Almost since head coach Gus Bradley arrived in Jacksonville, he’s been trying to re-build the team’s floundering defense. The team took some steps in 2014, ranking among the top 10 in the NFL in sacks, and the hop was No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler would help continue that improvement. That is, right up until Fowler suffered a season-ending ACL tear on the first day of rookie camp. Ouch.
Fowler’s injury means that the Jaguars will once again be forced to lean heavily on veteran Chris Clemons in the “Leo” pass-rushing role. Clemons told Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union he expects the Jags defense to continue to improve in 2015.
“You can see the confidence,” Clemons said. “Not even being able to go full speed (in the mini-camp), you can still see the confidence. It’s just amazing from last year to this year. It’s just a big difference. I’m really excited about getting back and going to work. Just to be able to see what these guys are able to bring to the team this year and go out and try to bring something to Jacksonville that’s never been done before.”
Clemons struggled from an NFL perspective last year, ranking next to last among 4-3 ends at Pro Football Focus. However, he ranked inside low-end DL2 territory in fantasy scoring. So long as the snaps are there, the IDP value will be as well.
The questions don’t stop there. Tackle Sen’Derrick Marks trailed only Ndamukong Suh of the Miami Dolphins in fantasy points last year among defensive tackles, but tore his ACL late in the year. Young end Ryan Davis posted 6.5 sacks last year, but did so in fewer than 100 snaps. Health and role will play big parts for those players this year, making them names to monitor as training camp gets underway.
The injuries in Jacksonville haven’t been confined to the defensive front, as long-time IDP stalwart Paul Posluszny was felled by a torn pectoral muscle halfway through last season. The 30-year-old insisted to Paul Cawley of WTAJ-TV he’s healthy and ready to roll this year.
“Now, I’m at the point in my career where you treat everyday as if it’s your last. I mean you give maximum effort, give everything you can, and learn as much as you can,” said Posluszny. “I mean, we love this game so much, and we know that it can be taken at any point, so you try to maximize everything you have.”
If that’s the case, Posluzny’s top-five fantasy upside and relatively modest ADP makes him a player to target, especially for IDP owners who first address the defensive line.
Weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith may not weigh 220 pounds soaking wet, but that didn’t stop Smith from faring very well as a rookie, racking up 104 tackles and holding up surprisingly well against the run. Smith was a top-10 IDP option at his position from Week 12 on last year, and he’s very much on the LB2 radar in 2015.
Despite 114 total tackles in his second NFL season, strong safety Jonathan Cyprien was something of an IDP disappointment in 2014, finishing outside the top 25 among defensive backs thanks to a lack of big plays. John Oehser of the team’s website tabbed Cyprien as a player who needs to improve in 2015.
“If there is a defensive player in a similar situation to (Luke) Joeckel, it’s Cyprien,” Oehser said. “A second-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft – the first for General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley – Cyprien was expected to be a core player and building block. Like Joeckel, Cyprien has shown potential but also like Joeckel he has been more inconsistent than is ideal.”
Cyprien’s upside in the Jacksonville defense is substantial, but as we saw last year so is the risk involved in trusting him as an IDP DB1.