There’s a palpable sense of optimism around the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. Expectations that not only will the Jags not be an AFC South tomato can this season, but that the team might even vie for a playoff spot. And those hopes are pinned mainly on young offensive stars like quarterback Blake Bortles, wide receiver Allen Robinson and running back T.J. Yeldon.
But the Jaguars have also put together some very nice pieces defensively, including an impressive influx of talent in 2016. That talent gives Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley the most he’s had to work with since arriving in Florida, and it gives IDP owners players to consider at every level of the defense.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
One of the new faces on the defensive line isn’t really a new face at all. The Jaguars drafted Dante Fowler (DNP) No. 3 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, only to see the Florida star tear his ACL on the very first day of rookie camp. That injury wiped out Fowler’s rookie year, but after a dominant showing in camp Fowler was much quieter in the preseason. Fowler told Hays Carlyon of the Florida Times-Union he’s working hard to get ready for his regular season debut.
“I learned there’s a big difference in being ready to play a game physically and being mentally ready for your opponent,” Fowler said. “That’s something I really took out of this week. It’s time to lock in. I’ve tried to be on everything this week and making sure I’m really sound on my assignments.”
Fowler, on paper at least, appears an ideal fit as Bradley’s “Leo” end — a lanky, athletic pass-rusher tailor-made to that outside role. And there’s certainly IDP upside there, especially if he earns full-time snaps. But it’s important to note that Fowler is essentially a rookie — and rookie pass-rushers often struggle acclimating to the NFL.
The Jaguars spent big on the D-Line in free agency as well, luring Malik Jackson (DL22) away from the world champion Broncos. The fifth-year veteran, who set a career high with 45 stops in 2015, appears set for a sort of “Jumbo Michael Bennett” role, playing the majority of his snaps inside. Jackson talked up his young teammate while speaking with the MMQB.
“Dante (Fowler) has a lot of energy. He is a very cerebral player. To me, he is very Von (Miller)-esque,” Jackson mused. “I’ve seen some of that in Dante. I think he can definitely be the same player. Just a lot of potential, we’ve just got to go out there and work together to get these sacks.”
It may not stay that way for long, but in 2016 at least, Jackson’s the lineman to own in IDP leagues, a lower-end DL2 who’s more worthy of weekly starter status in DT-required leagues.
For many years, the heart and soul of the Jaguars defense has been middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (LB8). However, at 31 Posluszny isn’t getting younger, and the veteran has missed nine games over the past two seasons. So the Jaguars looked to the future at linebacker in the 2016 draft, with the second-round selection of UCLA’s Myles Jack (DNP). The NFL Network’s Mike Mayock gave the Jags high marks for the decision, writing, “That is an awesome pick. Jack is a supremely gifted athlete. He can play the run game and pass game.”
Always the consummate professional, Posluszny told Alex Marvez of the Sporting News he’s more than willing to mentor the player who will eventually be his replacement. “The thing is, as a player you say I’m going to do everything I can to be the absolute best player I can be,” said Posluszny. “If my best isn’t good enough and we had someone else that was going to help the team more, that’s what we have to do. Being a veteran player and helping out a young rookie you know is going to be a great player — and he’s a great guy — makes it easy.”
For now, at least, Posluszny remains the starter for the Jaguars. And any game in which Posluszny plays full-time carries with it the potential for a big fantasy outing. But make no mistake — the clock is ticking, whether it’s jack poaching snaps here and there or taking the job altogether. The rookie’s main value at the end of August may be in dynasties, but how long that remains the case we just don’t know — and that makes burning an early IDP pick on the veteran a risky proposition.
The safe bet among the J-Ville linebackers is Telvin Smith (LB5), the little linebacker who plays great big. Smith exploded for 128 total tackles last year, including 99 solos, leaving him safely entrenched in fantasy LB1 territory for the 2016 campaign. However, it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind that as the Jaguars get better as a team defensively the competition among individuals for tackles increases.
Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien (DB22) told Philip Heilman of the Times-Union that he spent his offseason studying film of the game’s best at his position. “There are things you can pick up from other people from film,” Cyprien said. “Those were guys that I looked up to. Once you get an understanding of the game, you go back and see what they were doing — not just all of that highlights that are on TV. Some of those guys you can only see their highlights, but now you understand what they did to get in those positions to make those highlights.”
The fourth-year veteran has been an IDP favorite since the day he entered the NFL, largely due to three straight triple-digit tackle seasons. But Cyprien had to fight off a training camp challenge from second-year pro James Sample (DB256) in training camp thanks to a propensity for missing tackles. There’s upside there to be sure, but enough uncertainty to drop Cyprien into high-end DB2 territory.
As part of their free agent spending spree the Jaguars brought in free safety Tashaun Gipson (DB124), who made it crystal-clear to Heilman what his goals are for 2016. “If I can’t get six or seven [interceptions this season], I don’t need to be here,” he said. Two years ago, Gipson picked off eight passes in 11 games and ranked inside the top-12 on a points-per-game basis. Last year his interceptions dropped to two and his fantasy production fell off a cliff. You can do better on draft day than that sort of big-play reliance.
Jacksonville’s offseason overhaul continued to the cornerback position, where the team added No. 5 overall pick Jalen Ramsey (DNP) and veteran Prince Amukamara (DB63). Mayock called Ramsey “arguably the best position player in this draft,” and he has the potential to be a difference-maker at the NFL level. But NFL pedigree and IDP value are not the same thing. The better value play in CB-required formats is to let owners enamored with Ramsey’s pedigree to reach, then grab Amukamara. The sixth-year pro showed back in 2013 that he’s capable of big-time fantasy production when healthy.