There are a lot of negatives associated with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and it’s just low-hanging fruit picking on Chad Henne, Maurice Jones-Drew’s decline, Justin Blackmon’s stupidity, and all combinations therein. But what people glance over due to all their jokes are the players on the Jaguars who are quietly playing well, and I think the Jaguars cornerbacks deserve high praise for their play this season. It’s not often that you see a trio of solid corners fly under the radar like the group that the Jaguars have, and hopefully these three guys start getting their due outside of north Florida.
Right cornerback Alan Ball showed promise earlier in his career, but he was a below-average corner overall and not somebody worth starting. Ball was scooped up by the Jaguars in free agency this past offseason, and he immediately flashed in training camp for his new AFC South team. The Jaguars liked Ball so much that they made him their No. 1 corner, and he hasn’t looked back since. In fact, Ball has been one of the biggest breakout players this season in terms of performance, but sadly he hasn’t made any splash on a national scale. Part of it is because he plays for the Jaguars, but the main reason is that it takes time for an unknown corner to become a known name.
Ball hasn’t been playing at a true shutdown level, but he’s still been great and performs at a high level with discipline and ball skills. So far this season, he already has 12 passes defended, and that’s usually a good indication that a corner is doing their job well. At 28, Ball is definitely having a surprise, breakout campaign later on in his career than most, but it’s still been a very welcome season for Jaguars fans; here’s to hoping that it continues, especially since more touted CBs like Aaron Ross have flopped in Jacksonville before.
A guy who really stood out to me at the beginning of the year is Will Blackmon, who lost his starting job in Week 10 to rookie corner Dwayne Gratz. I’ll get to Gratz later, and I don’t think that the Jaguars benched Blackmon for performance; I think they just wanted to give the UConn rookie some more reps.
Anyway, Blackmon was on fire early in the regular season, and he nine passes defended through the first five weeks of the regular season, including four PDs in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts and three PDs a week later against the St. Louis Rams. Blackmon also gave the Jaguars some solid run support at CB with 31 total tackles. While he cooled off after that and wasn’t great, Blackmon did impress and has shown that he can be a legitimate, successful piece of the puzzle in the Jacksonville defense.
Third round UConn rookie Dwayne Gratz missed a large chunk of the season with a nagging high-ankle sprain, but he returned to the Jaguars starting lineup in Week 10 and has been a promising, under-the-radar rookie on the Jaguars defense. He’s had his ups-and-downs this season, but I think he has been solid overall and is a legitimate starting cornerback in this league. Gratz has the size and physicality that Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley values, and it’s clear that Bradley likes him. The Huskies product also has the ability to make a solid impact as a run defender, and it’s clear that he is a building block for the future in Jacksonville.
Derek Cox left the Jaguars, as was expected, in the offseason to sign a significant deal with the San Diego Chargers to be their No. 1 corner, and he has been a massive flop this season for the Chargers. Expected to be the team’s No. 1 corner this year and an answer to some big questions in the Chargers secondary, Cox has only been part of the problem and has been repeatedly benched as the main culprit for poor coverage in the Chargers secondary.
So not only did the Jaguars save money by not keeping Cox, who was a solid No. 1 CB for them, but they also have three corners who are playing better than Cox. Drawn out comparisons aside, I think this group of Jaguars corners gives this franchise some hope for the future that this secondary can be solid, especially if rookies Jonathan Cyprien and Josh Evans can make strides at safety (Cyprien already is) and be quality starters in this league. If that happens, then Blackmon, Ball, Gratz, and the rest of the Jaguars secondary can give Bradley a firm foundation at the back end of the defense and help fill up a hole and add to the Jaguars vision going forward. Those three compose a promising group of CBs who have performed well this season, and it would be unwise to overlook their accomplishments thus far.