Jacksonville Jaguars rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Day and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue were expected to be rare contributors on an exceptionally talented front.
That was the thought anyway.
The competition along the defensive line is as fierce as the Jacksonville heat, and both Day and Ngakoue have answered the challenge of ensuring their inaugural year of professional football consists of much more than carrying someone else’s shoulder pads.
Complimentary descriptions like “good hands” and “high motor” have been spreading throughout Jacksonville’s training camp like wildfire. Day and Ngakoue have made a strong enough case with the team to already be receiving extended reps with the first-team linebackers and defensive backs.
An initial glimpse of the multiple substitutions on the practice field gives the impression that the rookie defensive linemen could play integral roles on the team from the start.
Day, a fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame, might soon be considered a steal for the Jaguars as he continues to prove size isn’t everything in the trenches. His ability to fly off the snap and burst through gaps could make him a nightmare for NFL offenses.
He certainly has a knack for blowing up plays—whether it’s forcing a quarterback to move from his spot or helping stuff running plays before they make it to the line of scrimmage. Across the board, he was believed to have some of the best hands out of any lineman in this year’s draft.
Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley is especially a fan of his ability to sustain a strong pace until the whistle blows.
“We really like Sheldon Day,” Bradley recently told the official team website. “Again, he’s another guy who has a high motor. He can play inside. He has good pass rush. He has the ability to play the run. He has faced a lot of double-teams, and he’s holding up well against that, but the play after play after play – his motor I think jumps out.”
A good motor and the ability to help produce a pass rush is also what stands out with Ngakoue, a third-round pick out of the University of Maryland.
Like Day, he lacks the prototypical length scouts typically favor in defensive lineman, but he makes up for it with great athleticism and the ability to consistently shed blocks and turn the corner. He was a workhorse in Maryland totaling 13.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss.
“[Ngakoue] has good hands, good quickness and good bend, but his motor …” said Bradley. “His motor, I think, is one his strongest assets.”
Day and Ngakoue aren’t expected to be starters on a defensive front filled with the likes of Malik Jackson, Dante Fowler Jr., Sen’Derrick Marks and Jared Odrick. But they should be able to step in and contribute right away as complimentary pieces.
The Jaguars have more talent than they know what to do with on the defensive line, and one would expect them to utilize every resource to the best of their ability. It’s a scary sight for the rest of the league to see big free agency spenders like the Jaguars do so well in the draft.
For Jacksonville fans, on the other hand, it has been a long time coming.