Carl Lawson, Foley Fatukasi, Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry
Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets’ four-man conventional pass rush finally has a chance to dominate once the 2021 NFL season commences.

Robby Sabo

Could it be the second coming of the New York Sack Exchange? Let’s not go crazy. Could these guys have a chance to dominate once the 2021 NFL season commences? You better believe it.

The New York Jets‘ new-look defensive line is something fans simply haven’t seen in quite some time. First, Carl Lawson was signed to a three-year, $45 million deal. Then, Joe Douglas snuck a couple of transactions by everybody in the low-risk, high-reward scenarios both Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry offer.

Clearly, Robert Saleh‘s influence has been felt. What was built in San Francisco is now looking to be duplicated in New Jersey—on the green side of things.

The 49ers line featured Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner heading into their Super Bowl season of 2019. While Lawson, Rankins, Curry, Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers and Folorunso Fatukasi don’t exactly match up with what Saleh had two years ago, these players represent the organization’s best chance to lead the NFL in sacks since the famed New York Sack Exchange nearly four decades ago.

It comes down to collecting the correct puzzle pieces that fit with one another.

2015 is no match for 2021

From a name standpoint, those who don’t know any better might think the 2015 Jets defensive line can’t be touched. Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and rookie Leonard Williams made for a dominant group on paper.

Well, at least their names looked good.

Forget about the eventual production for a moment. What was wrong with the four names above is what plagued the Mike Maccagnan era in New Jersey. He simply never made enough of an effort to make the pieces fit.

Wilkerson, Harrison, Richardson and Williams were four guys who could only fill two regular pass-rushing spots. Sure, three of the four could see early-down action in Todd Bowles’s 3-4 base, but when a four-man conventional rush was needed in passing situations, chaos ensued thanks to the horrible fit.

The team had no edge presence.

When Bowles attempted to play all four guys, Wilkerson, a 300-pound man, was much slower on the edge. Richardson was even hilariously asked to play outside linebacker at times—something that backfired infamously in Week 17 up in Orchard Park, NY.

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Those four guys simply could not work together. The 2021 players, however, are perfect with one another.

On the inside is Big Q, Foley and Rankins, while Lawson, Curry and Franklin-Myers make up the trio on the edge. (We’re not even discussing the depth that has Nathan Shepherd inside and the likes of Kyle Phillips and Bryce Huff on the edge.)

If the fit wasn’t perfect enough, there’s another feature that highlights this group: flexibility.

In Jeff Ulbrich’s 4-3, Franklin-Myers and Phillips become tweeners. Both players can play the edge as well as slide to the middle when asked. In a perfect world, Franklin-Myers plays edge on early downs and knocks inside when it’s third-and-long.

Personnel deployment

First, let’s look at the base 4-3:

Jets Defense

  • EDGE: John Franklin-Myers
  • 3-TECH: Quinnen Williams
  • 1-TECH: Folorunso Fatukasi
  • EDGE: Carl Lawson

Fatukasi’s presence at the 1-tech or somewhere near the center is what completes the 4-3 base. The grown man is a run-gobbling machine.

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 288 pounds, Franklin-Myers’s role is the greatest uncertainty of the moment. Nick Bosa’s 266-pound frame made him a perfect edge candidate for Saleh’s defense in San Fran, but the Niners’ defense loved going heavy on the other side.

Both Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead are 280-plus pounds, and both frequently played the edge for Saleh. Franklin-Myers is athletic enough to start at edge but move around when called upon.

Jets Defense

  • EDGE: John Franklin-Myers
  • 3-TECH: Quinnen Williams
  • 3-TECH: Sheldon Rankins
  • EDGE: Carl Lawson

The first subpackage option leaves JFM on the outside. Instead, Rankins takes Fatukasi’s spot at the other 3-technique spot (opposite Big Q). Rankins’s pass-rushing ability is more than competent when he’s healthy.

Rankins’s 9.5% pressure rate ranks him 18th of a possible 105 qualified interior defenders over the past three years, per Jets X-Factor’s Michael Nania.

Not every subpackage will widen out the defensive line in a wide-9 look with two techniques. In the event the unit features a 1-tech, Big Q or Rankins can man it down without Fatukasi on the field.

