The Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to find the pass rusher they desperately need, missing out on the top prospects in 2016 free agency. Is it time to consider a trade?
General manager Dave Caldwell’s selection of Dante Fowler Jr. was supposed to solve the hole in the pass rushing specialist “leo” position on the Jacksonville Jaguars roster. Unfortunately, like many things in the NFL, an unfortunate accident happened and Fowler hit injured reserve after his first practice. It’s the kind of freak thing that gives fans of any team shudders.
Because Fowler missed all of 2015 with his torn ACL, the Jaguars do not know what they have in him. The pressure mounts, as described by ESPN’s Michael DiRocco, and if Fowler can’t live up to his draft position (third overall) and deliver, then the Jags will be in a dire situation.
The position is further amplified by the recent lack of high-level production from top pass rushing selections. Adam Stites at SB Nation does a great job outlining this in his article promoting the Jags trading for a pass rusher. Or, more accurately, that they have no choice but to trade for a pass rusher. No first round rookie has posted more than eight sacks in their first season (Ezekiel Ansah) since 2013 and only one other rusher (Barkevious Mingo) posted five or more.
That kind of first-year production (or lack thereof) is not inspiring when thinking of Dante Fowler’s role in the Jacksonville Jaguars defense. Sacks aren’t everything, but they are key plays and the most gifted pass rushers that are taken at the top of the first round are expected to be better than their peers, but the data doesn’t suggest it is feasible to expect much from Fowler in his first season on the field.
If the Jags can’t expect much from Fowler, should they trade for someone who can be more consistent? Should they trade for someone to support Fowler or someone Fowler can support? Should they trade for a player that is in the prime of their career, limiting the opportunities for Fowler to establish himself in the defense?
At this point it may be too early to consider all of those things. The 2016 NFL Draft is still on the horizon and there is plenty of time to maneuver around other teams. Nobody knows Fowler’s development better than the Jags and while he has spent most of his time rehabbing, there has to be at least some development as Fowler spent the year learning at the NFL level. It may not be perfect, but it may be enough.
To compound the suggestion that no trade may happen, the Jaguars are already talking about using linebacker Dan Skuta in more pass rushing situations. Skuta also missed time due to injury and could be the kind of support in the pass rushing department that Fowler will need in his first year.
Dave Caldwell has fashioned a Jacksonville Jaguars roster that he is proud of. The selections in free agency and the draft last year should not be overlooked in the calculus for next season. While the current situation may not be ideal (far from it, actually), the Jaguars are developing the right mix of players that can create opportunities. There’s potential in the roster and if Caldwell’s past willingness to test the mettle of young players continues, we Jags fans will likely see the young Fowler headlining as the leo in 2016.
The trade talks are warranted, especially after the abysmal pass rush in 2015. It’s worth exploring. But right now the Jags may be stronger than they appear at first glance, especially in the eyes of those building the roster. Eventually the Jags will be tested on the football field and they could be stronger than many of us anticipate.
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Of course, they have to prove it, because the last three years have poisoned the outlook of many on the defense. As DiRocco wrote, the pressure is mounting.