If one built a Jets super-defense using the best individual seasons at each position since 2005, what would it look like?
Individual players will not appear more than once. Here are the positions listed (12 total):
- 1 nose tackle
- 2 interior defensive line
- 2 outside linebackers/stand-up EDGE
- 2 inside linebackers
- 3 cornerbacks (2 outside / 1 slot)
- 2 safeties (1 free / 1 strong)
Nose tackle – Damon Harrison, 2015
An undrafted free agent out of William Penn in 2012, Harrison became a regular part of the defensive rotation in 2013 and was the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in football for the Jets from 2013-15. He continued that dominance over the next three seasons with the Giants and Lions.
As a Jet, Harrison’s best season came in 2015. Despite playing just the 25th-most snaps against the run (271) among interior defensive linemen, Harrison led the position with 49 run stops, seven more than any other player. His run-stop percentage of 18.1% led the position and stands as the second-best single-season mark since 2006, trailing only Sione Pouha‘s 21.2% for the Jets in 2007 (Pouha did that on a much smaller sample size, which is why Harrison wins this spot).
Largely thanks to Harrison, the 2015 Jets led the NFL in rush defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) as they allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns (4) and lowest rushing first down rate (16.6%).
Interior defensive line – Muhammad Wilkerson, 2015
In his fifth season with the Jets, Wilkerson established himself as one of the most destructive defensive linemen in football. He ranked third among interior defensive linemen with 80 pressures, trailing only Geno Atkins (81) and J.J. Watt (93). Wilkerson tied for sixth in the NFL with 12.0 sacks and also picked up seven passes deflections, which trailed only Watt (8) among defensive linemen.
Following the season, Wilkerson was ranked by his peers as the league’s 39th-best player on the NFL’s Top-100 list. He earned a five-year, $86 million deal from the Jets that, at the time, was unanimously seen as a perfectly reasonable value. Wilkerson was that good.
Unfortunately, Wilkerson suffered a season-ending right fibula fracture in the Jets’ 2015 season-finale loss at Buffalo and was never again able to come close to the peaks he reached that year.
Over 28 games from 2016-17, Wilkerson picked up just 8.0 sacks and 57 pressures. That is 38% as many sacks per game and 41% as many pressures per game as he posted in 2015. Wilkerson was, quite literally, less than half of the player he once was.
Interior defensive line – Sheldon Richardson, 2014
After being named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, Richardson clobbered the league in 2014. He picked up 21 quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss, and 8.0 sacks, while ranking fourth among interior defensive linemen in pressures (54) and 19th in run stops (22). Richardson earned his first – and to date, only – Pro Bowl appearance for the wreckage he caused.
Pro Football Focus ranked Richardson as the fourth-best interior lineman in the game with an 84.6 overall grade in 2014, as he ranked third against the run (90.4 grade) and sixth as a pass-rusher (75.4 grade). He was also unique in that he dropped into coverage on 45 snaps, more than three times as many as any other interior defensive lineman. Richardson allowed just two catches for 19 yards on those snaps, an excellent average of 0.42 yards per cover snap.
We’ve already listed Harrison and Wilkerson’s 2015 seasons. Richardson’s 2015 was fantastic as well, and could have easily taken this spot. While his run defense was not quite as dominant as in 2014 (dropped from 19th to 70th in run stops), Richardson posted 55 pressures in 2015, which is still a career-high (ranked 10th among IDL).
The “Sons of Anarchy” were a tremendous trio. Don’t forget that a young Leonard Williams was there in 2015 as well. In 2015, the Jets had Wilkerson at third in pressures among interior defensive linemen (80), Richardson at 10th (55), and Williams at 13th (52), while Harrison was having one of the best run-stopping seasons in recent history. It was a fantastic quartet with Sack Exchange-caliber potential, and it is too bad they did not stick together beyond that one season.
Richardson is a very unique athletic talent – remember when he scored two rushing touchdowns in 2013? That remains one of only two instances in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) in which a defensive player scored multiple rushing touchdowns in one season, along with William “Fridge” Perry for the 1985 Chicago Bears.
Cornerback – Darrelle Revis, 2009
You didn’t expect someone else, did you?
The numbers behind Revis’ famous 2009 season are downright staggering. They make it glaringly clear that it was one of the best individual seasons in football history – at any position.