One thing needs to be clear – if Jamal Adams leaves the New York Jets, his replacements will not come even close to replicating his production.
With Jamal Adams coldly turning his back on the New York Jets, many fans have let emotions cloud their perception of what Adams brings to the table as a football player.
Say what you want about the negative off-field and financial effects that would come with bringing Adams back – those concerns are extremely legitimate – but make no mistake about it. The Jets are not going to come close to replicating Adams’ impact if he skips town. Not with a third-round rookie in Ashtyn Davis. Not with anybody.
Adams is not only the best safety in football, but his unique skill-set has re-defined the position’s value.
Here are some of the traits that make Adams as irreplaceable as a safety can be.
Before we get into his specific skills, it needs to be understood that there is nobody else in the league who matches Adams when it comes to thriving in various facets of the game. There may be a handful of players ahead of Adams in one category, but those players are typically far behind him in everything else.
In 2019, six safeties earned a better Pro Football Focus coverage grade than Adams. Adams had more pressures as a pass-rusher (safety-record 23) than all of them combined. He had eight more total stops (tackles short of the first down marker for a modest 1st/2nd down gain or a 3rd/4th down stop) than any of them, with 36, including at least 23 more than four of them.
Three safeties had more total stops than Adams. Each of them allowed at least twice as many yards in coverage as Adams did (150). In fact, Adams allowed fewer yards in coverage than every safety that ranked top-30 in total stops.
Eight safeties had a better PFF run defense grade than Adams. Adams allowed fewer total yards, yards per reception (7.5), and yards per cover snap (0.36) in coverage than every other safety ranked top-10 in run defense grade.
Of the 10 safeties with at least 10 pressures, Adams had the best PFF coverage grade (87.3) and tackling grade (90.0).
Adams was the only safety to rank top-10 in PFF’s coverage, run defense, pass rush, and tackling grades.
No other safety played 100+ snaps as a pass-rusher, 300+ snaps against the run, and 500+ snaps in coverage.
With his ability to perform at an elite level and demand respect from the opposing offense in every imaginable role, Adams affords his defensive coordinator the freedom and creativity to do things that he simply could not do with a cookie-cutter safety duo.
Most safeties have a niche they nestle into.
Adams’ niche? Everything.
Adams allowed 2.9 yards after catch per reception, the best mark among safeties to see at least 25 targets. His average of 4.5 yards per target ranked fourth-best.
Adams can man up and lock down against tight ends anywhere. In-line, Y flex, in the slot, out wide, screens – you name it, he is all over it.
A third down breakup in press coverage against Dallas Goedert, who lines up in-line.
A third down breakup in off-man against Blake Jarwin, who is flexed out. Adams innately avoids the rub and drives directly on the catch point.
Here in 2018, back-to-back touchdowns prevented against Rob Gronkowski on an island outside.
Man-to-man in the slot against Jarwin. Lockdown coverage creates a sack for Jordan Jenkins.
Adams smells this third down screen to Vance McDonald from a mile away and stops it for a five-yard loss. Had Adams not read it so quickly, the right tackle would have sent him flying upfield and McDonald would have 30+ yards of artificial grass between he and the next unblocked defender. Adams single-handedly saves a first down and somewhere from 20-30 yards.
Adams can also handle deep half, deep third, flat, or just about any zone responsibility you ask of him. Claiming he can’t cover is ridiculous. He is a top-five cover safety in the game.
Adams ranked 10th among safeties with a run stop on 5.1% of his snaps against the run (17 stops, 10th-most, on 331 snaps, 28th-most). He also had the lowest missed tackle rate against the run (2.8% with one miss and 35 tackles) and placed third with seven tackles for loss against the run.
In 2018, Adams led safeties in tackles for loss (9) and stops (28) against the run while ranking second with a 6.8% run stop rate.
With excellent play recognition, the ability to shed wide receivers and tight ends with ease, and high-percentage finishing, Adams has an argument to be the best run-stopping safety in football.
Here, I wrote extensively about what makes Adams a great pass-rusher. He has skills that defensive backs are not supposed to have, possessing the ability to win with finesse, power, or quickness. His snap timing and feel for the game allow him to execute his blitz assignments at a high level of frequency.
Adams set a record for safeties (since 2006) with 18 pressures in 2018. Despite missing two games, he shattered that record with 23 in 2019. Of the 352 players (at any position) to rush the quarterback at least 50 times in 2019, none created pressure at a higher rate than Adams’ 25.6%.
Many players are touted for having a “nonstop motor” and the like, but Adams’ hustle is on another level. Through his desire and will alone, he has chased down quite a few plays that would be touchdowns if the average safety were in his position.
Regardless of who is to blame for the whole fiasco, the simple and disappointing fact is that the Jets will be a less talented football team without Adams. His replacements will not come close to matching his impact and it is unlikely that the draft picks the Jets receive in return for him will, either.
Adams is the second-best defensive back the Jets have ever had (after Darrelle Revis) and is talented enough to become one of the most valuable defensive players in team history if he sticks around long enough. He is already their best homegrown player on either side of the ball since Revis.
With his dominance on the field and his likability off of it, the seeds were planted for Adams to grow into an iconic Jet.
All that can be said with certainty regarding this situation is that it is unfortunate for all involved that things have come to this point.
This is not a plea for the Jets to go all-out towards reeling Adams back in – there are many good reasons why they shouldn’t do that – but simply a reminder of just how great of a football player they could be losing.