Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Cornerback – Sports Illustrated

Who stands out at cornerback for the Jaguars ahead of training camp?
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a few weeks away from kicking off Doug Pederson’s first training camp at the helm, giving us plenty of time to take a look at each of the team’s position groups before the 2022 season.
Jacksonville wasn’t afraid to make a number of big moves on both sides of the ball this offseason, both via free agency and the draft. Now, they have a new-look roster that contrasts in a big way from the roster we saw the team field in Week 1 of 2021.
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Next up: the cornerback position. What does it look like today, what changes did the Jaguars make, and what needs to be addressed ahead of camp?
Shaquill Griffin
2021 stats:
Griffin had an up and down first season in Jacksonville as the number one corner, failing to record an interception for the second time in his career while amassing a career-low 7 defended passes. Griffin had some opportunities this season to create turnovers, but dropped interceptions were a problem that plagued him throughout the 2021 campaign.
Inconsistencies in man coverage were another problem that Griffin dealt with, as he occasionally let receivers beat him deep for easy completions. Despite the occasional lapse, Griffin was still a solid man coverage corner, allowing a career-low 11.8 yards per catch while showcasing an elite ability to bring down receivers shortly after the catch. Griffin’s veteran leadership was vital for the younger corners on the team, especially Tyson Campbell, and was overall a positive impact on the team’s culture. Going into training camp, Griffin is a clear lock for one of the top spots in the cornerback room, but there is a desire for improvement to justify the $30 million guaranteed that the Jags gave him before the start of last season.
Tyson Campbell
Age/Experience: 22/second season.
2021 stats:
When the Jags traded CJ Henderson shortly before the trade deadline, Tyson Campbell was immediately thrust into a starting role, where he remained for 14 games last season. The 2021 second-round pick did not disappoint, ranking second among rookies with 11 forced incompletions and had five weeks with an overall grade above 70.9 according to Pro Football Focus. 
With 10 defended passes and 2 interceptions, Campbell showed that he was a capable playmaker on the ball and could hold his own on the outside. Campbell did have his rookie growing pains, but made significant strides after the bye week that should have fans excited for his sophomore campaign. His swagger, work ethic, and physicality combined with an aggressive scheme implemented by new defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell have Campbell’s stock soaring upwards.
Darious Williams
Age/Experience: 29/fifth season
2021 stats (LAR):
Although Darious Williams is only 5’9” and 187 pounds, his impact stands tall on gameday. The 2022 free-agent addition played the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, where he steadily improved into an every-down player and a vital contributor to the secondary. His most memorable game came in Super Bowl 56, only being targeted four times and allowing two total receptions for 24 yards against an elite Bengals passing attack. 
In the regular season, Williams held receivers to 10.7 yards per completion and 6.6 yards per target via Adam Beasley of Pro Football Network. Williams failed to record an interception but only allowed 4 touchdowns out of the nickel slot. His excellence in pass coverage isn’t a one-year wonder either. Williams had a career season in 2020, recording a career-high four interceptions along with 14 defended passes. While Willams sees a lot of passes thrown his way because of his stature, he has more than held his own against receivers and displayed the smarts, resilience, and sound positioning necessary to be an impact starter. Williams looks to build on his success in training camp and projects to be the starting nickel corner in the fall.
Xavier Crawford
Age/Experience: 26/third season
2021 stats (CHI):
Crawford, a 2019 sixth-round draft choice by the Houston Texans, settled into a reserve role last season with the Chicago Bears after short stints with the Texans and the Miami Dolphins. Crawford appeared in a career-high 13 games (2 starts) and played 139 defensive snaps in addition to being a consistent contributor on special teams. At 5’11” and 187 pounds, Crawford is shorter for a defensive back but makes up for it with solid reaction time. Heading into training camp, Crawford projects to compete for a backup role and has a chance to stick around as a special teams contributor.
Tre Herndon
Age/Experience: 26/fifth season
2021 stats:
The 2021 campaign was a downgrade for Herndon, as he went from starting 26 of 32 games between 2019-2020 to only 3 starts and 9 total games during the 2021 campaign. Injuries are partially to blame, as Herndon suffered a knee injury early in the preseason, but tackling remains a concern for him. 
Herndon had the fourth-worst rate of broken tackles among defensive backs with at least 30 solo tackles in 2020 per Ryan Day of Big Cat Country. That simply isn’t going to get it done, and is a major reason why his playing time was limited in the 2021 campaign. At 5’11” and 185 pounds, Herndon does have a solid physical profile and above-average athleticism. The Jags invested a lot of capital into the cornerback room with the signings of Darious Williams and Shaq Griffin over the last couple of seasons, and the additions of Montaric Brown and Gregory Junior in the 2022 NFL Draft. Despite these additions, Herndon has been a solid special teams contributor and projects to compete for a backup spot as well. With a lot of new faces, the pressure is on Herndon to show improvement in training camp.
