The NY Jets have constructed a defensive line that possesses an extremely high ceiling in the passing game.
The defensive line was the greatest strength of the New York Jets‘ roster throughout the majority of the 2010s, and that remains true here in 2021.
But things are much, much different this time around.
While the Jets undoubtedly have had some legitimately excellent defensive lines, there was one ability that their defensive front never truly mastered: pass rushing.
New York’s defensive line proficiency was predicated upon dominance in the run game. From 2010-20, the Jets allowed the fewest yards per carry of any team in the NFL (3.86).
However, the pass rush was uninspiring as the Jets ranked 23rd with only 2.2 sacks per game over that 11-season span.
The present-day Jets defensive line has a level of pass-rush talent that the units of yesteryear never came close to. In fact, this unit is so talented in the passing game that it has a real shot to finish as one of the best pass rushing groups in football.
Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers developed into elite interior pass rushers in 2020. Henry Anderson was a liability beside them, but the Jets have replaced Anderson with Sheldon Rankins, who has consistently rushed the passer at a solid level throughout his career. That gives the Jets three well-above-average pass rushers on the inside.
The primary reason that the Jets’ 2010s defensive lines could never hit a top-notch level in the passing game was their lack of an edge presence. Below-average rushers like Jordan Jenkins and Calvin Pace were the best that the team had to offer on the outside over the past decade.
That problem is a thing of the past. The Jets finally have capable pass rushers on the edge.
Carl Lawson comes into town after an elite 2020 season that flew under the radar due to a lack of sacks, which was hardly his fault and more the product of the lack of talent around him.
With more talent around him in New York, the sacks should stockpile for Lawson – and even if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. The impact he makes a pressure-producer is extremely vital and cannot be understated regardless of how many sacks he gets.
Vinny Curry is the current favorite to start opposite Lawson on the other side of the line. Curry is not an every-down player at this stage of his career, but his efficiency as a pass rusher has remained fantastic on a yearly basis. His powerful bull rush will squeeze the pocket and force quarterbacks to step up into the pressure of the interior rushers.
The most enticing aspect of this unit is how proven its players are. There isn’t a lot of projection involved here. Provided that everyone is healthy, it is hard to picture any of the aforementioned five players not producing at a high level in the passing game, simply because their track records are all so strong.
We haven’t even discussed Foley Fatukasi yet. Fatukasi’s outstanding run defense will help make up for the run-stopping woes that may come as a consequence of the defensive front’s aggressive play style in Jeff Ulbrich‘s 4-3 defense.
Run-stuffing is not all Fatukasi offers, though. Fatukasi is a much better pass rusher than most other nose tackles in the league. That is not to say he is a good pass rusher. He is just far less of a liability than most other players who play his role. Whereas many nose tackles do absolutely nothing in the passing game, Fatukasi is capable of doing some occasional damage.
On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and I discuss everything surrounding the state of the Jets defensive line, including why I think it has the potential to be a top-3 pass rushing unit.
Plus, we discuss how Fatukasi fits in the defense, how the Jets will rotate Franklin-Myers between the interior and the edge, whether Jabari Zuniga‘s roster spot is a lock, and much more, all while providing key strengths, weaknesses, and analytics for each key member of the unit.