Jacksonville Jaguars: Top 10 Defenders in Franchise History
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The Jaguars have struggled on defense every year since their last postseason berth. Since the run in 2007, no Jaguars defender has recorded double digit sacks or more than four interceptions.
Poor draft choices and free agency busts have both contributed to the demise of a defense that was once perennially sound, technically speaking.
Gene Smith has of course taken over the helm as Jaguars GM, while James "Shack" Harris is now with the Lions.
GM Gene has been fairly transparent about his plan to build the team from the defensive and offensive lines first, correctly citing the fact that "it starts in the trenches." He seems to be following his plan well after two years.
There are some promising young pieces to the current defense developing. The interior of the defensive line, between Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu, looks to have the potential of being dominant near to the level, at the level or beyond the level of Stroud and Henderson in their prime. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Derek Cox has been fair to good over the last two seasons overall, and it is believed that he will ascend to another level with an improved pass rush and better safety play.
Courtney Greene played better than advertised and will benefit greatly from veteran leadership that will be meticulously recruited in pro free agency once the lockout ends.
After Aaron Kampman's unfortunate injury during the midpoint of the 2010 season, Austen Lane, a rookie Defensive End started the remaining games. He is viewed as more of a run stuffer than a sack enthusiast at this point, but his play did improve as the season progressed.
Russel Allen, an undrafted free agent linebacker from the Jaguars that has been with the team since 2009 has become reliable, a diamond in the rough if you will. His play speaks volumes for Gene Smith and his scouting department's ability to find talent.
These young defenders form a young group that encompasses every level of the defense. Most of these players are expected to elevate their level of play this season.
If they do, in combination with consistency from veteran players and patch work in the form of 2-4 additional free agents at the linebacker and safety positions, the Jaguars defense should improve greatly.
In that scenario, a lot of things have to go right for team to realize significant improvement. Hey, it could happen. Until that time, let's take a look at the players I believe to be the best defenders in the Jaguars franchise's relatively short history.
#10 Paul Spicer
Paul Spicer: Defensive End-Saginaw Valley State
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This man was an unlikely gem, with a great work ethic for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He wasn't flashy, he wasn't the greatest athlete, but he was one of those players who many would say had a high motor. Paul Spicer was the ultimate "Try Hard" guy.
Spicer began his NFL career as an undrafted Free Agent with the Seattle Seahawks in 1998, played briefly in the Canadian Football League, but in 2000 the Jaguars got a hold of him.
He developed into a dependable player and was a major contributor to Jacksonville's stout defensive line between 2003 and 2007.
Paul Spicer was definitely more productive as a run stopper than a sack artist during his tenure with the Jaguars. He had over 250 total tackles between 2001 and 2008, most of which can be credited to run stops.
Although, he did have 7.5 sacks in 2005 and 2007, which are also the team's most recent playoff seasons.
He has the fourth most sacks in franchise history with 28.5.
Spicer was also a captain of the defense and fan favorite. He was very funny and cracked jokes with the media often during his time as a player.
In February 2011, Paul Spicer signed a one-day contract in order to retire with the Jaguars, which is fitting because he played the majority of his career in Jacksonville.
#9 Aaron Beasley
Aaron Beasley: Cornerback-West Virginia
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Beasley was an integral part of the Jaguars Defense between 1996 and 2001. He was selected as the 63rd pick of the NFL Draft in 1996 in the third round. Spoiler alert: two other defenders on this list, Kevin Hardy and Tony Brackens were selected by the Jaguars earlier rounds of the same draft.
During his time with the Jaguars, he had 15 interceptions, 2 Touchdowns and 7.5 sacks. He was known for having a penchant for the big play.
Beasley had one interception during the Jaguars' unbelievable post season run in 1996, which was highlighted by defeating a Denver Broncos team that had gone 13-3 with John Elway at the top of his game. Many believed the Jaguars didn't belong in the NFL, let alone the postseason.
To date, that playoff win ranks in the Top 10 of all-time NFL playoff upsets according to the NFL Network. It would not have been possible without Aaron Beasley.
1999 was his best statistical season. That year, the Jaguars won 14 regular season games while he compiled six interceptions with his two touchdowns occurring that season. He also had two interceptions in a Divisional Playoff blowout of the Miami Dolphins. The Jaguars won 62-7; incidentally, it was Dan Marino's last game.
At what was then called Alltel Stadium, fans may remember chants over the PA and in the crowd that rang out Aaaaaroonnn Beeeaaasssleyyyyyy!!! in an ooh-ahh kind of fashion.
Yes, Aaron Beasley was a source of pride for those early Jaguar teams and serves as proof that great players can be found with mid-round draft picks.
