Yannick Ngakoue Surging Despite Jacksonville's Defensive Woes
While the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense continues to struggle in 2019 and continue to fall further and further from the elite status it held in 2017, one player is still shining each week: fourth-year defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Since Week 5, Ngakoue has six sacks, six tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. Two of those strip-sacks have come in each of Jacksonville's last two games, two of the only bright spots in otherwise putrid defensive performance by the Jaguars.
Ngakoue has been a strip-sack artist throughout his entire career, now having forced a staggering 13 fumbles in his first four seasons of his career, with 12 of those being strip-sacks. Ngakoue has 35.5 career sacks, so that means over one-third of his career sacks turn into fumbles.
This valuable and rare trait has made him stand out on an otherwise poor Jaguars defense, especially over the last few weeks.
"I think, you know, he is a player who works his butt off and you can see the results on the field," head coach Doug Marrone said during a conference call Monday when JaguarMaven asked about Ngakoue's ability to force turnovers.
"Some guys are good at sacking at the quarterback, and there are some guys who are really good that just have this craft or they work on it, and he does it in practice all the time even though obviously we don't hit our quarterback," Marrone said. "But he works on that off-hand or whatever it may be free to be able to get it. So he takes a lot of pride in that and he has done a heck of a job with it."
For a Jacksonville defense that has struggled to force turnovers over the last two seasons, Ngakoue has shown he is still a steady and dependable defender after a slow start to his 2019 season. His strip-sack against the Tennessee Titans in Week 12's 42-20 loss was a three-point swing in of itself, seeing as to how it came within the Jaguars' 10-yard line.
"It is a big point, it is a big play, it is a turnover," Marrone said. "Every time he gets close to the quarterback, I am thinking always strip-sack, and he does a good job of it."
For a player like Ngakoue who is in the final year of his rookie contract, it would make sense for Jacksonville to try to long him up with a long-term deal. Players who consistently produce not only sacks but also turnovers are hard to find, and Ngakoue is a homegrown talent after the Jaguars drafted him in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
"But make no mistake about it, he works extremely hard at it," Marrone said. "That is the one thing about the kid; his work ethic and his desire to get better and be the best at what he does is something that maybe a lot of people aren't able to see because obviously they're not there throughout the whole practice."
Jacksonville has a number of issues along its defense, specifically when it comes to stopping the run. But as it stands today, Ngakoue is a bright spot, just as he has been every other season in his career.