Jessie Bates, NY Jets, Contract, Free Agent, Bengals
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The New York Jets need these 5 particular things to get on track defensively

It is no secret the New York Jets defense struggled greatly in 2021 and needs an infusion of talent.

To start, adding a healthy Carl Lawson to the unit will make a huge difference. But more help will be needed.

This offseason, general manager Joe Douglas will have an ample amount of salary cap space and draft capital to improve the defense.

Let’s assess what will be needed for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich to have a better year in 2022.

Adding a starting edge rusher

The Jets currently have a good group of edge defenders in Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Kyle Phillips (who is a restricted free agent).

However, adding another talented edge pass rusher would be beneficial for this group. This would lead to having the flexibility to move Franklin-Myers inside which would be a luxury.

In free agency, a few names to keep an eye on are Harold Landry, Randy Gregory, and Emmanuel Ogbah.

If no big-ticket free agent is signed, there is a strong chance the Jets select a defensive end early in the draft.

It is unlikely that Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson will fall to the Jets’ fourth overall selection. The next-best prospects on the edge are Michigan’s David Ojabo and Purdue’s George Karlaftis, who could each be in play.

Signing a veteran defensive tackle

One of the Jets’ biggest free agents is defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi.

Over the last three years, Fatukasi has been a core contributor to the Jets defense, especially when it comes to stopping the run. Despite the scheme change in 2021, he still made his impact felt at times.

In the draft, the defensive tackle class is not filled with premium talent. Therefore, if the Jets elect to let Fatukasi walk in free agency, they must have a plan to sign someone.

There is a ton of depth in the free-agent pool. Noteworthy veterans slated to become unrestricted free agents include D.J. Jones, B.J. Hill, Tim Settle, Derrick Nnadi, Justin Jones, Harrison Phillips, Larry Ogunjobi, and Bilal Nichols.

Jones, in particular, has familiarity with Saleh from their days together in San Francisco.

Drafting a linebacker in the mid-rounds

The Jets’ current group of linebackers consists of C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, Jamien Sherwood, Hamsah Nasirildeen, Del’Shawn Phillips, and Blake Cashman.

The year-two development of Sherwood and Nasirildeen will be worth watching. Phillips was a core special teamer for Brant Boyer’s unit in 2021. Still, a player who can play a significant amount of reps on defense will be needed.

There are some solid options set to hit free agency, including a couple who have familiarity with Ulbrich. Green Bay’s De’Vondre Campbell and Atlanta’s Foyesade Oluokun each worked with Ulbrich while he was the Falcons’ linebackers coach.

Other notable free-agent linebackers include Anthony Barr, Dont’a Hightower, Christian Kirksey, Leighton Vander Esch, Kyzir White, and Anthony Walker.

New York should have the chance to land one of the top two linebacker prospects – Utah’s Devin Lloyd or Georgia’s Nakobe Dean – with either of their two first-round picks, but the top-10 might be a bit early for them to take a linebacker. With some intriguing depth in the linebacker class, the Jets could find a quality prospect later on.

Beyond the first round, some players who could be viable options are Chad Muma, Damone Clark, Leo Chenal, Channing Tindall, Brian Asamoah, Terrel Bernard, and Darrian Beavers.

Continuing the value approach to add at cornerback

The Jets have four young cornerbacks in Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, and Javelin Guidry (exclusive rights free agent). They were all either day-three draft selections or signed as undrafted free agents. In 2021, they surpassed expectations.

In free agency, New England’s J.C. Jackson is arguably the best cornerback set to hit the market, but he has a strong chance of being franchise-tagged, so he likely will not become available.

Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis is another top-tier option set for free agency. If the price is right, adding Davis would be a thrilling move for New York. With that being said, giving a big contract to a cornerback does not align with the path the Jets have taken under Douglas which has given them a good start at the position.

A few other notable veterans set to be available include Darious Williams, D.J. Reed, Charvarius Ward, and Donte Jackson.

The 2022 NFL draft class is filled with top-tier talent and depth at the cornerback position. The top of the class consists of great prospects in Derek Stingley Jr., Ahmad Gardner, Andrew Booth, Trent McDuffie, Kaiir Elam, and Roger McCreary.

Based on Douglas and Saleh’s histories of how they value the cornerback position, selecting a cornerback with the fourth overall pick is likely not going to happen.

Selecting a cornerback in the first round could potentially happen if a trade down from 10th overall is executed. If one of the top cornerback prospects ends up falling out of the first round, the Jets could use either of their second-round selections (Nos. 35 and 38) to address the position.

Stingley and Gardner are first-round locks and are favored to be the first two cornerbacks selected. The next two to go off the board will likely be Booth and McCreary.

Out of the bunch, McDuffie or Elam could be the one to potentially fall to the early second-round range. This should be the way the Jets look to acquire a talented cornerback.

Sign two starting safeties

The Jets have a glaring need at safety. In free agency, there will be a multitude of viable options.

Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates may be the best safety available, but similar to Jackson, Bates could be franchise-tagged.

The rest of the free-agent group contains a ton of experienced players who have attained success, including Marcus Williams, Jordan Whitehead, Quandre Diggs, Jayron Kearse, M.J. Stewart, DeShon Elliott, Xavier Woods, Bobby McCain, Jaquiski Tartt, and Ronnie Harrison.

Considering the amount of salary cap space the Jets have, they should figure out a way to add at least one of these safeties, and if possible, even a second one.

The final outlook for 2022

The Jets will have an opportunity this offseason to get their defense going in the right direction. There will be multiple free-agent signings and draft picks acquired in the offseason who will be counted on in a big way.

In free agency, if a defensive tackle could be added along with two safeties it would be an ideal start. Then, adding an exciting defensive end, linebacker, and cornerback in the draft would give the Jets defense a chance for success in 2022.

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Ryan Moran is a writer for Jets X-Factor providing in-depth analysis on all things related to the team. Email: ryan.moran310[at]gmail.com

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Jets71
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Jets71

You laid out the needs pretty well here, I have concerns about adding another “small” edge rusher. They really don’t have a true 4-3 DE even Lawson is a bit on the smaller side. I think they need to get a true 4-3 guy, maybe Karlaftis who seems to fit that bill. I think picking him at 4 might be too high. I want NOTHING to do with Thibodeaux, you can put that on the fridge. He’s about 250lbs and soft, sure he gets after the QB but there will be no passing if the Jets can’t stop the run.… Read more »