Can the Jaguars upgrade their linebackers this offseason, either through free agency or the NFL Draft?
The Jacksonville Jaguars defense wasn’t pretty last year. Teams ran straight up the middle with ease. One issue was the youth and inexperience with the linebacking corps.
The linebackers in the NFL are the jacks of all trade. As Andres Botero wrote in a story that appeared on Bleacher Report, there are certain characteristics that make average linebackers great ones in this league.
"“Linebackers obviously need to be big, strong, fast and agile, but that is not enough to be a great linebacker,” he said.“In the NFL, every player is big, strong, fast and agile; so what do scouts look for to distinguish the average linebackers from future great ones?”"
Botero breaks it down even further, talking about vision, size and speed, and tackling ability in determining how to determine how good a player will be at the position. The Jaguars had their moments last season with players filling the position, but no one stood out like in years past.
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"“Whether you are an inside or an outside linebacker, recognition and vision are key because, without them, you can’t play yourself in the right position to make a play,” he adds."
The designated lead linebacker requires this critical trait to put everyone in the best position. The 2019 linebackers had huge problems being in the right place at the right time. The Jaguars could use a middle linebacker with vision.
"“Great linebackers are like a freight train, big, hard-hitting, and they come at you fast,” Botero explains."
Because linebackers are at times chasing down running backs and a wide receiver or tight end, straight-ahead speed isn’t most important, but the ability to change direction is critical. Tackling and being able to wrap up opponents is another critical skill.
The Jaguars proved they were a poor tackling team last season, especially after the team got in a hole the offense could not get them out of. Defensive coordinator Todd Wash must emphasize the need for this fundamental part of the game this coming training camp.
The Jaguars currently have 12 linebackers on their active roster and injured reserve. It is no secret that many of these men will not be on the roster at the start of the 2020 season. There are several standouts from last season that I hope will be given another opportunity. Myles Jack should return to outside backer and be the player he was in 2018.
There are many free agents available but salary cap issues may limit the team’s possibilities to bring players in to fill holes in the middle
Inside linebacker is a must have for the Jaguars. Cory Littleton of the Rams could be a player the Jaguars target and excels in pass coverage. Joe Schubert of the Browns is another star the Jaguars should have on their wish list. Blake Martinez of the Packers does well in pass coverage but not well against the run.
Outside linebacker is tricky to predict because edge rushers are put in that category at times. Yannick Ngakoue is the team’s top offseason priority and could shake the roster up if he does play elsewhere in 2020. Another outside backer is Shaq Barrett, who played with Tampa Bay last season
Moving to the draft there are some great prospects for outside linebacker. Isaiah Simmons of Clemson will likely be a top 10 pick. Simply stated…he can do it all. Jon Greenard from Florida is projected to go in the first three rounds and can be an edge rusher or linebacker. David Woodward of Utah State can play inside or outside and is described as a tackling machine.
I like Troy Dye of Oregon slated for rounds 3-4. He is described as a good defender with size and is a classic middle linebacker who would fill a need. I also like Akeem Davis-Gaither from Appalachian State. He can play inside or outside and is rangy and athletic.
The Jaguars have plenty of linebackers on their roster but definitely need to upgrade the position to compete with the better teams. I am sure our brain trust will be watching free agents and rookies carefully to make the changes they need at this critical position.