#8 John Henderson
John Henderson: Defensive Tackle-Tennessee
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Henderson was a beast. He, along with Marcus Stroud, put together one of the more formidable defensive tackle tandems in NFL history. The Jaguars never won a playoff game with both of these men on the field, and while that's true, they still made opposing quarterbacks cry at night.
John Henderson's image in Jacksonville may be somewhat tainted. His last two seasons with the team were not as effective as prior seasons with his mammoth counterpart.
With Marcus Stroud out of the line-up due to injury and eventually sent packing to Buffalo, opposing offenses had the ability to double-team the big man.
Still, much of his time with the Jaguars cannot be denied or forgotten. He is third in team history with 29 sacks. That is a very respectable number for a defensive lineman in an eight-year period. He was also a Pro Bowler for the AFC in 2004 and 2006.
Henderson's lasting legacy with the team will likely be getting slapped in the face before games. It was a somewhat maniacal and always entertaining pregame ritual to watch, but not as exciting as his play on the field.
#7 Marcus Stroud
Marcus Stroud: Defensive Tackle-Georgia
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The other side of the two-headed monster of the mid-2000s defense was this man right here. He gave everything he had to give in Jacksonville. Marcus Stroud, if not for injuries, may have wound up playing his entire career for the Jaguars.
Playing for the Jags as #99, Stroud was selected by the Jaguars with the 13th pick of the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. He started every game of his rookie season and reached what would be the first of three consecutive Pro Bowls in 2003.
Marcus Stroud began battling ankle injuries in 2006 and only played in nine games that season along with micro-fracture surgery in the ensuing off season.
He was then indicted midway through the 2007 season on charges of steroid use. He later said he unknowingly used them to rehab an ankle. He was traded to the Bills before the beginning of the 2008 season.
Despite the negative press surrounding the end of his time with the Jaguars, his stats really were quite good.
Between 2001 and 2007, Stroud batted down 22 passes, forced six fumbles as well as took down offending quarterbacks 22 times. Those are great numbers, not to mention the fact that he was always there to plug up the hole on opposing run plays.
The defense has not been the same since he was traded.
#6 Donovin Darius
Donovin Darius: Safety-Syracuse
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The Jaguars are currently in severe need of a power hitter in the secondary. They also need a safety with soft hands, a reliable cover. Since the departure of Donovin Darius following the 2006 season, Jacksonville has lacked a ball-hawking safety on defense.
The team saw a glimmer of hope after drafting Reggie Nelson in 2007, when he recorded five interceptions during his rookie season. That turned out to be all smoke and mirrors as Nelson was exposed without the veteran presence of Sammy Knight in 2008 and 2009. He just plain could not tackle anyone.
Anyway, Donovin Darius was truly a great player to watch. His 376 tackles, 14 interceptions and five forced fumbles were not staggering, but he played with swagger. That cannot be denied.
My lasting memory of Double D is from a Sunday Night game against the Green Bay Packers in December of 2004. It was the coldest game up to that point in the regular season for the Jaguars. You might remember it.
Fred Taylor had a classic 22 carry, 165 yard performance with a touchdown. What's more lasting is the hit Donovin Darius put on opposing wide out Robert Ferguson. He clotheslined the man clean out. He was then fined $75K. It was an illegal hit that ended up basically winning the game.
It wasn't intentional, but Donovin played hard and fearless. Many of his big hits would undoubtedly be fined under the "Steelers Rule" in today's version of the NFL. Still, the Jaguars miss having a big presence like this one in the defensive backfield.
Like Paul Spicer, Donovin Darius signed a one-day contract to retire with the Jaguars in March 2011.
#5 Joel Smeenge
Joel Smeenge: Defensive End-Western Michigan
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Between 1995 and 2000, the Jaguars got steady production from Joel Smeenge at a time when the franchise needed someone to pave the way. He was very important to the early postseason runs and success of the team.
His 34 sacks in six seasons rank second in team history, which is solid. He never had fewer than four sacks and in some years amassed 7.5.
You may be asking, wait a minute. He averaged 5.5 sacks a year. Why is he so high up on this list?
Well, he was there at the beginning. The Jaguars were very lucky to get him in free agency before the inaugural season. He also had this solid, reliable production mostly as a back up.
His name is another one of those that was fun for early Jaguars fans to yell in unison. It's a good thing he was there.
#4 Rashean Mathis
Rashean Mathis: Cornerback-Bethune-Cookman
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Rashean Mathis has gotten a lot of flack from fans over the last two seasons. His production has not been like it was during his early years, but he's also had some Fred Taylor-esque injuries the last couple years.
When a cornerback has a significant groin injury, he should be given a break.
Over the course of his career, Rashean Mathis has been excellent. He's a home-run threat whenever he touches the ball. He's also shown up big at big moments, especially against the Steelers.
During an overtime contest in 2005 against the Steelers with Tommy Maddox starting, Rashean Mathis had a walk off interception return for a touchdown.