The other third-and-long look is the one that slides JFM inside:

Jets Defense

  • EDGE: Vinny Curry
  • 3-TECH: Quinnen Williams
  • 3-TECH: John-Franklin Myers
  • EDGE: Carl Lawson

Call it a light version of the New York Giants’ NASCAR look that worked so well during their first Super Bowl upset over the New England Patriots. The idea is to have four speed-rushers on the field at once.

Big Q will never be classified as a speed rusher, but his burst doesn’t have him far off. Franklin-Myers moves to the other interior spot while Curry gets his reps on the outside opposite Lawson. It’s a dangerous look that should produce a tremendous amount of pressure.

What Joe Douglas has done here works on a couple of different levels. First and foremost, he’s signing young free agents. Targeting fifth-year players whose rookie contracts just expired is an excellent way to gather value.

Secondly, he continues to build from the inside-out. Sure, it would have been nice if Joe Thuney chose New York, but a Mekhi Becton draft selection a year ago coupled with a conventional four-man rush strategy in free agency this year is a tremendous way to improve the team.

Everything trickles from the inside-out. A great offensive line and four-man rush drastically improve the production/development ceilings of all those who play behind it. Not since John Abraham roamed The Meadowlands in 2005 has this franchise had a chance to deploy a legitimate pass rush. Not even Rex Ryan’s teams can lay claim to such a unit. (Once the novelty of his elaborate blitzes wore off, they had huge problems generating a standard pass rush.)

The best part about it is that the offseason is far from over. Don’t count out another edge coming to the Garden State once the 2021 NFL draft has concluded.

Cornerback and linebacker are spots that remain in dire straits, but perhaps it’s not as bad as we all think. The Niners’ secondary of 2019 performed as a league-best unit. Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward made up a dominant defensive backfield by the numbers.

But how dominant were they? How much did the Niners’ dominant pass rush hide the idea that their secondary wasn’t as talented as the numbers it produced?

Finally, this coming season, the New York Jets have a chance to deploy their first truly dominant pass rush in decades—thanks to smart talent evaluation and scheme building. All they have to do now is stay healthy.

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Robby Sabo is a co-founder, developer and credentialed New York Jets content creator for Jets X-Factor | Jet X, which includes Sabo's Sessions (in-depth film breakdowns) and Sabo with the Jets. Host: Underdog Jets Podcast with Wayne Chrebet and Sabo Radio. Member: Pro Football Writers of America. Coach: Port Jervis (NY) High School. Washed up strong safety and 400M runner. Founder: Elite Sports NY - ESNY (sold in 2020). SEO: XLM Email: robby.sabo[at]
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2 years ago

I like the addition of Curry, but not if it prevents Huff and Zuniga from getting any snaps. You don’t even mention Zuniga. In your “NASCAR” package, I don’t understand why J. Franklin-Myers would move inside over Raskins. If Raskins is healthy and returns to his 2018 form, he is plenty fast and quick. It doesn’t get much quicker than shoving your blocker back into the QB and then nailing the QB. If the idea is speed, then Huff should be at one of the DE spots imo.

I do not think another DE will be drafted, at least shouldn’t be. This is already the strongest unit on the team and potentially one of the best DLs in the NFL. There are other positions, units that need more help. To draft another DE at the expense of drafting our future RT would be malfeasance. Besides, there’s not a single blue chip Edge prospect in this draft. In next year’s draft thre will be 2-3 of them and the Jets will have two 1st round picks. That will be the time to draft another DE. Not this year. Drafting one this year is not wise allocation of resources, and it’s like Madden.

The Jets have big needs at QB, OG, CB (both a #1 and a slot/nickel CB), and WLB. They need a better swing tackle than Edoga. He’s awful. In this very strong and deep class of OTs, it would be a sin to not get our future RT. He could quite possibly play RG until Fant’s contract is up and then move to RT. We have needs at RB, TE, and SS. We could use a K, and a PR, and more speed on offense. We could use a dynamic playmaker like Kadarius Toney, or Demetric Felton, Rondale Moore, or Javian Hawkins. We could use a speedy WR/KOR like Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

The last thing we need is another DE.

2 years ago

Excellent work explaining this RS. I’m an eternal optimist, I guess that helps as a jet, but it feels like we are at the beginning of something special now. Competent coaching and administration, improving roster and – at least – 9 picks in the draft. As Johnny Carson used tp say “good stuff”.