National Football League
Jaguars’ Josh Allen, Travon Walker facing pressure to elevate pass rush
National Football League

Jaguars’ Josh Allen, Travon Walker facing pressure to elevate pass rush

Published Jun. 15, 2023 7:51 p.m. ET

To understand the Jaguars' gap with the AFC's elite, the space they must close to become the perennial playoff contender they hope to be, start at zero — the number of times they sacked Patrick Mahomes in two relatively close losses to the Chiefs last season, in Week 10 and the divisional round of the playoffs. 

Jacksonville's pass rush in 2022 never found the consistency that defines great teams. And entering 2023, it remains the biggest question mark for a Jaguars team that most NFL observers believe should continue rising with an ascendant Trevor Lawrence, star receiver Calvin Ridley and Doug Pederson, entering his second year as coach. 

Last season, the Jaguars tied for second in the NFL in pressures (209) and ranked third in pressure rate (32.9%). But they tied for 25th in sacks with just 35. Finishing plays was an issue. 

And no longer in the picture are key reserves Arden Key, who signed with Titans in free agency, and Dawuane Smoot, who remains an unrestricted free agent after tearing his Achilles in December. They both ranked in the top three on the team in pressures and sacks. Combined, they accounted for 80 pressures and 11 sacks, both over 23% of the team's production in the respective categories. 


The Jaguars haven't made a significant investment personnel-wise to replace the production. The newbies on the defensive line and at outside linebacker include three Day 3 rookies (fourth-rounder Tyler Lacy, fifth-rounder Yasir Abdullah, seventh-rounder Raymond Vohasek) and three veterans who have a combined four career sacks (Michael DogbeHenry MondeauxNick Thurman). 

So on paper, it's hard to say Jacksonville has improved, let alone replaced what it has lost. 

That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the returners, especially Josh Allen and Travon Walker. They're the team's top two pass rushers, former high first-round picks (Walker went No. 1 overall in 2022; Allen was the No. 7 pick in 2019). They must perform at a high level for the Jaguars' pass rush to become a force, let alone a better version of what it was in 2022. Allen and Walker combined for just 10.5 sacks last season (Allen had seven; Walker with 3.5). 

Allen skipped voluntary OTAs this year to focus on his "individual growth."

"Last year wasn't good enough, just the tape that I watched," said Allen, who's entering a contract year. "You got to be real critical of yourself, and I watched all the games and I was real critical."

Outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey also sees room for improvement for the fifth-year veteran, who ranked fourth in the NFL last season with 64 pressures, according to Next Gen Stats. 

"He does understand that there's a little bit of a gap to close right there between pressures and sacks," said Shuey. "But the pressures are important. He does a good job there. He does a good job in the run game. He sets great edges in the run game. He plays with great effort. He's all over the field. … At the end of the day, he'll tell you and I'll tell you the same thing: We have to get more sack production."

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Last season as a rookie, Walker didn't have the production expected of a No. 1 overall pick, with just 10 quarterback hits, 18 hurries and an 8.9% pressure rate to go with his 3.5 sacks. But the Jaguars knew that he'd be a bit raw as a pass rusher. He had just 9.5 career sacks in three seasons at Georgia, and he played on the edge for Jacksonville after playing primarily inside in college. 

Walker in February labeled his rookie campaign as a "growing year."

"This year was basically just getting a feel for things, for real," he said. "There's plenty more to come. I'll definitely still be rushing the passer for sure, but just at a different level next year."

Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell acknowledged that Walker is one of the "big reasons" the team hasn't been more aggressive in adding pass rushers this offseason. 

"You can see the growth," said Caldwell. "Last year was a learning year for him, learning how to pass rush. Now he's to the point to where he knows what he likes to do. I call it his superpower. I tell him all the time, ‘Use your superpower.' He has it, and he's working on doing that. … We're just excited for him this year."

The veteran pass rusher market hasn't completely dried up. There are still options for Jacksonville to pursue, including 28-year-old Yannick Ngakoue, who played his first four NFL seasons in Jacksonville and is coming off a 9.5-sack campaign with the Colts. Smoot is still an option to re-sign.

But it's clear that the Jaguars are confident in what they have. 

"You can't just jump at the first thing that's there," said Pederson of the pass-rusher market. "Obviously, somebody has to fit your roster and your structure financially and all of that. There are probably going to be guys [available] going into training camp. There are going to be guys coming out of training camp that we're going to look at. Those are all conversations for down the road.

"We're pleased with the guys who've been here and working. We've just got to get them better and ready to go."

Will they be? 

Time will tell.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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