In 2006, he had eight interceptions and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Even more clutch were his two interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger in the Wild Card round of the 2007 Playoffs, one of which were returned for touchdowns.
What's great about Rashean is that he's a homegrown talent. He went to Englewood High School in Jacksonville, Fla., and played his college ball close by at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. He was then drafted in the second round in 2003.
As a Jaguar, Rashean Mathis has recorded 29 interceptions. Thirty interceptions is a benchmark number for great cornerbacks throughout the NFL.
If Mathis has put his injuries behind him, it could go a long way towards getting the Jaguars back into the Playoffs in 2011.
They'll be counting on him to be as great as he's been in years past, for sure.
#3 Kevin Hardy
Kevin Hardy: Linebacker-Illinois
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The Jaguars chose Kevin Hardy in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft instead of Ray Lewis. If not for torn cartilage in his knee during the final year of his contract in 2001, his career may have come close to the level of the Ravens' dynamo.
Let's compare some of their regular season stats during the players' first six seasons.
For the record, tackles were not an officially held stat until the 2001 season.
Ray Lewis: 20.5 sacks, 9 passes defensed, 12 interceptions and 161 tackles through 16 games.
Kevin Hardy: 28.5 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 5 interceptions and 69 tackles through 9 games.
It's easy to think, what could have been with this guy, but honestly he was still one of the brightest spots on the team at a time when the Jaguars were true contenders in the NFL.
The stats between the two players are very comparable. They not only suggest that Kevin Hardy was a great pass rusher as an Outside Linebacker, but also that Ray Lewis was better in coverage during their early careers. The fact that two players like this came out of the same draft is an astounding fact.
Yes, the Jaguars chose not to re-sign Hardy after he became a free agent for the 2002 season. He played with the Cowboys in 2002 and the Bengals for 2003 and 2004 to end his career. He was productive during that three-year period, but it's obvious even now looking at the stats that he lost a step.
The Jaguars let go at the right time, but he is definitely deserving of the No. 3 spot on this list.
#2 Daryl Smith
Daryl Smith: Linebacker-Georgia Tech
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If he played for another franchise...oh boy. Lucky for Maurice Jones-Drew, he's vocal. His play gets noticed. That's not what Daryl Smith is about.
He leads by example and goes about his business.
Daryl Smith was drafted in 2004 in the second round with the 39th overall pick. After compiling 85 tackles during his rookie year, he has not gone under 100 tackles in any season.
In fact, the outside linebacker has recorded over 850 total tackles for the franchise and leads the Jaguars for most in team history in just eight years.
He truly has been the model of consistency for the Jags.
After releasing Mike Peterson following the 2008 season, Smith played middle linebacker and fared quite well, recording 157.5 tackles. Not many athletes would be able to make that switch.
He moved back outside last season after the team acquired Kirk Morrison from the Oakland Raiders and did not really see a drop off as he had 143 tackles.
Daryl Smith also possesses good pass rush ability, hitting and coverage skills for a linebacker. Last season he tallied 3.5 sacks during a year when improvement was vastly needed after the team's lowly 14-sack performance in 2009.
He doesn't get much press, he doesn't talk much and he doesn't mind. That's the Jaguar way. He is exactly what coaches want in a player. He is Gene Smith's kind of guy.
However, he does deserve the praise and that is exactly why I have him as high as No. 2 on this list.
#1 Tony Brackens
Tony Brackens: Defensive End-Texas
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This is it, No. 1. It's Tony Brackens. He's the best defender the Jaguars have ever had.
Tony Brackens was thought by many to have first-round talent prior to the 1996 NFL Draft, but he dropped into the second.
He didn't drop for long. The Jaguars selected him with the 33rd pick of the draft and received immediate production. Brackens had an interception and 7 sacks during his rookie campaign.
His career totals are excellent considering the final 2 years of his career were marred by knee injuries.
Brackens amassed 55 total sacks, 7 forced fumbles and 5 interceptions during his career with the Jaguars at the Defensive End position. He is the best edge rusher the team has put on the field, and he has not been replaced since his retirement.
In the post season debacle against the Dolphins in 1999, Brackens had a sack, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. That game defines the early happy times for the Jaguars, but it was the end of an era.
The Titans of course went to the Super Bowl that year after being the only team in the NFL to defeat the Jaguars that season. They did it three times.
After that, both Brackens and the teams' wheels began falling off, but the memories of the great Jaguars from the first five seasons still remain.
Clearly, Tony Brackens is deserving of being on this list as are the rest of its patrons. Although, Brackens was a bit different. A player like him would go a long way to regaining the form of the defense.
Since it is unlikely that Jacksonville will sign a defensive end in free agency this year, fans will have to hope for youthful development.