JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The 2021 season is (mercifully) over for the Jacksonville Jaguars. There are going to be significant changes for 2022, beginning with a new coaching staff. Here’s a breakdown of the defensive roster with an eye toward next season. For a look at the offensive side of the ball, click here.
The Jaguars were slightly better defensively than they were in 2020, and the biggest improvement came in the pass rush. The Jaguars had 32 sacks, nearly double the 18 they had in 2020, thanks to linebacker Josh Allen being healthy. He had 7.5 sacks, though he had a seven-game stretch in the second half of the season where he was MIA (no sacks, 16 tackles, two tackles for loss).
Defensive end Dawuane Smoot had a career-high six sacks, and linebacker Damien Wilson had three, but linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson has tallied only two sacks in 31 games since the Jaguars made him the 20th overall selection in 2020.
Trading for defensive tackle Malcom Brown and adding free agent defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris helped the run defense give up 28 fewer yards per game rushing in 2021 than the previous season. Both players posted career highs in tackles (Brown had 57 and Robertson-Harris had 37).
Players under contract in 2022: Allen, Robertson-Harris, Smoot, Brown, DaVon Hamilton, Jay Tufele, Chaisson, Jordan Smith.
The skinny: The Jaguars still need major upgrades along the defensive front, including another pass-rusher to complement Allen, who had his best season as a rookie (10.5 sacks) alongside Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue.
Smoot continues to steadily improve and is a solid rotational player, but Chaisson has been a major disappointment -- and unless he makes significant progress in 2022, the Jaguars will have blown both 2020 first-round picks (they traded cornerback CJ Henderson last September).
The team likely won’t re-sign Taven Bryan, their first-round pick in 2018.
Myles Jack and Wilson finished first and second, respectively, in tackles for the Jaguars, but they combined to force only one turnover – and that came in the last game of the season. It was a disappointing season for Jack, who played at a Pro Bowl level in 2020 but didn’t make much of an impact in 2021. Quarterman made more of an impact on special teams than he did on defense.
Players under contract in 2022: Jack, Chapelle Russell, Shaquille Quarterman, Dylan Moses
The skinny: Moses spent the season recovering from February surgery for a knee injury, and the Jaguars hope he can be the kind of player he was at Alabama, where he was good enough to be considered a high-round pick before the injury.
This unit has to make more plays -- and it starts with Jack, who will be the team’s second-highest paid player (as of now) in 2022. Wilson had the best season of his career and the Jaguars should make re-signing him a priority.
One of the Jaguars’ biggest issues in 2021 was their trouble forcing turnovers -- they managed a league-low nine (seven interceptions) and only one player had more than one interception: Tyson Campbell (two). Nevin Lawson was the only other corner with an interception, and Shaquill Griffin dropped at least three. Campbell, after some early struggles, really came on in the second half of the season and was PFF’s second-highest graded rookie defensive player from Weeks 11-16.
Players under contract in 2022: Griffin, Campbell, Chris Claybrooks, Brandon Rusnak
The skinny: Griffin and Campbell give the Jaguars two solid starters, and this is one of the few position groups that doesn’t need a major upgrade. Finding a third corner/slot corner – a role that’s currently held by safety Rudy Ford – would be good, but it would be behind receiver, left tackle, pass-rusher and tight end on the needs list.
Rayshawn Jenkins and Ford turned out to be two of the Jaguars’ better free-agent signings in 2021. Jenkins (73 tackles) had another solid year on the back end. Ford turned into a pretty good slot corner and shattered his career high with 53 tackles and broke up the first three passes of his five-year career. Pretty good for a player signed to be a gunner on special teams. Andrew Wingard started 15 games, made a career-high 88 tackles and is a restricted free agent the team could bring back.
Players under contract in 2022: Jenkins, Ford, Andre Cisco, Daniel Thomas
The skinny: Cisco and Thomas rotated into the lineup late in the season, and both started the final two games after Wingard and Jenkins went down with injuries. This is another spot where the Jaguars are in decent shape, though the secondary as a whole needs to start making more big plays and forcing turnovers.
Logan Cooke finished fourth in the NFL in net punting average (43.6) and tied for third with 12 punts inside the 10-yard line. In terms of doing his job at a consistently high level, he was arguably the Jaguars’ best player in 2021.
Players under contract in 2022: Cooke
The skinny: Cooke missed the last two games with a knee injury and is under contract through the 2025 season.