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Injuries broke the Buccaneers defensive line, and boosted the Jaguars’

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Health matters in the NFL.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Cliff McBride/Getty Images

The 2016 season looked promising for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line. General manager Jason Licht seemed to have assembled talent in the middle and on the ends. The interior of the line had Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, and Akeem Spence. McDonald came to the Bucs as a free agent in 2015, McCoy and Spence were drafted by a previous regime. On the outside, the Bucs boasted William Gholston, Jacquies Smith, Robert Ayers, and 2nd round rookie Noah Spence. Gholston and Noah Spence were drafted, Smith was an undrafted free agent, and Ayers was a sought after free agent pick up in 2016, with the ability to play interior and improve the depth of the defensive line overall.

A common notion about the National Football League is that it is a copycat league. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a total of 55 sacks on the regular season, ranking second overall in the league by one less sack. The previous year, they ranked 19th overall with 33 sacks. The Buccaneers had ranked 9th in that same year with 38 sacks. Some media are clamoring that Bucs’ GM Licht needs to follow in those footsteps, revamping their defensive line.

On paper production, only Campbell made a significant difference from all of the 2017 acquisitions. Ngakoue, Jackson, and Fowler Jr were acquired before Tom Coughlin was hired to help run the personnel show. What makes the 2017 Jaguars defense special is one ability – availability.

2016 Bucs Defensive line Stats

Let us now review the 2016 Bucs’ defensive line production.

Jacquies Smith only played one play in 2016 before suffering his season ending surgery. In 2015, Smith had 7 sacks and 2 TFLs on only 12 games played, starting seven games. The year before that, 2014, Jacquies had 6.5 sacks in 15 games. His trajectory was looking great coming into 2016 along with 2016 acquisitions of Ayers and Noah Spence to the pass rushing corps.

Total sacks for the Bucs in 2016 was 38 and ranked 9th overall in the league. If we add Jacquies Smith’s probably 7 sacks, then the total Bucs’ sacks would be at 45 sacks and the Bucs would be ranked 3rd overall in the league for sacks in 2016. In 2016, Atlanta was ranked 1st with 48 sacks and Carolina was ranked 2nd with 47 sacks. This is to give perspective about Jacquies Smith’s production pre-2016 regular season production being applied afterwards if he were completely healthy.

2016 Pre-season Defensive line Stats

Usually, the third game of the pre-season is when the starters usually play most of the game as a primer for the regular season. Jacquies pops out in production in the third game as well as in totality of the pre-season games. It appeared that Smith was continuing his trajectory of improvement from his productions of 2014 and 2015.

2017 Bucs Defensive line Stats

The organization would wait on Jacquies Smith because his production warranted it. Unfortunately, he just never regained his former talent. The Bucs would release Smith one game after his return from injury during the regular season. Conflate that with Noah Spence’s injury and Ayers regression, what once was so very promising just fell to unlucky circumstances.

The Jaguars’ defensive line was mostly healthy throughout the whole season. Calais Campbell was the only acquisition of 2017 that produced on paper, in respect to sacks and TFL’s. Bucs GM Licht also had the similar thought during the 2016 off-season. Although Jacquies did not play in 2016, defensive ends Ayers and Spence produced a total of 12 sacks. Licht was hoping that Jacquies would return to form, see continued progression in Spence and Ayers, as well as added DT Chris Baker to soak up the middle. That hope was the reason why Licht addressed other areas in free agency and the draft in 2017.

Now, Licht can refocus on the defensive ends going into 2018 off-season. The 2016 season looked good before the season started. It still look good after Jacquies’ season ending injury. 2017 was gambling on Jacquies returning, but that was not the case. Noah Spence’s shoulder continued to elude him arm in 2017. Ayers regressed. The Bucs had an inept pass rush for 2017. Injuries suck. It hit the Bucs’ defensive ends hard. The Jaguars were lucky this year to avoid it.