B/R isn't convinced the Jaguars defense will be elite (but they should be)

• Even if writers at B/R aren't believers, the Jaguars have the potential to field a top-10, even top-5 defense in 2024.
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA;  Jacksonville Jaguars safety Antonio Johnson (26) and OLB Josh Allen (41) at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars safety Antonio Johnson (26) and OLB Josh Allen (41) at EverBank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports / Morgan Tencza-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is ripe for overreacting. Without any meaningful action going on, analysts and talking heads resort to making projections with the information they have. Right now, the consensus doesn't see the Jacksonville Jaguars being a contender. On the bright side, they're not seen as bottom-dwellers but maybe they're not being given their proper due. Take Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report for example. He doesn't think the moves the Jags made on defense will move the needle.

Gagnon put together a list of overreactions, one for each NFL team, and believes Jacksonville didn't do nearly enough to fix their defense. Here's what he had to say.

"Overreaction: Ronald Darby, Arik Armstead, Darnell Savage and rookies Maason Smith and Jarrian Jones can fix a defense that was below average across the board in 2023.

Why: Jacksonville's defense might be better, but none of those guys are massive difference-makers. Besides, the Jaguars also lost Rayshawn Jenkins, Darious Williams, K'Lavon Chaisson and Tre Herndon this offseason."

Arik Armstead was arguably the Jaguars' biggest acquisition in free agency. While he's never made the Pro Bowl in his career, he's been among the best defensive tackles in the league since the San Francisco 49ers drafted him in 2015. In Jacksonville, Armstead will be reunited with general manager Trent Baalke and will shore up a big void on the interior defensive line.

On the other hand, Ronald Darby was brought in to replace Darious Williams, a cap-casualty in the offseason. While Darby has missed time the past two years and has never started a full season in his career, he's expected to start opposite Tyson Campbell come Week 1.

In case, Darby gets hurt or underperforms, rookie Jarrian Jones could step in. Throughout the offseason, he's shown the skills and confidence to make you think that he'll be able to hold his ground.

As Gagnon noted, Jacksonville let the always reliable Tre Herndon walk in free agency but Darnell Savage would be an upgrade at nickel. A former first-round pick, Savage mostly played safety for the Green Bay Packers but he's shown the capability to man the slot.

Last year, the Jaguars ranked 17th in points allowed and 22nd in total yards. The expectation is that the unit will bounce back and perform much better with Ryan Neilsen calling the shots.

Hiring Ryan Nielsen will pay dividends for the Jaguars in 2024

As Brad Gagnon noted, the Jaguars lost several players who had significant roles on defense last year. However, they brought in or promoted better ones to replace them. For instance, Rayshawn Jenkins was inconsistent throughout his stint in Jacksonville, so it's not surprising that they decided to give him the boot. Antonio Johnson will take his place in the starting lineup next to Andre Cisco.

But even if you leave the Jags' additions and losses to the roster, Gagnon forgot to factor in their most meaningful acquisition in the offseason: Ryan Nielsen.

The Jaguars' defense regressed in 2023 after ranking 10th in points surrendered the year prior. The dearth of talent and depth across the board certainly played a role but Mike Caldwell reportedly not having a stronger grasp of his unit probably had a bigger impact. There was reportedly no communication between position groups, and players rarely discussed alignments. That falls squarely on Caldwell's shoulders, which is why head coach Doug Pederson dismissed him after the season ended.

In his place, the Jaguars hired Nielsen, a coach known for putting an emphasis on fundamentals and technique. The Atlanta Falcons defense experienced a surge under his watch last year and he left his mark on the New Orleans Saints during his five-year stint serving different roles.

Nielsen will put players like Josh Allen and Travon Walker in a position to succeed. Cornerback Tyson Campbell and DaVon Hamilton should bounce back after dealing with injuries last year while rookies Maason Smith and Jarrian Jones contribute early on.

This is to say that the Jacksonville Jaguars not only acquired the talent to have a top defense in 2024 but also hired the coach to ensure it happens.

More Jaguars analysis here: