John Franklin-Myers’ immense talent would be maximized with a different method of usage
Before we delve into the situation of New York Jets defensive end John Franklin-Myers, we must head across the country and talk about a similarly talented defender in the Bay Area whose profile leads nicely into our conversation about New York’s resident top-tier lineman.
The San Francisco 49ers – the former team of Jets head coach Robert Saleh – just forged a surprisingly deep playoff run that culminated in an NFC Championship loss to the Los Angeles Rams. San Francisco went from a 3-5 record on Nov. 7 to holding a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a championship game.
Many aspects of the squad were firing on all cylinders to power San Francisco to its deep run, but there is no question which unit was the primary driving force: the pass-rush.
Over a three-game stretch that began with a do-or-die Week 18 game against the Rams and was followed by the team’s two playoff wins, the 49ers racked up 15 sacks, collecting five in each game.
More than a third of those sacks – five and a half, to be exact – were collected by star defensive lineman Arik Armstead.
Notice how I labeled Armstead as a “defensive lineman” rather than a “defensive tackle” or an “edge rusher”. That’s because the 6-foot-7, 292-pound Armstead has been a tweener throughout his career, regularly rotating between the edge and the interior.
But this year, San Francisco made a mid-season alteration to Armstead’s role that ended up sparking him to new heights – and changing the fortunes of the entire team in the process.
Across the 49ers’ first six games, Armstead was being used in his typical fashion, rotating between the edge and the inside. He played 54.6% of his snaps on the edge and 45.4% on the interior.
Armstead started off the season red-hot with 15 pressures over his first two games but then went cold with four pressures over his next four. Through Week 7, he was tied for 30th among edge defenders with 19 pressures.
For their Week 8 contest against the Bears, the 49ers switched things up and kept Armstead on the inside for the majority of the game. He played 92.7% of his snaps on the interior. Armstead broke out of his slump, picking up three pressures in a San Francisco win.
San Francisco never looked back, keeping Armstead tethered to the inside for the rest of the year – and it did wonders for his production.
Over his final 11 games, Armstead lined up on the interior of the defensive line on 93.6% of his snaps and dominated as an interior pass rusher. From Weeks 8-18, Armstead racked up 33 pressures, ranking as the eighth-most among interior defensive linemen (IDL) over that span.
Armstead’s excellence carried over into San Francisco’s first two playoff games, where he collected seven pressures and three sacks. Here is with a big sack against Green Bay, lined up in the B-gap.
Arik Armstead clutch sack on 3rd & 8 right before the blocked punt for a TD pic.twitter.com/zUP17Ggl3Y
— Alex (@dbs408) January 24, 2022
The 49ers were 2-4 and allowed 24.8 points per game prior to Armstead’s position switch. Afterward, they went 10-4 and allowed 18.4 points per game.
Arik Armstead’s interior surge is akin to John Franklin-Myers’ splits
All of that brings us to John Franklin-Myers.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 288 pounds, Franklin-Myers is in a similar “tweener” weight class to Armstead – he’s huge for an edge rusher but a tad small for a defensive tackle.
We’ve seen Franklin-Myers play both roles in a full-time fashion over his two seasons with the Jets, and it’s clear which one is better suited for him from a pass-rushing perspective.
Franklin-Myers played on the edge full-time for the Jets in 2021, lining up on the outside on 84.1% of his snaps. Particularly, he almost exclusively stayed on the left-side edge, which is where he lined up on 82.7% of his snaps.
The Stephen F. Austin alum enjoyed a very solid season of pass-rushing off the edge. He tied for 18th among edge defenders with 53 pressures, the most ever recorded by a Jets edge defender in a single season since Pro Football Focus began tracking them in 2006.
Franklin-Myers’ pressure rate (percentage of pass-rush snaps recording pressure) of 12.3% ranked 20th out of 90 qualified edge defenders (79th percentile). For reference, the 2021 league average for edge defenders was 10.2%.
While that was a solid performance for Franklin-Myers, it was not nearly as good as the campaign he enjoyed while rushing from the interior in 2020.
In his first season suiting up for the Jets, Franklin-Myers primarily played on the interior, lining up there on 76.6% of his snaps – and he was dominant in that role. His quickness was too much to handle for opposing guards.
Franklin-Myers ranked eighth among IDL with 51 pressures and did it on a blistering pressure rate of 14.4%, which ranked third-best among qualified IDL (trailing only Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Donald). For reference, the 2020 league average for IDL was 7.0%. Franklin-Myers more than doubled that.
So, as an edge defender, Franklin-Myers’ pressure rate (12.3%) was 20.6% better than the league average for edge defenders (10.2%). But as an interior defender, his pressure rate (14.4%) was 105.7% better than the league average for interior defenders (7.0%).
That’s a massive difference!
On the inside, Franklin-Myers’ athleticism is substantially better than most other interior defenders in the league, and it’s an enormous problem for bulky guards who are not used to dealing with such a swift mover.
I’m not saying Franklin-Myers is nearly as good as this player (nobody is), but his slipperiness and explosiveness as an interior rusher really do remind you of another undersized interior lineman: his former Rams teammate Aaron Donald (who checks in at 280 pounds).
This move from @J_FranklinMyers >>>>>>
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 27, 2020
When rushing from the edge, Franklin-Myers is still able to win at a well-above-average frequency thanks to his powerful bull rush, precise hand usage, and skillful technique. However, his athletic advantage as an interior rusher doesn’t quite translate to the edge.
Franklin-Myers is incredible when bursting vertically up the field from a 3-technique alignment on the inside, but from the edge, his ability to bend around the corner is below-average for the position, and it prevents him from reaching the same level of excellence that he can achieve from the interior. This is to be expected for a player whose 288-pound frame makes him an uber-athlete for a defensive tackle but a much more hulking player on the outside.
Here’s the kicker: Franklin-Myers did perform better in the run game while playing on the edge. One would expect that to be the case – Franklin-Myers is a bigger, stronger edge-setting presence than most other players who line up outside but he is a smaller interior presence than most other players who line up inside.
Franklin-Myers earned a PFF run-defense grade of 57.1 in 2020, which ranked 43rd out of 60 qualified IDL (29th percentile). In 2021, Franklin-Myers earned a PFF run-defense grade of 75.5, good enough for fifth-best out of 61 qualified edge defenders (93rd percentile).
The run-defense drop-off has to be kept in mind. Franklin-Myers is a sturdy edge-setter in the run game who presents a problematic mismatch for tight ends, but when he lines up on the inside, his slighter frame and explosive upfield mentality is a weakness when it comes to holding his ground and clogging gaps against burly interior offensive linemen in the run game.
With that being said, pass-rushing is the primary goal for the Jets’ attacking 4-3 defensive line, and the impact of Franklin-Myers’ pass-rushing leap on the interior versus the edge greatly outweighs the accompanying run-game dip.
How should the Jets alter John Franklin-Myers’ role?
I believe that moving Franklin-Myers back to his 2020 usage distribution – playing around 75 to 80 percent of his snaps on the interior – is the best way to maximize his talents. New York should want Franklin-Myers’ interior abilities to be placed at the forefront. At the same time, the Jets should not waste the unique versatility that he offers.
Returning Franklin-Myers to his 2020 snap distribution would unleash his elite potential as an interior rusher while still making use of his edge capabilities in the right situations. The Jets could primarily utilize Franklin-Myers on the inside while feeling free to move him to the edge on run downs.
A distribution as extreme as Armstead’s (over 90% of snaps on the interior) may be a bit much for Franklin-Myers. It could make him a liability on run downs if he nearly always stayed on the inside.
We know the deal – Franklin-Myers is an elite pass-rusher on the interior and elite run defender on the edge. Play him to those strengths. Don’t just tether him to one role.
Franklin-Myers was a solid player as a full-time edge defender in 2021, but there is so much potential being wasted from not having him on the inside. That’s where he must be if New York wants to maximize the upside of its defensive front and have any chance of replicating the monstrous unit out in San Francisco.
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