The Jacksonville Jaguars are a couple of 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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Related: Jaguars Training Camp Preview: Special Teams
Next up: the edge rusher group. What does it look like today, what changes did the Jaguars make, and what needs to be addressed ahead of camp?
Age/Experience: 24/fourth season
If there is any player the Jaguars need to play at a Pro Bowl level in 2022 (other than Trevor Lawrence), it is Josh Allen. The fourth-year pass-rusher had a solid season last year, but the expectations for him entering 2022 are much higher than the 7.5 sacks he produced last year.
The fourth-year pass-rusher had his fifth-year option exercised by the Jaguars, but both he and the franchise are hoping he can get back to his rookie form to help rebuild the Jaguars' defense. Allen came in fourth in AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2019, earning a nod as a Pro Bowl alternate as he set a Jaguars rookie record in sacks (10.5) while recording 11 tackles for loss and 23 quarterback hits, along with two forced fumbles. He became the first Jaguars rookie to ever appear in the Pro Bowl.
Since then, though, Allen has played in 24 games and recorded 10 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits. He exploded as a pass-rusher as a rookie, but the last two years have seen his production barely match what he did in one year as a rookie.
“I mean that’s just it, just be consistent, just be who he is. Don’t try to do anything other than just be Josh Allen," Pederson said this offseason.
"Let his talent speak for itself and feed off of the guys around him and step up as a leader, which we’ve seen him do since he’s been back. He’s an excitable player, someone that can make a lot of plays on defense, and I think with some of the new additions that he’ll be able to get back to that."
Travon Walker (R)
Age/Experience: 21/first season
2021 stats: N/A.
The No. 1 overall pick, Walker will have all eyes on him as a rookie. He is set to start across from Josh Allen at outside linebacker in the Jaguars' 3-4 defense, giving him his first chance to really grow as a stand-up pass-rusher in his entire career. Walker enters the NFL with the perception that he is a raw athlete who is still learning how to rush the passer, but the No. 1 pick is going to be given every chance to prove that wrong as a rookie.
Walker had a successful first season at Georgia, earning Freshman All-SEC honors in 2019 as he was named a co-winner of Georgia's Defensive Newcomer of the Year award. In 12 games, Walker finished with 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and one pass deflection while also contributing on kickoff coverage units.
In 2020, Walker played in nine games and recorded 1.0 sack, 2.0 tackles for loss, one interception, and one forced fumble. Walker then had a career season in 2021, starting all 15 games as Georgia finished the year as National Champions. During Georgia's title run, Walker recorded 6.0 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, two pass deflections, one fumble recovery, and a team-high 36 quarterback hurries.
Walker then had arguably the best combine performance of any defensive player in 2021, measuring at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds but still running a 4.51 40-yard dash (98th percentile), a 36-inch vertical jump (80th percentile), 123-inch broad jump (87th percentile), 6.89-second three-cone (93rd percentile), and a 4.32 20-yard shuttle (76th percentile).
Age/Experience: 27/sixth season
A true breakout player the last few seasons, few defenders on Jacksonville's roster have elevated their game like former third-round pick Dawuane Smoot. In 48 games the last three years, he has recorded 17.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and 40 quarterback hits. He is a legit piece of Jacksonville's pass-rush rotation and is just 27.
Smoot was moved down a peg on the depth chart following the selection of Walker, but a No. 3 role actually suits him potentially even better than a true every-down role. He has produced at the highest rate of any Jaguars pass-rusher the last two years and is now playing with the most support around him on the defensive line as he has in any of the last three seasons. Considering he is gifted at not just creating his own plays but also cleaning up plays after others get some pressure, this is good news for Smoot.
Age/Experience: 22/third season
The No. 20 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, K'Lavon Chaisson is sometimes the forgotten man in the Jaguars' outside linebacker room after the team selected Walker at No. 1 overall and picked up Josh Allen's fifth-year option. The drafting of Walker signaled the Jaguars were not going to enter 2022 relying on Chaisson to make an impact
"Yeah, even for players I think it’s good to have sort of a fresh start, but at the same time he understands that there’s competition here too now at the position," Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson said about Chaisson this spring. "That’s a good thing because it allows him to play and utilize his strengths to really showcase what he can do. Again, it just adds the depth that you’re looking for at that position.”
Chaisson has appeared in 31 games (11 starts) over the last two years, playing 952 defensive snaps — including 51% of the defensive snaps as a rookie and 39% last year. In that span, he has recorded two sacks, six tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hits. Chaisson has been a victim of the Jaguars' constant turnover, with him now entering his third defensive scheme in three years in the NFL after being in Todd Wash's defense as a rookie and in Joe Cullen's defense last year.
