As the New York Jets fly into the new football season, there is certainly reason for optimism throughout the organization. With first-round draft pick Sam Darnold at the helm, this team can be a lot better than people expect. Of course, one player will not give Gang Green an immense improvement in the win column, but the offseason Mike Maccagnan had should surround Darnold with a talented offense and a stifling defense. One can argue that an improved defense will be what truly turns this team around, rather than a rookie passer. Looking forward, here is a New York Jets defensive preview to further break down what could be coming in 2018.
We’ll start with the heart of this secondary and the former first-round selection, Jamal Adams. Adams, an LSU product, played well last year in his rookie campaign, providing key production not only at strong safety but also at cornerback, edge rusher, and inside linebacker (seriously, he was everywhere). While the turnovers haven’t yet been created, the impact he brings to stopping the run and shutting down tight ends is rarely found across the league. He was brought in to be a culture changer and he has most definitely stepped up to the plate. Expect another great season from this rising star.
With their second-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, the New York Jets took another safety, this time out of Florida. The argument can very well be made that Marcus Maye outperformed Adams during their inaugural season. This most likely won’t be the case in 2018, but another strong performance is not out of the question. He is more likely to create turnovers, though his floor is lower than anyone else on this secondary. If Maye stays consistent, nobody will want to mess with this safety duo.
One free agent the New York Jets brought in this spring was Trumaine Johnson, the veteran cornerback. He looks to be the number one corner on this team, though that is far from a guarantee. At 6’2″ and entering his age 29 season, Johnson is apart of a group of bigger, aging corners that don’t seem to fare well in today’s NFL. While there is a reason for concern, Johnson can be a lockdown corner, and until he proves otherwise, he is still the stud cornerback this team has needed.
On the opposite side of Trumaine Johnson, this year the New York Jets will host former Dallas Cowboy, Morris Claiborne. He proved his worth last year, matching up well against bigger receivers such as Julio Jones. Now in a less demanding role, Clayborne can flourish this year, rounding out an incredible secondary.
The rest of the cornerbacks for this New York Jets team include Buster Skrine, Parry Nickerson, and Rashard Robinson, three candidates for the nickel corner spot. They will frequently be rotated into this role, though I expect the rookie Nickerson to take control of the position relatively quickly. Furthermore, Darryl Roberts, Juston Burris, and Derrick Jones should round out the roster at this position, securing a talented group. At the safety position, Terrence Brooks and Doug Middleton seem to have the depth roles on lockdown, though Maccagnan has shown interest in free agent Kenny Vaccaro. None of these depth guys will have a huge impact on the New York Jets’ success, but there is a plethora of young talent to be observed.
A bright spot for this New York Jets team last year was the consistency of Jordan Jenkins, who remained a quality edge rusher, just like his rookie year. He has shown to be a capable starter and will be a fundamental building block in this defense’s future. As a team, Gang Green has struggled to get to the quarterback, though Jenkins and co. should improve from last season’s marks. Just another beacon of talent on this young defense.
Josh Martin appears to be the significant weak spot on this defense. In order for the New York Jets to reach their peak potential, they will have to rush the passer. Martin has to step up as an edge rusher, and if he fails to do so, he will be riding the bench sooner rather than later. At the very least, Martin is a serviceable veteran who can perform in a starting role or in a rotation.
One of Maccagnan’s best free agent acquisitions this spring was that of former-Tennesee Titan, Avery Williamson. This team saw massive struggles at the inside linebacker position a year ago, and Williams is in line to be the above average starter they need at this position. Williamson possesses a prowess in the run game that has been dearly missed, yet he is also athletic enough to drop back into coverage, which he will certainly be asked to do.
Former first-round pick Darron Lee is a former Ohio State Buckeye with a lot to prove. He has seen massive struggles throughout his NFL career, but last season also played host to several rays of hope. Lee was troublesome as a pure inside linebacker, but when placed outside on 4-3 sets, he shined. This is because there was less of a stress on the run game, thus opening up his strengths, pass defense in the open field. The talent is certainly there, and if utilized correctly, Lee can become a force to be reckoned with.
An impressive unit on this New York Jets team has to be its defensive depth, and much of that is in part to the linebackers. Free agent signings Kevin Pierre-Louis, Kevin Minter, and Brandon Copeland provide versatility, athleticism, and intelligence off the bench. Pierre-Louis may make a larger impact as the season progresses as his package usage will frequently increase. To add, Lorenzo Mauldin and Dylan Donahue are two young pass rushers who are raw but possess enough talent to make the roster as edge rushers. Merely situational, they won’t be receiving much playing time, but they are both safe replacements if necessary.
Former University of Southern California Trojan Leonard Williams is a budding star with a lot to prove. His versatility is clear and will be used often as the New York Jets switch between 3-4 and 4-3 base schemes and he will be asked to both rush the passer and stop the run at a proficient level. If he continues to develop, this squad will have its rock on the defensive line, whose impact helps in rushing the passer, stuffing runs, and creating turnovers. Possibly the team’s best player, the expectations are high for “Big Cat” but he has more than enough talent to take on the arduous task of impressing in New York.
Possibly the most underrated player in the sport, Steve McLendon is an exceedingly capable defensive tackle who is absolutely relentless against the run. He fills the hole Damon Harrison left and might just be the best run stopper in the green and white. The competitive toughness he brings to the table not only exemplifies itself on the biggest of stages but also influences the impressionable young players on this roster.
During the most recent NFL Draft, the New York Jets traded their seventh-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Henry Anderson, a career fringe starter who is decent in just about every aspect of a defensive lineman’s game. In one of the best value moves of the offseason, Anderson may not get the most snaps, but he will make his presence felt. If he can bring the pass rush this team needs from its defensive line, the Jets will impress a lot of people.
The depth this New York Jets team has on its defensive line is borderline unfathomable. Rookies Nathan Shepherd and Foley Fatukasi will provide instant production as they rotate in with increasing frequency. If this line wants to even sniff what it was about three years ago, then these rookies will have to step up. David Bass is a pure pass rushing specialist who has additionally garnered relatively high expectations from his coaches. Moreover, quality depth will be found with Mike Pennel and Deon Simon, two hard-nosed nose tackles with impressive strength and leverage skills. The unit has about six starters to fill a maximum of four spots, so competition will be brewing and there is no reason to expect any level of disappointment from this group.
In summation, this New York Jets defense boasts several young, talented players capable of being difference makers. Unequivocally, this is a rebuilding team, but the ceiling of this team will be witnessed and admired. With strengths at corner, safety, interior linebacker, and interior defensive line, Gang Green is set for a defense ranked in the top half of the league as they start to make football relevant again in New York.
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