On defense in the NFL, everything starts with the front seven. Luckily for the Jacksonville Jaguars, even after—and, in part, because of—back-to-back years with the first overall pick, their defensive front seven is one of their greatest strengths.
They’re not a perfect unit by any means, especially with some young players and newcomers that have yet to prove themselves in Duval County. But there’s plenty of promise and reason to be excited about the young core that the Jaguars have built up front on defense, not least of whom are the two rookies drafted earlier this year: linebacker Devin Lloyd and edge rusher Travon Walker.
Of the two, it’s Walker who obviously will be getting more attention as the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Georgia standout was a dominant athlete with impressive versatility at the collegiate level, where he lined up pretty much anywhere the Bulldogs coaching staff asked him to. He got reps at 1-tech, 3-tech, and rushed off the edge, winning at each spot with unbelievable first-step explosiveness and good power at the point of attack that allowed him to stun opposing tackles on the snap. Walker has some work to do as a pass rusher since he so often relied on his power and explosiveness to win. If he adds in some hand counters and secondary rush moves, his upside is sky-high.
Walker’s upside as a run defender was clear as well thanks to that aforementioned versatility. He can set a strong edge then use his elite lateral mobility to make plays across the line of scrimmage and his length gives him the ability to make tackles in the open field.
This year’s first overall pick will be the one drawing a lot of the attention among all rookies, but don’t count out the importance of adding another first-rounder, Lloyd, to the front seven as well.
Though Lloyd was the second linebacker off the board this year behind Georgia’s Quay Walker, he had (and has) all of the tools and upside to have been the first. Like Walker, one of Lloyd’s strengths lies in his versatility. Throughout his time at Utah, but particularly last season, Lloyd showed that he could be an effective producer both in the backfield as a pass rusher and in coverage on passing downs. He finished the 2021 season with eight sacks, a forced fumble, and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Devin Lloyd returned a trio of interceptions for touchdowns in his final three years at Utah.
This one is easily my favorite – ridiculous reaction, athleticism, and hands by #0 after being blocked on the blitz. pic.twitter.com/wOXZaXNZig
— Corbin K. Smith (@CorbinSmithNFL) April 25, 2022
Devin Lloyd takes it to the house! Utah is dominating early #Pac12FCG pic.twitter.com/wdsysI6ek8
— BetterThanVegas (@btvbets) December 4, 2021
Not only are Lloyd’s contributions to his own and his team’s box score, but his leadership presence on the field can’t be overstated either. He’s got great competitive toughness and a physical playing style that doesn’t waver during the course of a game. He was a defensive captain last year and it was clear that he earned that nod. The Jaguars got the quarterback of their offense when they took Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in 2021, but they got the guy who has the full potential to be the quarterback of their defense this year in Lloyd.
The rookies aren’t all that Jacksonville has in their front seven, obviously. Newcomers Foley Fatukasi, a lineman, and Foye Oluokun, a linebacker, bring their own upsides with them as two of the Jaguars’ biggest free agent additions on defense.
Fatukasi established himself as a very strong run defender in his four years with the Jets and has the ability to be a big-time disruptor up the middle. He won’t be a big sacks guy like, say, Aaron Donald is for the Los Angeles Rams as a D-lineman, but Fatukasi will be very valuable in clogging up running lanes and forcing blockers toward him to give the edge rushers less trouble on the outside.
Oluokun, meanwhile, is a tackling monster that came over from the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. His 192 tackles in 2021 led the NFL and has had the highest tackle rate—he’s made a tackle on 16.6% of his defensive snaps—of all players since entering the league in 2018. Not only that, but the linebacker is coming off of a season in which he had a career-low missed tackle rate at 5.4%; he had just 11 missed tackles all of last year. Like Fatukasi, he won’t be the sacks leader in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars can feel safe in the knowledge that he’ll run down any opposing players once they get to the second level.
The Jaguars look poised to have a strong season up front with those guys alone, and that was all without mentioning the players they already have in their defensive front seven. Edge rusher Josh Allen has been a monster in his three years with the Jaguars (especially against the quarterback of the same name), and nose tackle DaVon Hamilton ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in run stop win rate in 2021 (41 percent).
With Walker, Lloyd, Fatukasi, Oluokun, Allen, and Hamilton (and the solid Roy Robertson-Harris rounding out the D-line) all within Jacksonville’s front seven this year, there’s tons to be excited about in Duval County. The Jaguars seem poised to take a step forward on defense this year with that strong unit up front. If Lawrence and the offense can get going now that new, offensive-minded head coach Doug Pederson is at the helm, Jacksonville may start seeing a light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel as soon as this year.
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