Robert Saleh, Joe Douglas, and the New York Jets have constructed a pass rush that has the potential to be extraordinarily dominant.
When the San Francisco 49ers defense was at its best under Robert Saleh, it was built around a four-man rush that was talented enough to create an elite level of pressure without the assistance of a blitz. This allowed Saleh more chess pieces at his disposal in the secondary. In their 2019 Super Bowl season, the 49ers ranked second in pressure rate (28.7%) and third in sack rate (8.5%), despite blitzing at the fourth-lowest frequency (20.9%). That is the perfect formula for cooking up a top-tier defense.
The New York Jets have not been able to play defense this way for the longest time. Lacking a strong four-man rush for years on end, the Jets have consistently had to blitz at a high rate to create pressure, making things tougher for the players in coverage. In 2020, for example, the Jets had the league’s sixth-highest blitz rate (38.4%) but yet still failed to create much pressure, ranking 25th in pressure rate (21.7%). That’s a formula for disaster. The Jets passing defense was abysmal, allowing the fourth-highest passer rating in the league (103.2).
Based on the team’s moves in free agency, it is clear that Saleh recognized the Jets’ pass rush would need to be massively upgraded in order for him to play his preferred style of defense. The Jets went out and snagged Bengals EDGE Carl Lawson, Eagles EDGE Vinny Curry, and Saints DT Sheldon Rankins, and the outlook for the pass rush is looking much different now.
That unit is going to keep many offensive coordinators awake deep into the night. John Franklin-Myers knows it.
Good luck 😈 https://t.co/S6e6P5h3n7
— John Franklin-Myers (@J_FranklinMyers) April 13, 2021
Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams were the lone bright spots for the Jets’ pass rush last year, both enjoying leaps to the elite ranks among the league’s interior pass rushers. With three more upper-echelon pass rushers added to the mix, the Jets are now five-deep with players who are among the most efficient rushers at their position.
Let’s dig into the individual pass rushing resumes of this terrifying quintet.
Williams posted a 77.7 pass-rush grade at Pro Football Focus and a 10.3% pressure rate, both ranking at the 88th percentile among qualified interior defensive linemen. Over 379 pass-rush snaps, he collected 39 pressures, ranking 17th at the position despite missing three games. Williams’ average of 3.0 pressures per game ranked 13th.
This represented monumental progress for the 23-year-old. Williams more than doubled his total of 19 pressures that he had as a rookie. He also nearly doubled his pressure rate (5.4% as a rookie). Imagine if he takes a similarly-sized leap once again in Year 3.
Williams finished his 2020 season on an absolute tear. Over his final seven games, Williams collected 31 pressures, an average of 4.4 per game that ranked second-best behind only Aaron Donald from Weeks 7-15. His pressure rate over that stretch was a balmy 13.4%.
Quinnen is starting to look like the un-blockable player he was at Alabama. His repertoire of moves as a rusher is at another level. Against Rodney Hudson here – arguably the best pass-protecting center of the past decade – Williams converts a forklift into a rip to create instant pressure that forces Derek Carr to miss an open target.
Williams beats Trent Williams for a sack as he shows off impeccable snap timing and explosive burst off the line.
As a rookie for the Rams in 2018, Franklin-Myers showed promise playing defensive end. He was mysteriously released by the Rams in 2019 just prior to the regular season despite an intriguing rookie year. The Jets quickly claimed him, but he missed the entire 2019 season.
Gregg Williams moved the 288-pound Franklin-Myers inside to defensive tackle in 2020, making him one of the smallest DTs in the league, and that proved to be a genius move by Williams as Franklin-Myers used his athletic advantage to become one of the most devastating interior rushers in football.
Franklin-Myers ranked eighth among interior defensive linemen with 51 pressures despite placing 30th with 353 pass-rush snaps. His pressure rate of 14.4% trailed only Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Donald. Franklin-Myers’ consistency was remarkable, as he posted multiple pressures in 13 of his 15 games.
The 3-sack total that you see attached to Franklin-Myers’ name is completely misleading. Regardless of the lack of sacks, he made an enormous impact with subtle plays like this one. From the 2i-technique position, Franklin-Myers bull rushes the center into Russell Wilson, forcing a scramble that eventually culminates in a Marcus Maye interception.
No pressure by JFM, no pick by Maye. Quiet plays like this one define the game of football. The end result is always what gets the most attention, but it’s the little things that happen first that make them possible.
This man looked like a Jedi at times, deflecting and countering everything thrown his way with ease. From the 2i-tech, Franklin-Myers throws a double-swipe and converts it into a rip for a quick sack on Baker Mayfield.
Over 12 regular season games and two playoff games, Rankins had a solid 2020 season in which he posted a 68.4 PFF pass-rush grade (70th percentile among IDL) and an 8.9% pressure rate (80th percentile). He posted 26 pressures over 292 pass-rush snaps.
