The Jacksonville defense has shown significant improvement in 2016, and a big reason why has been the play of two rookies drafted in the first and third round.
The Jaguars have been a disappointment in 2016, but it’s hard to fault the defense too much. They’ve done enough to keep the team in 3 out of the 4 games and given the offense the ball back multiple times late in the 4th quarter. If the offense was clicking the way we all expected, this team would almost certainly be 3-1 right now.
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The defense hasn’t been flawless, but it’s definitely shown enough promise to get excited about the future. Most of the encouraging signs stem from the play of the young guns, particularly the rookies and first year players taking significant snaps.
Daniel Jeremiah makes a point to track the play of the rookies every week in order rank them all, and this week he had two Jaguars on his list. The first was easy – perhaps the early favorite for defensive rookie of the year:
"4. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars"
"Ramsey has all the tools you look for in a No. 1 cornerback. He’s long, athletic and fluid. He doesn’t shy away from contact and keeps getting better every week. His movement skills are off the charts."
Ramsey is only behind the two starting rookie QBs who are excelling (Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott) and the player taken right ahead of Ramsey (Ezekiel Elliott). I completely understand having the quarterbacks ahead of Ramsey due to positional value, but Ramsey has arguably been better the Zeke so far.
The other rookie is a bit of a pleasant surprise and has helped improve what was an anemic pass rush in 2015.
"6. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars"
"Ngakoue has been a force coming off the edge for the Jags. He’s a little stiff, but he’s explosive and powerful as a pass rusher. He currently leads all rookies with three sacks, and he’s also collected an interception and forced three fumbles."
Some fans cocked their head when Ngakaoue was give the start at LEO ahead of Dante Fowler Jr., but the Maryland product has shown he’s a difference maker along the defensive line. He’s easily the most polished of the rookie edge rushers and his production has warranted more attention than he’s gotten.
Besides Ngakoue and Ramsey, the Jaguars are getting good production out of Fowler, Sheldon Day, and now Myles Jack. It’s promising to see these rookies contributing, especially when the defense as a whole is playing well.