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How Leon Jacobs fits with the Jacksonville Jaguars

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A Q&A with Big Cat Country

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the 230th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs.

The fifth and final Badger to be drafted this year, Jacobs played in an FBS-record 59 games during his time in Madison. After bouncing around positions for most of his career, he returned to outside linebacker last season in a starting role and showed what he could do when given consistent chances to shine: 60 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions.

Listen to the brief phone conversation between Jacobs and Jacksonville’s front office to hear the ‘backer’s voice upon hearing he found an NFL home. Pretty special.

Below, Ryan O’Bleness from Big Cat Country discusses what could be ahead for the Badgers linebacker down in “Sacksonville.” The below was edited slightly for clarity.

I’ve covered Wisconsin football since Jacobs came to school before the 2013 season, and many Badgers fans know about the freakishly athletic linebacker. How much did the Jaguars faithful know about him after being drafted on Saturday?

Ryan: As a fan of Michigan State and Big Ten football in general, the first time I remember hearing Jacobs’s name was the 2016 contest between Wisconsin and MSU. But since the two schools hadn’t played since then, his name didn’t immediately ring any bells for me until I looked more into him. It’s hard to speak on behalf of all Jaguar fans, but based off of Twitter reactions and others I have talked to, the fan base seems extremely impressed with Jacobs’s athletic potential, impressive physique, and his combination of both strength and speed. Whether they knew his name or not coming into draft weekend, they certainly do now.

My favorite tweet about Jacobs came from fellow Big Cat Country writer (and he is now running Locked On Jaguars) Zach Goodall, who wasn’t too impressed with Jacksonville’s sixth-round pick, Tanner Lee. Perhaps Badger fans will enjoy it as well:

Does Jacobs help fill a need at one of the Jaguars’ linebacker positions, and has the coaching staff discussed how they plan to use him?

Yes, Jacobs does fill a need. Longtime Jaguars MIKE (middle) linebacker Paul Posluszny retired in the offseason, which means Myles Jack will slide from the SAM (strong side linebacker) position to the MIKE, leaving a hole at the SAM spot. I expect Jacobs to compete there, while 2017 second team All-Pro Telvin Smith mans the WILL (weak-side) linebacker spot. In the post-draft press conference, head coach Doug Marrone said Jacobs is a guy they’ll look at for the SAM spot. Marrone mentioned that Jacobs is a guy who is fast, and they’re looking for guys who can run, hit, and tackle at that position. You can hear Marrone talking about Jacobs at around the 11:25 mark in this video:

The Jaguars front office/coaches seemed to put a premium on players in the draft who can contribute right away on special teams, so I expect him to get some serious looks there as well.

With where the Jaguars are hoping to use Jacobs on defense, who are the players that he’ll have to compete with?

The Jaguars drafted Blair Brown out of Ohio last year as a backup who can play all three linebackers spots, but mainly SAM. The Jaguars look at Jacobs in the same way. I expect Jacobs and Brown to compete for the SAM spot, but I would give Brown the upper hand right now since he’s been in the system for a year now and Jacobs is a bit raw. Other players like Donald Payne could push for playing time as well. The Jaguars play a 4-3 base defense in defensive coordinator Todd Wash’s system, so three linebackers are often on the field, however the Jags also play just as much, if not more, in the nickel package on passing downs. So the SAM linebacker will generally come off of the field in those situations.

Way-too-early thoughts: do you see Jacobs making the active roster?

Given the need for a starting SAM, and depth behind that, I envision Jacobs making the final 53-man roster come September. His size, speed, and athleticism will be huge for him, but what really matters is how he performs in both training camp and the preseason. As I mentioned earlier, his best shot is to make an impact on special teams first and foremost. He needs to make sure tackles, show off his pass-rushing skills, and hone in his technique. He’s seen as an athletic prospect, but a bit of a project according to NFL.com, so I expect him to make the roster and play special teams, but I don’t think he sees a lot of action on defense during his rookie season, barring any injuries.