Gregory Junior (R)
Age/Experience: 23/first season
2021 stats (college):
The Jaguars used a sixth-round pick (197th overall) in the 2022 NFL Draft to select Ouachita Baptist cornerback Gregory Junior. At 5’11 and 202 pounds, Junior has good size for an outside corner and has the strength and physicality to thrive in press coverage. He uses this to reroute receivers and impose his will at the beginning of plays. Junior ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and has above-average athleticism for the position. Junior also was a consistent special teams contributor at Ouachita Baptist and projects to be an immediate contributor in that department at the NFL level. As for the defensive side, Junior needs to work on his closing ability, as receivers would beat him on deep routes from time to time. Compensating for being out of position can also lead to penalties. Overall, Junior is a raw prospect with athletic upside and should benefit from the reps in his first-ever NFL training camp.
Montaric Brown (R)
Age/Experience: 22/first season
2021 stats (college):
Montaric Brown displayed his playmaking ability in his last season at Arkansas, intercepting 5 passes, defending 6, and recovering 1 fumble, which was all career highs for him. The Jags opted to use a 7th-round draft choice on him (222nd overall). GM Trent Baalke went for another corner with great size and physicality to round out the cornerback room this offseason. Brown ran an average 40-yard dash of 4.55 seconds but makes up for it with good strength and instincts in zone coverage. His average speed may compromise him against quicker and shiftier receivers, but his physical intangibles make him an intriguing prospect in coordinator Mike Caldwell’s system. Like Junior, Brown will benefit from the reps at his first-ever training camp and with proper development can become a problem on the outside.
Chris Claybrooks
Age/Experience 24/third season
2021 stats:
Chris Claybrooks, the 223rd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, appeared in 16 games last season, mostly in reserve and on special teams. Most of his action came on the kickoff unit, where he returned 5 kicks. He was drafted for his special teams value and projects to compete for a spot on the unit and as a backup defensive back once again in training camp. While undersized at 5’9 and 177 pounds, Claybrooks displayed his skills as a gunner on the punting unit at Memphis and as a kickoff returner at both the college and pro level.
Shabari Davis
Age/Experience: 25/first season
2021 stats (college):
2022 undrafted free agent Shabari Davis out of Southeast Missouri University is facing an uphill battle to make the Jags' final roster, but has value as a special teams contributor. Davis was named to the Second-Team-All-Ohio Valley Conference as a punt returner in 2020, and started all eight games at cornerback that season. During the 2021 campaign, Davis returned 6 kicks for 214 yards (35.6 yards per return) and 1 touchdown. Going into training camp, Davis projects to compete for a backup spot and as a returner. His special teams contributions represent the best chance to make the roster.
Rudy Ford
Age/Experience: 27/sixth season
2021 stats:
The versatile Rudy Ford appeared in a career-high 15 games (4 starts) in 2021 and made an impact as a backup and a special teams gunner. Ford has experience at free safety, corner, and nickel corner dating back to his days at Auburn, and he found a niche as a solid special teams contributor. Ford is able to utilize his speed, playmaking ability, and positional versatility to make an impact on the field, and is fundamentally sound in coverage. Heading into training camp, Ford is listed as the third-string nickel corner and will look to reprise his role as the primary special teams gunner.
Josh Thompson
Age/Experience: 22/first season
2021 stats (college):
A 2022 undrafted free agent out of Texas, Josh Thompson has experience at nickel back, outside corner, and special teams. Thompson has build-up speed but lacks short-area burst and instincts to put himself in position to make many plays on the football per NFL analyst Lance Zurlien. Thompson is looking to bounce back with a strong training camp after a fractured fibula prematurely ended his 2021 season. He ran a 4.4 at the NFL Combine and has the positional versatility to increase his chances of making the 53-man roster. With so much talent on the unit and guys that can contribute on special teams, Thompson will be facing an uphill battle at a roster spot.
Benjie Franklin
Age/Experience: 25/first season
2021 stats (college):
Tarleton State University ranked second in passing efficiency and number 10 in the nation when it came to scoring defense last season. Benjie Franklin was a huge part of that success, using his blazing speed and sound technique in coverage to constantly disrupt receivers and keep them from beating him over the top. The 2022 undrafted free agent ran a 4.32 at his pro day and has solid size for the position. Like Josh Thompson, Franklin is going to need a strong training camp to really cement himself as a lock for the 53-man roster. He currently projects to be competing for a backup and a spot on the special teams unit.
The Jaguars revamped the cornerback position this offseason, adding Darious Williams on a three-year $30 million dollar contract to serve as the starting nickel back. The Jags added a bulk of young talent during the NFL Draft, using sixth and seventh-round picks on Montaric Brown and Gregory Junior respectively, and signing Josh Thomspon, Benjie Franklin, and Shabari Davis as undrafted free agents. 
With incumbents Shaq Griffin and Tyson Campbell still in the fold, this unit has quickly become a position filled with depth and young talent. Expect competition in training camp for backup roles and special teams spots, as there are plenty of guys trying to find their footing in the league who are hungry for an opportunity.
How will all of these new pieces improve the overall play of the secondary? A lack of turnovers, missed tackles, and consistently getting beat downfield were several of the issues that plagued the Jags secondary during the 2021 campaign. Newcomers Darious Williams proved with the Rams that he is reliable in pass coverage and possesses the necessary physicality and fluid movement to be a perfect scheme fit in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s aggressive scheme. 
Raw prospects Montaric Brown and Gregory Junior possess the speed, sound technique, and physical brand of football that should make them fun pieces to develop and incorporate into the defensive game plan. A lot of money and assets were poured into this unit and it is important that we see incremental improvement through training camp and this upcoming season. 

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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