Jacksonville Jaguars Rookie Roster Battle – Safety


The 2015 NFL Draft is under wraps and the Jacksonville Jaguars have 8 new players to show for it. Unfortunately, first round pick Dante Fowler Jr. will be sitting out the 2015 season with an unfortunate knee injury sustained during rookie mini-camp, but the Jaguars still have 7 new players who could contribute in 2015.

Over the past 2 seasons, draft selections came in with an almost guaranteed roster spot. In fact, most draft picks in 2013 and 2014 had a clear path to the starting job. Thanks to sound drafting and quality free agent acquisitions, general manager David Caldwell finally has the roster in a respectable enough state that rookies need to come in and actually earn roster spots.

Consequently, in this series we’ll analyze each draft selection and see how the positional depth chart shakes out with their addition.

After looking at second round pick T.J. Yeldon and third round guard A.J. Cann, let’s turn our attention now to fourth round pick James Sample.

The Jacksonville Jaguars showed a lot of promise on defense last year, especially in the secondary. The team got more than adequate play from second year players Demetrius McCray at cornerback and Johnathan Cyprien at strong safety, while Aaron Colvin came in as a rookie and played well enough to inspire confidence heading into 2015. Still, the team had a glaring need at free safety. Coverage in the back end was a huge issue, mostly due to the up and down play of second year safety Josh Evans.

The team made a hard push for Devin McCourty in free agency but fell just short, so they opted for a possible solution in the draft in James Sample.

Here’s the safety depth chart heading into 2015, along with 2014 stats and grades from Pro Football Focus.

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Nov 9, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Jacksonville Jaguars free safety Josh Evans (26) celebrates recovering a fumble by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver

Cole Beasley

(11) (not shown) at Wembley Stadium Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Cyprien didn’t make the “leap” most expected him to in his sophomore season, but he was asked to do quite a bit to cover up the deficiencies of his safety partners throughout the season. With a more adequate coverage safety next to him, Cyprien should be freed up to play more effectively.

Josh Evans was clearly an issue in 2014, as he really didn’t excel in coverage or in run support. He was billed as having the range to play free safety coming out of college, but he hasn’t developed as quickly as one would hope even considering his status as a sixth round pick. It’s not a surprise the team brought in Sergio Brown as a free agent to compete for that spot. While he wasn’t a world beater in Indianapolis,  Brown wasn’t a liability in coverage and should contribute in special teams at the very least.

Consequently, we can now safely conclude that James Sample was brought in to compete for the starting free safety spot next to Cyprien. The team has already publicly stated as much, and there are plenty of analysts who think he can play well there.

So will Sample end up as the starter opening week? I think so, and I think the Jaguars are expecting him to ascend to the top of the depth chart fairly easily.

2015 Safety depth chart

  1. Johnathan Cyprien (SS)
  2. James Sample (FS)
  3. Sergio Brown
  4. Josh Evans

Next: Yeldon, Bennett are Impact Rookies

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