Originally appeared in CrescentCitySports.com, 4/25/2020
K’Lavon Chaisson will join former LSU standouts D.J. Chark and Leonard Fournette in trying to help Jacksonville return to the top of the AFC South.
If this were the spring of 2017, joining the Jacksonville Jaguars would be an exciting prospect for any pass rusher. The Jags had just finished 10-6 the previous season and were a touchdown away from beating the New England Patriots and advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.
Defense was the team’s calling card. Jacksonville ranked second in both points and yards allowed. Six players from the unit made the Pro Bowl, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Calais Campbell were named First Team All-Pro. “Sacksonville” took quarterbacks down 55 times in 2017, with four different players collecting at least eight sacks.
In 2020, the situation in Jacksonville isn’t quite the same. The Jaguars have won 11 games over the past two seasons.
Nick Fowles was brought in to recreate the magic that he had in leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl win. Fowles lasted four games before being traded to Chicago after the season.
The offense will follow the lead of Gardner Minshew, who had a solid rookie campaign while filling in for Fowles. In 12 starts Minshew threw for more than 3200 yards, with 21 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions.
Fournette and Chark were the most productive of Jacksonville’s skill position players.
Chark earned his first Pro Bowl selection after grabbing 73 catches for 1008 yards and eight scores, continuing his ascent as one of the better deep ball threats in football. Dede Westbrook has had his moments, averaging more than 50 catches per season since joining the league in 2017. The duo is explosive.
Meanwhile, Fournette has been the subject of trade rumors all offseason. Though he had his best season in terms of yardage in 2019 (1152) and yards per carry (4.3), Fournette saw his touchdown total decrease for the third straight season.
Jacksonville has to decide if they’re willing to make a long-term commitment to Fournette. A healthy No. 27 could be a great friend for Minshew as he makes his second go around the NFL.
The once-feared defense fell to 21st in the NFL last season. Ramsey, Campbell, as well as defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and corner A.J. Bouye are all gone.
Myles Jack, Josh Allen (10.5 sacks as a rookie), Yannick Ngakoue (8 sacks), and Tre Herndon headline the returnees.
Jacksonville has invested heavily in its defense this offseason, particularly up the middle. That will be key if Chaisson is going to get the opportunity to use his pass rushing skills while he develops the rest of his skill set.
The defensive line added Rodney Gunter, a 28-year old end from Arizona, and run-stuffer Al Woods from Buffalo.
Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert takes over inside, allowing Jack to move to the outside linebacker spot.
In the draft, the Jags have doubled down on defense, using six of their first eight draft picks on that side of the ball.
Florida product CJ Henderson was taken 11 spots ahead of Chaisson at number nine. He should start alongside Herndon. Henderson went higher than many expected after a down season last year, but Jacksonville loves to take players from nearby schools.
The Jaguars have taken a former Gator in the first round six times in franchise history.
To bolster the defensive interior, Jacksonville selected Ohio St. tackle Davon Hamilton. Hamilton is massive at 6-4, weighing 320 pounds. He and Dareus could make for an impressive tandem. Hamilton was second on the Buckeyes with six sacks, showing his versatility.
In the fourth round, the Jaguars added cornerback Josiah Scott and linebacker Shaquille Quarterman.
Scott is a blazing fast runner and capable of helping in the return game, while Quarterman brings steady tackling and depth on the inside.
Auburn safety Daniel Thomas was taken in the fifth round. Thomas isn’t great at any one thing, but he’s versatile and physical. Even as a reserve he adds athleticism to Jacksonville’s roster.
Injuries have been a huge problem for Jacksonville, and the team seemed to be tearing apart as quality players were moved out of town.
Minshew isn’t a superstar, but if the Jaguars can generate a defense like they had three seasons ago, they have the ability to make a quick turnaround with the offensive weapons he does have around him.
Chaisson talked a lot before the draft. He’ll be measured against Chase Young, and he understands that.
He has a solid compliment in Josh Allen, something he rarely had at LSU. This could be an excellent situation for him to have fallen into.
If ownership is committed to winning as much as it seems committed to making London the Jaguars’ permanent home-away-from-home, there’s no reason the team couldn’t be a real challenge to division rivals Houston, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.