JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars have been searching for an elite pass-rusher since Tony Brackens retired after the 2003 season.
They've tried first-round pick Derrick Harvey in 2008 and second-round pick Andre Branch in 2012. They've tried free agents Hugh Douglas in 2003, Reggie Hayward in 2005 and Aaron Kampman in 2010. None of them worked out, although there’s still time for Branch to turn things around.
Only one pass-rusher has had some notable success: Bobby McCray, the Jaguars’ seventh-round pick in 2004. He’s the only player since Brackens in 2001 to record double-digit sacks in a single season (McCray had 10 in 2006).
Since then, the Jaguars’ pass rush has been the worst in the NFL. They’ve recorded an NFL-low 233 sacks from 2007-14.
The Jaguars hoped Dante Fowler Jr. would help change that. They took the former University of Florida standout with the third overall pick in the draft on April 30 but lost him for the season with a torn left ACL less than an hour into his first rookie minicamp practice.
Is the Jaguars’ streak of consecutive seasons without a player recording double-digit sacks likely to reach nine years? Now that Fowler is out, the top three options to snap it are Branch, Chris Clemons and Ryan Davis.
Branch had just one sack as a rookie but produced six in 2013. He had just three through the first seven games last season before a groin injury kept him out of seven of the final nine games. Branch is entering a contract season. Fowler’s injury and the fact that Clemons turns 34 in October give Branch the opportunity to be the Jaguars’ top Leo (pass-rushing defensive end).
Clemons missed all of organized team activities but showed up for the mandatory minicamp and said that he’s in the best shape of his career. He also said he would be more productive than he was last season, when he finished second on the team with 8.0 sacks. However, three of those came in one game against Indianapolis.
Clemons likely will have his snaps closely monitored and limited, especially early in the season. But if he indeed is in the shape he boasts, he could approach double-digit sacks for the first time since 2012.
Davis posted 6.5 sacks last season in only 289 snaps. He was a situational rusher who did most of his damage inside despite weighing only 260 pounds. He doesn’t fit what the Jaguars want in a Leo, but they like his inside rush and are likely to use him the same way in 2015. It would be hard for him to approach double-digit sacks unless he were to have a couple of multiple-sack games.
Recording 10 or more sacks is a rare feat in Jaguars' history. It has been done only five times by four players -- Brackens twice, McCray, Kevin Hardy and Gary Walker -- and only one of those players would be considered an elite rusher. The search continues for the next.