Age/Experience: 24/third season
Jamir Jones is a big-bodied edge defender who thrived at Notre Dame thanks to his ability to set a physical edge and stick his nose in the run game. Jones played in 15 games in 2021: three games with the Steelers, 10 games with the Rams and two games with the Jaguars. He will have to battle for a spot on special teams and the bottom of the edge rusher depth chart, but he has more NFL experience than several others in the room.
De'Shaan Dixon (R)
Age/Experience: 23/first season.
2021 stats: N/A.
A long and physical edge defender, De'Shaan Dixon recorded nine sacks as a senior at Norfolk State in 2021. Dixon is the Jaguars' second rookie at the position behind Walker and has been seen working out with the rest of the Jaguars' front seven this offseason, a good sign for his embracement of the team's culture and overall defense. He presents a lot of appealing physical traits and could be a plus-run defender due to his imposing size, which could give him an outside chance to make the roster following Jordan Smith's injury.
Age/Experience: 25/third season.
One of the more athletic players the Jaguars have at outside linebacker is newcomer Rashod Berry, who they claimed on waivers from the Detroit Lions earlier this offseason. Berry is raw but presents a big frame, lots of length and impressive movement skills for his size.
Berry originally signed with New England as an undrafted free agent in 2020. He played both defensive end and tight end for the Ohio State Buckeyes in college, including making two starts in place of Chase Young in his final season. After playing in three games during his rookie season with the Patriots, he played in five games with the Lions during the 2021 season.
Age/Experience: 25/third season.
A reserve member of the Bengals' defense last season, Wyatt Ray is the newest addition to the room following Jordan Smith's season-ending knee injury. Ray appeared in 15 games last year, playing 219 (22%) defensive snaps for the Bengals while also playing a sizeable role on special teams. He gives the Jaguars a semi-experienced edge defender to potentially fill the room out with.
The Jaguars' pass-rushing unit doesn't look overly different compared to last year's group outside of the very obvious addition of Travon Walker at No. 1 overall. The Jaguars entered the offseason with an emphasis on improving their pass rush and drafting an edge rusher at No. 1 overall was subsequently the Jaguars' plan all along. Walker ended up being that rusher, with the Jaguars opting to select him over Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux.
"He played all the way up and down the line of scrimmage, anywhere from a zero technique all the way to a seven technique," Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said after the Jaguars drafted Walked.
"Played in the two point off the edge, which he's going to be used a lot in our scheme. That versatility, ability to stop the run, rush the passer, there's a lot of work to do, but there's a lot of talent to work with.
"Yeah, really just to echo Trent's remarks, too, just his athleticism, his length, his ability to bend the corner. The thing that you see with this guy is his versatility. He played all up and down the defensive line at Georgia," Pederson said.
"Just a tremendous kid. He's going to be great for the locker room. Really, I think, for us, too, just getting him in here, getting him going as soon as we can, and I think getting him in one position and letting him really get good at one position, and that's where we feel he's really going to make the most impact for us."
The Jaguars will clearly be banking on Walker to make a big splash as a rookie. Aside from him, the only changes to the edge rush this year are the subtraction of Jihad Ward via free agency and the loss of 2021 fourth-round pass-rusher Jordan Smith to a season-ending knee injury during the offseason workouts.
Can Walker make an immediate impact on the Jaguars' defense? The biggest knock on Walker as a prospect was his production at Georgia, which saw him hit just 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in three years. Walker was asked to wear a lot of hats in Georgia's defense and was rarely allowed to learn just one role, hindering his production, but projecting serious production from him at the NFL is just that — a projection.
There are reasons to believe Walker can be an instant impact player for the Jaguars. The Jaguars believe firmly in his run-stopping ability thanks to his blend of length, power, motor and physicality. There is also some optimism that his natural athleticism and rare traits will help him make splash plays regardless of how far along his transition to outside linebacker is, along with the context of Walker's college production being a bit skewed.
"Yeah, you can't make excuses for any player. What we can do is look at the film and watch production. There's a lot of things that go into production," Baalke said after the draft.
"It's not at the end of the day how many sacks they tally or how many pressures they have. There's a run element to the game, too. So there's a lot of ways to look at production, and we feel very comfortable about his production run and pass with a lot of upside. But again, he's got to come in like these young guys do, they've got to come in and earn it."