Rankins remains a good pass rusher, but he has taken a little bit of a step back since he grew into a star by his third season. In 2018, Rankins had 70.2 PFF pass-rush grade (85th percentile) and a 10.2% pressure rate (89th percentile) while ranking 15th at the position with 46 pressures in the regular season. Rankins has battled injuries to his Achilles, ankle, and knee over the past two seasons, so perhaps he could climb back up to peak form if he can stay healthy.
Rankins excels at winning the leverage battle, showing a great feel for how to get his hands into the opponent’s chest and consistently staying low to generate power. Once he gets his hands into the body of his man, his overwhelming power pops off the screen.
An explosive and quick athlete who posted a 118-inch broad jump (98th percentile among DT), 34.5-inch vertical jump (95th), and 7.44s three-cone (78th) at the 2016 Combine, Rankins can win with finesse and speed, too. From the 4i-technique spot here, Rankins chops the left guard’s arm and then turns the corner for a sack on Mitchell Trubisky.
Lawson had an elite 2020 season in which he ranked fourth among edge rushers with 64 pressures. His total of 32 quarterback hits placed second in the entire league behind only T.J. Watt. Lawson’s 84.9 PFF pass-rush grade ranked at the 94th percentile among qualified edge rushers while his 14.6% pressure rate was way up at the 97th percentile.
Lawson has been producing pressure at an elite level of efficiency throughout his entire career. Due to injuries and a lack of playing time, he simply didn’t get a high volume of snaps until his fourth season. His career pressure rate over his first three seasons was 14.1%, barely lower than his 2020 mark. Lawson’s career-low pressure rate is 13.1%, which is still elite.
From 2017-20, Lawson’s career 14.3% pressure rate ranked fourth-best among edge rushers (minimum 500 pass-rush snaps) behind only Joey Bosa (15.0%), Von Miller (15.4%), and Nick Bosa (15.9%).
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lawson has had a top-four get-off time among edge rushers in all four of his NFL seasons. In 2020, he ranked fourth-fastest with an average get-off time of 0.73 seconds. Lawson uses his explosiveness to set up the rest of his game. He’s great at converting speed to power as he does here for the hit on Deshaun Watson.
Lawson loves to sell hard on the speed rush to set up an inside move, doing so here to beat Alejandro Villanueva for a sack on Ben Roethlisberger.
Curry picked up 25 pressures over only 179 pass-rush snaps in 2020 for a 14.0% pressure rate, ranking at the position’s 94th percentile. He’s only a situational player at this stage of his career, playing less than half of his team’s defensive snaps in each of the past three seasons, but he makes the most out of his small number of opportunities.
Curry’s game isn’t pretty, as he will rarely pick up a clean win with an angle to get to the quarterback for a splashy play, but he is extremely consistent at impacting the play in subtle ways through his ability to create penetration and his hustle.
The bull rush is Curry’s go-to. You will see plenty of plays in which Curry collapses the pocket just by pinning his ears back and blasting the tackle into the quarterback.
Curry’s motor is another primary aspect of his game. This is certainly not a special rep, but if Curry does not spin away and make a diving hit on Aaron Rodgers, this pass is probably getting completed for a big gain. Instead, Curry’s hustle and determination to get involved leads to a hit that throws off Rodgers’ accuracy to an open target.
Folorunso Fatukasi’s bread-and-butter is his elite run-stuffing ability, but his pass rushing cannot be overlooked. He’s no monster in the passing game, but he provides a lot more in that phase than most other nose tackles do.
Behind all of these guys, the bottom of the Jets’ roster has a few young players who offer some upside.
Bryce Huff, who ranked fourth among the nation’s edge rushers with 64 pressures in his final collegiate season at Memphis, showed flashes of promise off the edge in his 2020 rookie season. He was at his best in short spurts, posting an excellent pressure rate of 13.3% in games where he was sent after the quarterback less than 15 times. Perhaps he has a future as an effective situational rusher in the mold of Curry.
Jabari Zuniga had a dead-silent rookie season with only one pressure in eight games, but as a third-round pick with barely over 100 snaps of NFL action under his belt, he still has plenty of time to come into his own.
Nathan Shepherd has had an erratic career thus far. He had a quiet 2018 rookie season, faced a six-game suspension in 2019, and saw his playing time fluctuate wildly in both 2019 and 2020. The former third-round pick has struggled with missed tackles and stopping the run. However, he has developed his pass rushing to a solid level. He has 26 pressures on 307 pass-rush snaps over the past two seasons, a rate of 8.5% that is a good deal above the 2020 positional average of 7.0%.
The Jets finally have a defensive front that will be able to produce a lot of pressure without the help of a blitz. Once a team gets that in place, the ceiling for their defense becomes limitless.