All great defenses have a nickname.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense led by Joe Greene and Jack Lambert were intimidatingly dubbed the “Steel Curtain.” The Minnesota Vikings defenses of the 1970s were affectionately known as the “Purple People Eaters.” We’ve spent recent years watching the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” dismantle offenses.
So what, exactly, should we call the 2017-2018 Jacksonville Jaguars defense?
Because they’re certainly good enough to have a nickname. This season, the unit ranked first in passing yards allowed per game (169.9) and second in points allowed per game (16.8) and total turnovers (33). In October, the team tweeted out that it was accepting nickname suggestions for their defense. Sacksonville has since gained some traction, but I think I’ve got something better—The Freak Show.
Why? Because the Jaguars’ defense boasts a number of freakishly athletic playmakers that can impact the game in a variety of ways. Don’t believe me? Let’s outline some of these ball-hawking beasts.
Jalen Ramsey may be the single-most athletic player in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound cornerback has the same max vertical touch as Blake Griffin despite the fact he’s 9 inches shorter than the high-flying NBA star. Can you imagine trying to loft a touch pass over Blake Griffin? That’s the conundrum quarterbacks face when Ramsey’s locking down their top receiver. Oh, and Ramsey’s also got legit 4.40 speed and phenomenal acceleration. Also a decorated track athlete, Ramsey won the 2015 ACC Long Jump Championship at Florida State. In high school, he clocked a 10.50 100-Meter Dash and had a PR of nearly 50 feet in the shot put. Ramsey’s put all those tools to good use this season, as Pro Football Focus currently ranks him as the second-best cornerback in football. He sealed the Jaguars’ recent Wild Card victory over the Buffalo Bills with an absurdly athletic interception. Just look at how Ramsey breaks on this ball:
Then there’s A.J. Bouye, the other half of the Jaguars’ dominant DB duo. Currently ranked as the sixth-best cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, Bouye is a former un-drafted free agent who’s gotten better in each of his five NFL seasons. While not quite as athletic as Ramsey, Bouye still has serious bounce. Watch him destroy these 60-Inch Step Box Jumps:
That incredulous trainer is David Alexander of DBC Fitness. He also trains athletes like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, so if he’s impressed by an athletic feat, you know it’s legitimately incredible.
Strong safety Barry Church might be the least athletic player in the Jags’ defensive backfield, but he’s still no slouch. At Penn Hills High School (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Church won an indoor triple jump state championship and played both safety and wide receiver. Those ball skills helped him total four interceptions and eight passes defended during the regular season.
Moving inside, you’ve got Myles Jack at strongside linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 244-pound Jack could probably line up at a number of different positions in the NFL—that’s how athletic he is. At UCLA, Jack played running back and linebacker and was named both the offensive and defensive Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. Jim Mora, Jack’s coach at UCLA, has said he’s on the same level athletically as Michael Vick, whom he coached with the Atlanta Falcons. Despite being at 80 percent due to a knee injury, Jack still recorded a 40-inch Vertical Jump and a 10-foot-4 Broad Jump at his 2016 Pro Day.
At weakside linebacker, the Jags have another dynamite athlete in Telvin Smith. Since 2014, Smith’s 4.52 40-Yard Dash at the NFL Combine ranks fifth among all linebackers. Pro Football Focus currently ranks him the sixth-best linebacker in the NFL. Here he is tying Prince Amukamara, a cornerback who once ran an unofficial 4.37 40, in a race:[youtube video=”-PahVTWCjRA”]
The Jaguars have some monsters up front. Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are a terrifying defensive end tandem, as Campbell racked up 14.5 sacks this season and Ngakoue recorded 12. Campbell is a hulking figure, measuring in at 6-foot-8, 300 pounds. He’s shockingly athletic for his size, as he’s recorded a 4.85 40-yard Dash and was an All-State basketball player in high school. His NFL Draft profile reads like that of a Marvel superhero: “An amazing physical specimen with a long wingspan, thick calves, a muscular build and cat-like quickness.” He also had the quickest sack (2.03 seconds) of any player in the NFL this season, further proving this giant doesn’t seem to obey the laws of physics. Ngakoue’s first step is downright deadly, as he often flies right past offensive tackles. His 10 forced fumbles through his first two NFL seasons are also indicative of elite hand-eye coordination. He’s a fast runner, too, as he clocked a 4.75 40-Yard Dash at 252 pounds at the 2016 NFL Combine. Most D-ends don’t make 67-yard scoop and scores look this graceful:
Dante Fowler Jr. also rotates in at the defensive end position, and his extreme athleticism helped him total eight sacks and two forced fumbles during the regular season. Fowler clocked an absurd 4.60 40-Yard Dash at 261 pounds at the 2015 NFL Combine. On a team filled with freaks, Campbell calls Fowler the best athlete on the team. At defensive tackle, the Jags have a unique athlete in Malik Jackson, who was often used as an edge rusher at the University of Tennessee. He now weighs 290 pounds and is still quite explosive for his size. That shows up in his sack total, as his eight QB takedowns during the regular season ranked third among all NFL defensive tackles.
Marcell Dareus also rotates in at the DT position. He was the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft largely because of his eye-popping athleticism. We’re talking about a guy who ran a 4.93 40-Yard Dash with a 1.66 10-yard split at 319 pounds. For context, New York Jets safety Jamal Adams recorded a 1.60 10-yard split at the Combine while weighing 105 fewer pounds. For the two to be in the same neighborhood is just ludicrous.
No matter where you look on this juggernaut defense, you’re greeted by players with outstanding measurables and rare physical tools. The Jaguars defense is big, fast and explosive. Everyone loves the idea of filling their team with elite athletes, but the Jaguars have managed to nab players who are both highly athletic and highly productive. The result is one of the most dominant defenses the NFL has ever seen, and it looks like these guys are just getting started.
Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire/Getty Images