Carl Lawson’s injury alters the potential role of many New York Jets defenders
With Carl Lawson set to miss the entire 2021 season due to a torn Achilles suffered during a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers, the New York Jets have a lot of shuffling to do on their defensive depth chart.
Let’s take a look at how Lawson’s injury could affect the Jets’ plans for the rest of the edge rushers on their roster.
Second-year man Bryce Huff was set to take on the Dee Ford role in Robert Saleh‘s defensive front. He was going to be the pass-rushing specialist, entering the game primarily in passing situations and usually playing around 40% of the defensive snaps.
Now, it looks like the onus will be placed on Huff to fill Lawson’s shoes as a starting edge defender and the team’s primary source of pass-rush juice off the edge. Huff’s burst, bend, and repertoire of rush moves are closer in quality to Lawson’s skills in those areas than any other edge defender on the Jets’ roster by a wide margin.
Lawson was playing right defensive end for the Jets, lining up on the right side almost exclusively. Huff had been primarily lining up on the left side. The backup right defensive end to Lawson on the Jets’ first unofficial depth chart was Ronald Blair.
However, it is worth noting that Huff played 75% of his rookie-year defensive snaps on the right side.
We will have to wait and see whether the Jets keep Huff on the left side or slide him over to Lawson’s spot on the right. It’s also possible that Huff and the Jets’ edge defenders rotate between both sides based on the strength of the formation, but that seems unlikely as Saleh liked to keep his edge rushers tethered to one side with the 49ers and appears to have the same plan with the Jets.
Either way, Huff is likely going to be the man who sees the greatest uptick in snaps due to Lawson’s injury, and he is the only edge rusher on the roster who has the potential to come at least somewhat close to replicating the production that Lawson would have provided.
Huff showed great promise in his rookie season. He recorded a pass-rush win rate of 14.8%, according to Pro Football Focus. That ranked second-best among rookie edge rushers (trailing Pittsburgh’s Alex Highsmith) and placed at the 73rd percentile among 121 qualified edge rushers.
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Vinny Curry is expected to miss the Jets’ season opener against the Carolina Panthers but could return as early as Week 2.
Curry is a highly underrated player. The sack numbers have never been there for him and he is in the twilight of his career at 33 years old, but he has yet to stop putting up tremendous pass-rushing numbers.
In 2020, Curry posted a 14.0% pressure rate (94th percentile among qualified EDGE) and a 17.1% pass-rush win rate (83rd percentile).
The big question with Curry in regards to Lawson’s injury is how his snap count will be affected. Curry has thrived in a situational role over the past few years – which obviously makes sense for an older player.
Curry played 40% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps on average across his 27 appearances from 2019-20. He played over half of the defensive snaps in just five of those games.
Will the Jets keep Curry comfortable in that role, or will the veteran be forced to handle a larger workload?
Even if Huff’s snap ratio is pumped all the way up from his expected 40% to around the 70% that Lawson was expected to play, that still leaves another 40% of the defensive snaps to be spread across the EDGE unit.
I would expect Curry’s snap ratio to increase a little bit, creeping closer to 50%, but it wouldn’t be wise to expect him to handle much more than that. Replacing Lawson’s snaps is going to be a group effort, likely requiring a lot of rotation.
As mentioned earlier, Ronald Blair was listed as the backup to Lawson on the Jets’ first unofficial depth chart.
Blair should see a big boost in playing time as well. He was initially expected to see around 40% of the snaps in the role that he played under Saleh back in 2019, but now, Blair could hit the 50% mark or creep slightly above it.
While Blair is mostly known for his run defense, he was on his way to a career-best season as a pass-rusher in 2019 before he suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Blair posted a career-high PFF pass-rush grade of 70.5 (69th percentile among qualified EDGE) and a career-high pass-rush win rate of 14.3% (67th percentile).
John Franklin-Myers was already poised to do plenty of rotating between the interior and the edge, similar to how Saleh deployed Arik Armstead in San Francisco.
Now that the Jets’ best edge rusher is sidelined, Franklin-Myers’ usage will likely lean much heavier to the edge than the Jets initially planned.
Franklin-Myers was listed as the first-team left defensive end on the Jets’ first unofficial depth chart (with Vinny Curry out). He started at the position with the first-team defense in the Jets’ preseason opener against the Giants. The Stephen F. Austin product made some noise in his short appearance as he recorded a hit/pass deflection on a rush off the left edge.
Expect to see plenty of Franklin-Myers on the edge this year. While he may not fully convert to an edge-defending role, Lawson’s injury definitely makes it seem likely that we will see Franklin-Myers at 5-technique (over the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder) more frequently than we see him at 3-technique (over the offensive guard’s outside shoulder).
Related Article: Can John Franklin-Myers play EDGE for the Jets? (Film)
Kyle Phillips, Hamilcar Rashed, Jabari Zuniga
Kyle Phillips remains on the PUP list, but he should be able to crack the roster once healthy. The high-quality run defense that he provided from 2019-20 is probably the No. 2 most-proven individual trait in this EDGE unit, trailing only Curry’s pass-rush efficiency (while Blair has been good as a run defender, Phillips has shown flashes of being elite in that phase).
Cool Your Jets Podcast Episode
On the latest episode of the Cool Your Jets podcast, Ben Blessington and Michael Nania react to Lawson’s injury and break down how the Jets can move forward from here.
Audio Version available to members only. Learn more here.