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Jets X-Factor’s 2020 New York Jets predictions: Defense/Special teams

Gregg Williams, Quinnen Williams, and Marcus Maye
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The Jets X-Factor crew submits its predictions for the 2020 New York Jets defense and special teams: breakout player, most disappointing player, overall ranking, and more.

Check out our 2020 predictions for the Jets offense here.

Who will be the Jets’ best player on defense?

Ben BlessingtonMarcus Maye

Joe BlewettQuinnen Williams

Michael NaniaQuinnen Williams

Robby SaboMarcus Maye

Sam CrnicQuinnen Williams

With Jamal Adams in the Pacific Northwest and C.J. Mosley opting out of the season, the race for this title is wide open.

Both Maye and Williams have opportunities to elevate in a big way this season. Maye has established himself as a solid deep safety, but with Adams’ exit, Maye’s role will likely be strongly diversified compared to last year. With more snaps in the box and in man coverage, Maye will have more opportunities than ever before to make splashy plays that add to the quiet-but-important impact he already makes.

Williams was seen by most evaluators as the most talented prospect in the 2019 draft class. That fact does not evaporate after one season. Williams undoubtedly still has the potential to become one of the best two-way interior defensive linemen in the league. Plenty of star defensive linemen had less-than-stellar rookie seasons. Grady Jarrett had one sack as a rookie, Chris Jones had two, Gerald McCoy had three, and Geno Atkins had three.

It’s completely normal for a player to struggle in his rookie year – regardless of draft position. Typically, a player’s rookie season turns out to be his worst until the very end of his career. Giving up on Williams this early is preposterous, especially considering the subtle progress that he made at the end of 2019.

In 2019, the Jets’ second-best defensive player was either Brian Poole or Steve McLendon.

Statistically, Poole easily had the best 2019 season of any Jets player outside of Adams, leading the NFL in fewest yards per cover snap out of the slot (0.57).

McLendon was also fantastic, ranking eighth at his position in Pro Football Focus’ run defense grade (81.3), but that is obviously not quite at Poole’s position-best level. However, when you dig into the film, it is clear that McLendon’s off-the-stat-sheet impact was sizable enough to put his overall performance level in Poole’s neighborhood.

Both Poole and McLendon should be in the conversation for the “best defensive player” title once again, but there are some reasons for pessimism. Poole is facing a probable downturn due to how much of an outlier his 2019 season was compared to the rest of his career. McLendon is 34 years old and will be competing for a modest slice of the available snaps on a stacked defensive line.

Maye and Williams are the clear frontrunners here, but look out for Poole and McLendon. A dark horse to keep in mind: Avery Williamson.

Who will be the Jets’ best rookie on defense?

Ben: Ashtyn Davis

Joe: Ashtyn Davis

Michael: Ashtyn Davis

Robby: Ashtyn Davis

Sam: Jabari Zuniga

Davis and Zuniga appear to be the sole legitimate candidates here. The only other defensive player drafted by Joe Douglas, Bryce Hall, seems unlikely to get much playing time as he continues his return from an ankle injury he suffered in 2019.

Both Davis and Zuniga will likely be seeing sparse playing time to begin their careers. Davis is stuffed behind Maye and Bradley McDougald at safety while Zuniga is a tweener on a defensive line stacked with talent.

However, Davis appears to have a better shot of producing right away than Zuniga. While he will not be starting, Davis’ strong camp coupled with Gregg Williams’ affinity for versatile defensive backs likely means Davis will get a decent amount of snaps per game, possibly a portion of 20-30%. Williams will look to maximize Davis’ athleticism with a variety of responsibilities in nickel and dime packages. With chances to blitz, cover man-to-man in the slot, and rotate to different positions in coverage, Davis’ role should give him a relatively high number of chances to make big plays even if he does not get much playing time out of the gate.

Williams likes to rely on his edge defenders to drop into coverage and twist inside on stunts, usually lining them up in a two-point stance. Zuniga is more fit to playing with his hands in the dirt as a 3-5 technique. So, even though the Jets are starving on the edge, Zuniga’s future with the Jets may not be as a true “edge rusher”. His fit could be the Kyle Phillips/Henry Anderson tweener role, sliding between the 3-tech, 4i-tech, 4-tech, and 5-tech defensive end positions. As those two players seem poised to maintain their snap portions, Zuniga might have to wait until next year for his shot at regular playing time.

Undrafted free agent cornerback Javelin Guidry is a dark horse. He has been taking second-team slot reps behind Brian Poole, so his odds of making the team appear to be strong. A track runner at Utah, his speed gives him intriguing upside as a blitzer and underneath tackler.

Who will be the Jets’ most disappointing player on defense?

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