PFF not high on Jags’ secondary heading into 2021 season

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When the Jacksonville Jaguars made their run to the AFC title game in 2017, the secondary was at the core of an all-time defense. Led by young star Jalen Ramsey with a strong supporting cast that included A.J. Bouye, Tashaun Gipson, and Barry Church, the unit finished second in the league in interceptions with 21 on the year.

But now, all those players are gone. Ramsey and Bouye were traded, and Gipson and Church were released after their play dropped off. The team used one of the first-round picks it netted from the Ramsey trade to select his replacement last year in C.J. Henderson, who notched an interception in the season opener and loose impressive but struggled at times after that. Injuries also held him out of eight games.

Despite playing most defensive snaps when he was healthy, his impact could’ve been better for a selection taken in the top-10, and Jacksonville’s passing defense suffered. The patchwork unit finished as the sixth-worst defense against the air attack.

This offseason, Jacksonville completely revamped the unit. Henderson might be the only incumbent starter that will retain his role, and the group has a good mix of veterans and young players with potential. Still, that’s not enough to convince Pro Football Focus that the Jags’ secondary is significantly better as we approach the preseason. In its preseason power rankings of defensive backfields, the Jaguars came in at the No. 27 spot.

Jacksonville certainly hasn’t ignored its secondary over the past two offseasons. Between the additions of C.J. Henderson, Tyson Campbell and Andre Cisco in the draft and Shaquill Griffin and Rayshawn Jenkins in free agency, it’s a completely rebuilt unit.

There are some questions about how those pieces fit together in new defensive coordinator Joe Cullen’s scheme, though. None of Henderson, Griffin and Campbell is a natural fit in the slot, but they are the three cornerbacks the Jaguars should want on the field. It’s also worth monitoring Jacksonville’s volume of man coverage early in the year. Griffin, in particular, has graded much better throughout his career in zone (81.3 coverage grade) than man (37.0 coverage grade).

Though Jacksonville retained a lot of the players who saw significant action with Henderson’s injury, like Tre Herndon and Sidney Jones, they were likely relegated to depth when the team brought in Griffin from Seattle. The 25-year-old had a career-high three interceptions last year despite only appearing in 12 games, and he was rewarded with a big-time deal from the Jags.

Griffin has a lot less to prove than Henderson, who showed promise but far from reassured the Jaguars that they made the right call selecting him ninth. The selection of Campbell from Georgia to lead off the second round was a bit curious given the presence of Henderson and Griffin, but it will likely put pressure on the former to improve in his second year.

The safety duo could also be totally different, as Jenkins comes in after contributing quite a bit in his four years with the Chargers, and Cisco, a third-round pick, is a risk/reward player coming off an ACL injury. Health limited him to just 24 games in college at Syracuse, but there was a time when he was considered a first-round prospect and one of the top safeties in the draft. If Jacksonville gets that level of play from him, this will be one of the biggest steals of the entire draft.

This is still a young group, and its play will largely depend on the development of Henderson and the other young players expected to play significantly this year. But from a production standpoint, it’s hard to imagine the unit won’t improve and surpass its current ranking from PFF.