All eyes are on whether the Jacksonville Jaguars will select Travon Walker or Aidan Hutchinson with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. But it’s easy to overlook the Jags signed former San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arden Key in the second wave of free agency and he could end up being the X-Factor on their defense.
Analyst Bucky Brooks recently appeared on the Huddle Up podcast and shared his thoughts on Key, whom he describes as a unique player and you must have a plan for how to use him because he’s not “your every down defensive tackle”. So what exactly does the defensive lineman bring to the table?
"He is an up-the-field pass-rushing presence on the inside that you must have. Elite defenses now have at least two pass rushers and ideally three [or] two on the edges, one on the inside. He gives people problems with his quickness and length on the inside. That said you don’t want him out there all the time because you don’t want him to run right at him. But he’s like he’s a good player. A lot of it will be on Branson Buckner, the D-Line coach, to kind of keep them going and keep building upon some of the things that he started to show during his time in San Francisco."
A third-round pick by the Las Vegas Raiders in the 2018 draft, Key was mostly a non-factor during his three-year stint with the Silver and Black, posting a measly three sacks, 49 total tackles, and eight tackles for a loss. He was released after the 2020 season and went on to join the Niners. He had a career year in 2021, posting 6.5 sacks, 22 total tackles, and five tackles for a loss. Here’s the clip where Brooks talks about Key.
Arden Key could end up having a big impact on the Jaguars ‘ defense.
Keep in mind that this isn’t the first time defensive line coach Brentson Buckner and Key have worked together. Buckner was on the Raiders’ staff during Key’s rookie campaign. He was relieved from his position the following year and replaced with Rod Marinelli. There’s a good chance that Buckner pounded the table for the former LSU Tiger.
As Brooks pointed out, Key brings versatility to the Jaguars and gives defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell a chess piece he can deploy in different ways. It will be up to him and Buckner to help the defensive lineman achieve his potential this year.
Due to all the attention outside linebacker Josh Allen and Walker (or Hutchinson) could potentially get, Key would be free to make plays. Caldwell previously talked about maximizing his players’ skillsets and if that’s the case, he will use Key the same way the 49ers’ defensive staff did last year.
If Key builds on his 2021 performance, he could end up becoming a low-key superb addition to the Jaguars’ defense this upcoming season.