With the New York Jets in desperate need of a pass rush, Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson makes a lot of sense as a free-agent priority.
The New York Jets haven’t employed a consistent pass rusher in years. In fact, the last player to record double-digit sacks for the team was Muhammad Wilkerson back in 2015 (12.0), and he did that as an interior defensive lineman. New York’s last edge rusher to hit double-digit sacks was Calvin Pace in 2013 (10.0), but the 10-sack total massively oversells his impact as he ranked 59th at his position with only 32 pressures that season.
So, yeah, it’s been a while since the Jets had someone on the edge who kept opposing offensive coordinators up at night.
One impending free agent who could put an end to the long-standing issue is New Orleans Saints edge player Trey Hendrickson.
Hendrickson only had 6.5 career sacks prior to 2020. While one-year wonders are often massive risks, Hendrickson’s play was legitimately elite this past season, hardly seeming to be a fluke. When you dig into his numbers and film, it becomes clear that he has a good chance of maintaining the same level of production going forward.
Hendrickson started to show rapid improvement in 2019. That season, he posted 30 pressures and 18 total stops in 13 games (2.3 pressures and 1.4 stops per game). Over his first two seasons combined, Hendrickson posted 33 pressures and 13 stops in 17 games (1.9 pressures and 0.8 stops per game).
While Hendrickson’s playing time was relatively scarce in 2019 (35.1 snaps per game), he put quite a few impressive one-on-one wins on tape when he was out there. Check out the snap timing from Hendrickson (#91) on this play (left side of screen). He blows by top-notch left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Trey Hendrickson snapped on this rep. Predicted the snap count perfectly and gets the third and long sack. pic.twitter.com/PUXcp9FsJf
— Ross Jackson (@RossJacksonNOLA) September 11, 2019
In 2020, Hendrickson backed up his sack total with efficient pressure production on a per-snap basis. Per PFF, Hendrickson ranked third among 124 qualified edge defenders in pass-rushing productivity (percentage of snaps recording a pressure, with double weight to sacks) in 2020, trailing only T.J. Watt and Joey Bosa. His raw power frequently pops out on tape, creating havoc with bull-rushes like this one.
Blonde hair. Brown hair. No hair. It doesn’t matter. Trey Hendrickson is taking your lunch money. pic.twitter.com/TVtzmEDgpr
— Chris Rosvoglou (@RosvoglouReport) December 22, 2020
While he didn’t play much on the left side of the defensive line, Hendrickson was exceptional on the right side, ranking second among edge defenders behind Carl Lawson with 48 total pressures coming from that side. Hendrickson rushed from the right side on 95.3% of his pass-rushing snaps.
Hendrickson certainly benefited from playing on an elite Saints defense that had the NFL’s fifth-best pressure rate (26.0%), according to Pro Football Reference. While his surroundings are a slight concern when projecting him to another team, it is worth noting that Hendrickson’s ability to create sacks for his teammates was still fantastic, as he ranked 24th in the NFL with 7.5 sacks created, according to ESPN. So, he was just as much of a boon for his teammates as they were for him.
OK here's the top 46 players — everyone with at least 5.5 sacks created.
Sacks created is an ESPN stat using NFL Next Gen Stats data. pic.twitter.com/cNL23Dna9h
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 14, 2021
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Hendrickson’s performance is the fact that he’s going against the opposing team’s left tackle. In many cases, the LT is the best player on the offensive line, as they protect their quarterback’s blindside.
Yet, Trey has continued to excel as a RDE against opposing LTs, even as his reps have increased. Watch him here against veteran Buccaneers left tackle Donovan Smith.
GREAT SACK Trey Hendrickson #91 Sack the Buccaneers Quarterback! YES!!! pic.twitter.com/F0d9yRfFxp
— Gretchen Galman (@vgalmang) September 13, 2020
Hendrickson is far weaker in the run game, where he posted a paltry 54.8 grade at Pro Football Focus in 2020. That ranked 46th out of 64 qualified edge defenders.
Fortunately, run defense is an area of lesser concern for the Jets, as they have plenty of stud run-stuffers upfront (mainly Quinnen Williams and Folorunso Fatukasi) to cover up any weaknesses in that phase on the edge. As a team, the Jets had PFF’s fourth-highest grade against the run in 2020 (71.4).
Under new head coach Robert Saleh, the Jets will likely run a variant of a 4-3 defense in which pass-rushing ability along the defensive line is critical. Hendrickson brings that to the table. His shaky run defense would be less of a problem in a scheme where pass-rushing is the prioritized skill. Obviously, pass-rushing always prioritized, but in the Saleh scheme, where blitzes are infrequent, pass-rushing from the front-four is even more of a priority than usual. Run defense hits the back burner.
As of now, the Jets don’t really have anyone on the roster who would perfectly fit the EDGE role in the scheme Saleh plans to run. Hendrickson fits it perfectly.
With Henry Anderson potentially being cut for cap space in a few months, Hendrickson is an excellent option to slide into Anderson’s RDE role and provide a massive upgrade.
Coming off a 10-plus sack season means Hendrickson won’t be cheap, but the Jets have an abundance of cap space that they should be able to acquire him without issue. Being only 27 years old heading into the 2021 season, the Jets would have him employed through the main portion of his prime years.
Hendrickson has already shown he can be a dominant force when accompanied by other great defensive linemen, playing alongside studs such as Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and David Onyemata in New Orleans. He should have no problem finding his niche alongside Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi in New York.
If the Jets want to give Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich the ingredients they need to cook up their dream defense, Joe Douglas needs to make signing Trey Hendrickson one of his top priorities this March.
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