Free will is almost upon us. On March 14, the two-day legal tampering window will begin before the league’s new year begins and players across the NFL will find new homes.
After an unpredictable free agency streak last offseason in which the Jaguars failed to target many of the top free agents they were projected on, it’s unclear if this year will be any different. The key word in last year’s free agency cycle, led by then-head coach Urban Meyer and general manager Trent Baalke, was “value.”
Will that be the case again with Baalke back at the helm, this time joined by new head coach Doug Pederson?
“Are we going to go out and add talent? Yeah, we’re going to add talent. We’re going to add competition. We’re going to bring value to the roster. Every team does this, and we’re no exception to that,” Pederson said last month when introducing his coaching staff.
“But I see talent here. I said I think in my opening remarks a few weeks ago that it’s not an overnight solution, and it will be a solution that we have to make a player at the once, one trainer at a time, and rotate it.”
In an effort to identify which free agents make the most sense to potentially be Pederson’s referenced players, we’ll go through each group of positions to determine who are the best, ranking them in order.
Then the outside cornerbacks.
1) JC Jackson
The Jaguars paid top dollar for an outside cornerback last season in Shaquill Griffin, but it would be foolhardy of them not to continue watching the position after their inability to make plays on defense last season. And for a defense that was the worst in the NFL in terms of forcing takeouts, Jackson and his rare ball skills might be just what we need.
Jackson has 25 interceptions and 53 pass deflections and has only missed three games in his career, each coming as a rookie in 2018. While there is obviously some concern that he is a beneficiary of the Patriots’ defensive system, Jackson is one of the most productive defensive backs in the NFL and could give the Jaguars a true No. 1 cornerback if he strikes.
2) Carlton Davis
The Jaguars have two defensive coaches on staff who have shared the Tampa Bay locker room with Carlton Davis in recent seasons, including defensive coordinator and former Tampa Bay inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell. An ideal zone cornerback who has proven himself capable of shutting down No. 1 receivers in the Todd Bowles system, Davis will likely get a major contract this free agency period.
While Davis is just a year old with big turnover numbers (four of six career interceptions have come in 2020), he’s deflected 48 passes over the past three seasons and is a high-level player and high ceiling which probably still hasn’t reached its ceiling. If the Jaguars want to go with a sure thing in terms of adjusting the scheme, it makes sense.
3) Darious Williams
A prototype No. 2 cornerback, Darious Williams has spent the past few years playing in the shadow of Jalen Ramsey and taking on smaller responsibilities in defense for the Rams. And while Williams has never been the best cornerback in a defense, he is still a high ground coverage man who has proven himself time and time again in zone coverage.
Williams would give the Jaguars a cornerback mark they wouldn’t otherwise have on the roster. At 5-foot-9 and 189 pounds, Williams is a smaller cornerback who wins on elite agility and change of direction and ball skills. He has the speed and general burst in the short areas that the Jaguars cornerback room lacks and his skills would mesh well with those of Griffin and Tyson Campbell,
4) Steven Nelson
One of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL, Steven Nelson deserves a solid contract this offseason and deserves consideration from the Jaguars. Nelson doesn’t have the size, length or frame of Griffin or Campbell, so he would give the Jaguars a smaller, more nimble cornerback to go along with their two height/weight/speed turns.
Nelson is a feisty zone cornerback who has proven in 2021 that he can be a solid No. 2 cornerback in front of an established No. 1. If the Jaguars want to add depth and find thriving corners in the zone, Nelson has as much sense as any cornerback on the roster and his strong 2021 season only hammers home that point.
5) DJ Reed Jr.
Another sub-six-foot cornerback, DJ Reed Jr. is yet another area cornerback option who has already thrived on the outside throughout his career. Although Reed isn’t a prototypical height at 5-foot-9 and 193 pounds, he’s a physical cornerback that matches what the Jaguars’ scheme will likely ask of its cornerbacks.
A former fifth-round pick from Kansas State, Reed has started 22 games for the Seahawks over the past two seasons and has recorded four interceptions and 17 pass deflections in the process. He may not have the production of a high-ceilinged cornerback, but he would be a respectable addition to the Jaguars depth chart.