Allen's sack production as a rookie, recent history paints a positive light for what to expect out of Allen. Add in the context that Allen will assuredly see a large boost in snaps in 2020 due to the absence of Campbell and potentially Ngakoue and the arrow is looking up for Allen.
So, which company does Allen find himself surrounded by and what does it mean moving forward? In an effort to answer that question, we take a look at two different groups: players with double-digit sacks since 2011 (the newest CBA) and players with double-digit sacks from 1982-2010.
Players with double-digit sacks since 2011
It is important to note here that while six players have recorded double-digit sacks as rookies, two of them aren't included here: Allen and fellow 2019 rookie Maxx Crosby. Since each were rookies last season, there is no second-year data to examine.
|Player||Sacks in Year 1||Sacks in Year 2|
1 (played in only four games)
Among the four players who qualify here, all but one was able to improve upon their rookie season production. The only player who didn't have more sacks in his sophomore season was Bradley Chubb and that is because he sustained an ACL injury a few games into his 2019 campaign that ended his season.
Aldon Smith started zero games officially as a rookie but was a 16-game starter in his second season. As a result, his sacks leaped from 14 to 19.5. Von Miller started almost the entire season in both his first and second years, but he was able to improve in his sophomore season by recording 18.5 sacks, seven more sacks than the year before.
As for Joey Bosa, he played only 53% of the Chargers' defensive snaps in 2016 due to injury. But in year two he was able to be on the field for 81% of snaps, partially resulting in him recording two more sacks as a sophomore.
Players with double-digit sacks since before 2011
Two notes here: for starters, Reggie White wasn't a true rookie in 1985 because he spent two years after college playing in the USFL. So while he was an NFL rookie in 1985, he was in reality a third-year professional player.
As for Leslie O'Neal, he missed his second season due to a knee injury and he then only played nine games in his third season, so his data is a bit incomplete.
|Player||Sacks in Year 1||Sacks in Year 2|
0 (played in 0 games)
When it comes to this group of players, which contains some of the best pass-rushers to ever don an NFL logo, six of these players were able to record double-digit sacks a year after doing so as rookies. Only White had more sacks in his second season, but this could be the result of a number of factors such as the NFL being a more run-oriented league in past decades.
Recent history is more in favor of Allen and a rise in production next season than the history of past generations is, but there is still reason for optimism after seeing the number of players who were still able to reach the 10 sack mark in their season seasons.
So in conclusion, recent NFL history suggests that as long as Allen stays healthy he should have a good chance to hit double-digit sacks again. Most rookies who recorded 10 sacks in this era of the NFL were able to get even better in year two, and this should be expected from Allen.
Allen was a dominant presence at times during his rookie campaign but, as with any rookie, he still had a ways to go in his development from a technical standpoint. There should be a natural progression with Allen in year two, especially since he developed by leaps and bounds through 16 weeks last season alone.
“Good football player. We knew that coming in. I think you’re only seeing the surface. I really do. I think that he has the ability to be one of those players that are going to be able to play at a high level for a long period of time," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said during Allen's rookie season. "I think that he’s handled himself really well. I think Calais Campbell’s been a big influence in that. I can’t speak for Josh [Allen]. That’s what I see. I think that was smart on Josh for him to find someone like Calais and do that stuff, and he’s playing well, but he has so much growth left. I mean he’s going to get so much better. He’s playing well for us, but we really have high expectations for him and what he can do.”
With an improved toolbox of rush moves, more snaps to get to the quarterback and a whole year of experience under his belt, the arrow is pointing up for Allen heading into his second season. There will be other factors that determine the impact he makes in 2020, such as the Jaguars' semi-change in defensive scheme and the situation surrounding Ngakoue, but there are more reasons to bet on Allen in year two than to bet against him.
Allen's first act was as good as the Jaguars have ever seen from a rookie defensive end. Now, their hopes on defense will rely on his encore performances. If Allen's rookie season and recent NFL history is any indication, the future of Jacksonville's pass-rush is in good hands.