John Raoux/Associated Press
Branch (90) has the potential to be a star but must get through two veterans to prove it.
Main Battle: Chris Clemons vs. Jason Babin vs. Andre Branch vs. Tyson Alualu
The Jaguars' pass rush has been walking the line of abysmal for a number of years. 2013 was the second year in a row the Jaguars finished last in the league in sacks and haven't placed in the top 15 since 2007. The Jaguars need to get after the quarterback, especially in a division where they have to play Andrew Luck twice a year.
Clemons had the best years of his career when Bradley was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks. During that three-year span, Clemons racked up 33.5 sacks. Between dealing with injuries in 2013 and the emergence of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, he was held to just 4.5 sacks and was released by Seattle.
Clemons now joins fellow ex-Seahawk Red Bryant as Bradley looks to install in Jacksonville the same system he created in Seattle. Clemons hopes to put the 2013 season behind him and find himself reborn under Bradley again.
Babin is the other veteran at the position. The 34-year-old pass-rusher led the team in sacks last season, posting 7.5. Babin is certainly not the same pass-rusher he was when he posted 18 sacks in 2011 but he still has the ability to get after the quarterback.
Andre Branch is the latest attempt by the Jaguars to draft a high-profile pass-rusher. Branch was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft after posting 10.5 sacks in his final year at Clemson. He had a breakout year last season, posting six sacks, despite not starting a game. He now just has to prove he can handle the starting role in his third season.
Alualu makes his second appearance on this list, and that isn't necessarily a good thing. I stated earlier that I think he should make the switch back to defensive tackle, but there has yet to be any word of him doing that, hence his inclusion here.
Normally a player who put up the numbers Alualu did last season wouldn't be in consideration for a starting role. Yet somehow he managed to start every game despite Branch outplaying him.
I think Clemons and Babin will be the Day 1 starters for the Jaguars on each side. They have the most experience and, despite their age, could form an effective duo.
Branch should earn himself a lot more playing time after his performance last season. He seems to be a player on the brink of breaking out. If Alualu stays at defensive end, the only way I see him getting a significant amount of snaps would be due to his status as a first-round pick.
This battle tops the list because the Jaguars have had such an awful pass rush for a number of years. They need to get after the quarterback consistently to have a legitimate shot at playing well this year.
Some of the QBs they face this year include Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco. If they can't get pressure on these guys, their hopes of winning dwindle significantly.