Dec 1, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Andre Branch (90) and defensive end Jason Babin (58) against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

How the Jacksonville Jaguars Can Make the Playoffs in 2014 – Defensive End

Nov 30, 2013; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) celebrates a tackle for loss against the Clemson Tigers in the second quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

With the playoffs in full swing, one can’t help but wonder if the Jacksonville Jaguars can make the playoffs next year. When David Caldwell was first hired as general manager, the conservative thinking was he would need three years to restore this roster from the dumpster fire Gene Smith assembled.

Early on in the 2013 season, it seemed as if Caldwell would need a lot more time for a team that looked destined for an 0-16 record. Somehow Head Coach Gus Bradley inspired this team to 4 wins and suddenly the outlook of the team in 2014 looked a lot less bleak.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are still going to need a lot of help, specifically from the 2014 NFL draft, to improve to compete for a playoff spot. Here are some of the spots where the Jaguars can improve on defense this offseason and how.

Position Need to Improve? How? (Round)
Defensive Tackle Yes Draft (3-7) or FA
Defensive End Yes Draft (1-7) or FA
Inside LB No N/A
Outside LB Yes Draft (4-7) or FA
Cornerback No N/A
Safety No N/A

The Jacksonville Jaguars ended the 2013 regular season with 31 sacks – the least amount in the league along with Chicago. The Jaguars clearly need help in the pass rush department and they will have plenty of options in both the draft and free agency.

Veteran defensive end Jason Babin had 8 sacks in 2013 but he was generally pretty ineffective and a liability in regards to penalties. He was called for 11 penalties over the course of the season, by the far the most for any defensive player on the roster. Andre Branch improved significantly in 2013, but he still isn’t a reliable pass rusher and too often runs himself out of plays. Ryan Davis showed a little bit of pass rush ability when he got some snaps toward the end of the season, but David Caldwell and Gus Bradley still need to find their true LEO pass rusher.

Caldwell could try and fix the problem with a veteran free agent and there may be a few guys entering their prime available. The ideal free agent would be the Panthers’ Greg Hardy. Hardy had a terrific season collecting 15 sacks and he’s only 25 years old. Hardy is going to command a massive contract this offseason so Caldwell is going to have to decide if he wants to open up and spend. If not Hardy, a guy like Michael Johnson of the Bengals is likely going to hit the free agent market due to some cap space issues in Cincinnati. Johnson is also young at only 26 and he’s notched 15.5 sacks over the last two season opposite Carlos Dunlap.

If not in free agency, the Jaguars are going to have to look towards the draft to find an impact pass rusher. They may be forced to make a decision at third overall if Jadeveon Clowney is available and whether or not he’s worth taking over their highest rated quarterback. If the Jaguars go quarterback first, they might get lucky and find a guy like Kony Ealy or Trent Murphy available in the 2nd round .

 

– Daniel Lago

Yell at me on Twitter @dlago89

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Tags: Andre Branch Jacksonville Jaguars Jadeveon Clowney Jason Babin

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