With Trevor Lawrence on board, Jaguars must shift draft focus to defense

  • Covered University of Florida for 13 seasons for ESPN.com and Florida Times-Union
  • Graduate of Jacksonville University
  • Multiple APSE award winner

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Now that the Jacksonville Jaguars have their quarterback, their priority should be adding players around him.

But as tempting as it is to load up on weapons for Trevor Lawrence in the NFL draft (April 29-May 1, ESPN/ESPN App) — especially with their next four picks through the third round — the Jaguars have to make defense the priority.

The Jaguars have some talented offensive players on the roster already, especially after the addition of receiver Marvin Jones Jr., and if Lawrence is as good as everyone believes, the Jaguars shouldn’t have too many problems moving the ball and scoring points. However, history has shown even quarterbacks taken first overall need plenty of help to succeed, including on defense.

The Jaguars’ defense was a massive issue in 2020, which is why seven of the 13 players coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke added in March and April were defensive players. That includes five new starters: cornerback Shaquill Griffin, safety Rayshawn Jenkins, defensive tackle Roy Robertson-Harris, defensive end Jihad Ward and nose tackle Malcom Brown.

That’s a good start, but it’s not enough.

Lost with all the attention going to securing the first overall pick and Lawrence was this: The 2020 Jaguars defense was the worst in franchise history. No Jaguars defense has given up more yards (6,683) or points (492) than last year’s unit — and those numbers blew away the previous highs by a significant margin.

The 2012 defense gave up 6,088 yards, and the 2013 defense gave up 449 points. The 2020 defense was 595 yards and 43 points worse.

The unit needs a complete overhaul and not only because the team is switching to a 3-4 base defense under coordinator Joe Cullen. Meyer said you build your team around a solid defensive line, so while the addition of Robertson-Harris, Ward and Brown help, that’s a position group that relies heavily on rotations.

The Jaguars also need more edge players, because they’ve got exactly one proven pass-rusher on the roster: Josh Allen, who had 10 sacks and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2019. However, he battled a knee injury last season and had 2.5 sacks in eight games. K’Lavon Chaisson, the 20th overall pick last season, struggled in his conversion to defensive end and had one sack in 16 games. The hope is the move to outside linebacker, which he played at LSU, will help him make an impact.

The secondary is in better shape with the addition of Griffin and Jenkins, but the Jaguars need cornerback C.J. Henderson, the ninth overall pick in 2020, to be more consistent than he was last season. Adding a playmaker at free safety and finding a nickelback would help.

The Jaguars certainly could use more playmakers on offense, starting with a pass-catching tight end. Meyer would like to add more speed at receiver and running back, but Phillip Dorsett II was signed to help there and Jones isn’t exactly a plodder, either. Plus, DJ Chark Jr. was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, and second-year player Laviska Shenault Jr. is intriguing. James Robinson ran for 1,000 yards as an undrafted rookie last season, and the Jaguars brought in Carlos Hyde. There has to be some thought as to what the offensive line will look like beyond 2021, too.

However, the Jags have much more proven talent on offense than on defense. This doesn’t mean the Jaguars should take defensive players with each of their next four picks, but their primary focus should be on that side of the ball the rest of the draft.

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