Ronnie Harrison, Browns, Jets, Free Agent, PFF
Ronnie Harrison, Cleveland Browns, Getty Images

5 free agents who would help revive New York Jets’ run defense

Yesterday, I wrote about the New York Jets’ poor run defense in 2021, listing some of the players who were the most responsible for those struggles. With that in mind, I was curious to look at the 2022 free agent market and see which players could be of the greatest help for New York in this area.

Before we get into our list of the top run defenders on the free agent market, let’s break down the methodology that I used to put the list together.

In my previous article, I ranked the Jets’ run defenders according to a grade that I created called “run-defense score” (RDS), which rates each player’s production as a run defender based on how he performed compared to his peers at his position.

To calculate RDS for each qualified defensive player in the NFL, I took each player’s percentile ranking among qualifiers at their position in three different statistics and averaged those three percentile rankings together. Here are the three statistics used:

  • Pro Football Focus run defense grade: PFF’s one-number estimation of the quality of a player’s run defense based on the grading of every snap.
  • Missed tackle rate vs. run: The player’s ratio of tackles to missed tackles in the run game. Estimation of finishing ability. Formula: Missed Tackles Vs. Run ÷ (Missed Tackles Vs. Run + Total Tackles Vs. Run)
  • Run-stop rate: Percentage of a player’s run-defense snaps in which he recorded a “run stop”, which is classified by PFF as a tackle that constitutes a failed play for the offense. Estimation of knack for playmaking.

In order to qualify for these rankings, players needed to play at least 90 snaps against the run. That gave us 21 qualified Jets players to rank out of 592 qualified NFL players.

To show how RDS is calculated, we’ll use the statistics of Quinnen Williams, who is arguably New York’s best run defender. Here are Williams’ numbers and where they ranked out of 145 qualified interior defensive linemen:

  • PFF run defense grade: 59.0 (48th) – Percentile: 67.36
  • Missed tackle rate: 5.0% (32nd) – Percentile: 78.47
  • Run-stop rate: 10.0% (20th) – Percentile: 86.80

Take the average of those three percentile rankings and you get Williams’ RDS: 77.5. That’s an elite score, ranking 11th-best out of 145 qualifiers at the position (Percentile: 93rd) and 65th out of all 592 qualified defenders (Percentile: 89th).

With that out of the way, let’s look ahead to the possibilities of the future. Which 2022 free agents can help the Jets turn things around in the defensive run game?

Listed below is the best run-stopping unrestricted free agent at all five defensive positions, based on 2021 RDS.

Linebacker: Alexander “A.J.” Johnson, Denver Broncos (98.3 RDS)

  • Age: 30.1
  • Overall RDS rank: 1st of 592 (Percentile: 100th)
  • Linebacker RDS rank: 1st of 102 (Percentile: 100th)
  • PFF run defense grade: 90.3 (3rd) – LB
  • Percentile: 98.02
  • Missed tackle rate: 0.0% (1st) – LB Percentile: 100.0
  • Run-stop rate: 10.9% (105th) – LB Percentile: 97.03

Alexander Johnson only played six games in 2021 before his season came to an end due to a torn pec, but he was providing dominant run defense prior to that point. Johnson finished the season as the league’s No. 1 player in RDS with a stunning score of 98.3.

Johnson picked up 13 run stops over 119 snaps against the run for a stellar run-stop rate of 10.9% that placed fourth-best among linebackers. He made 27 total tackles against the run without missing a single one.

The small sample size was no fluke. Johnson was a great run defender from 2019-20 as well. In 2020, he ranked second among linebackers with 40 run stops. In 2019, Johnson ranked 21st among 98 qualified linebackers in run-stop rate (9.1%) and 20th in missed tackle rate against the run (4.7%).

Jet X Offseason Tool 2023 4

Edge Defender: Tyquan Lewis, Indianapolis Colts (93.8 RDS)

  • Age: 27.0
  • Overall RDS rank: 4th of 592 (Percentile: 99th)
  • Edge Defender RDS rank: 1st of 120 (Percentile: 100th)
  • PFF run defense grade: 75.5 (10th) – EDGE Percentile: 92.44
  • Missed tackle rate: 0.0% (1st) – EDGE Percentile: 100.00
  • Run-stop rate: 8.3% (14th) – EDGE Percentile: 89.08

Tyquan Lewis only played 108 snaps against the run over eight games for the Colts but was a wrecking ball in that time. He recorded nine run stops and missed zero tackles.

A 277-pounder, Lewis primarily plays on the edge but is capable of moving inside.

Interior Defensive Line: B.J. Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (91.4 RDS)

  • Age: 26.8
  • Overall RDS rank: 6th of 592 (Percentile: 99th)
  • Interior Defensive Line RDS rank: 1st of 145 (Percentile: 100th)
  • PFF run defense grade: 68.6 (17th) – IDL Percentile: 88.89
  • Missed tackle rate: 2.4% (16th) – IDL Percentile: 89.58
  • Run-stop rate: 11.0% (7th) – IDL Percentile: 95.83

An athletic player who mostly lines up at three-technique, don’t mistake B.J. Hill as your stereotypical run-stuffing nose tackle. He is a solid pass rusher who can move around the line while still providing outstanding run defense on the inside.

Hill recorded a run stop on 11.0% of his snaps against the run in 2021, ranking seventh-best at the position. He missed just one tackle against the run while making 41.

Cornerback: Arthur Maulet, Pittsburgh Steelers (89.2 RDS)

  • Age: 28.6
  • Overall RDS rank: 12th of 592 (Percentile: 98th)
  • Cornerback RDS rank: 1st of 128 (Percentile: 100th)
  • PFF run defense grade: 84.0 (7th) – CB Percentile: 95.28
  • Missed tackle rate: 7.4% (36th) – CB Percentile: 72.44
  • Run-stop rate: 11.4% (1st) – CB Percentile: 100.0

Former Jets cornerback Arthur Maulet handled situational duties as a slot defender for the Steelers in 2021. Maulet had a troublesome season in coverage but was possibly the most effective cornerback in the league against the run.

Despite ranking 99th among cornerbacks in snaps played against the run (140), Maulet placed second at the position with 16 run stops. Maulet racked up 25 total tackles against the run and only missed two tackles.

Safety: Ronnie Harrison, Cleveland Browns (84.4 RDS)

  • Age: 24.8
  • Overall RDS rank: 32nd of 592 (Percentile: 95th)
  • Safety RDS rank: 4th of 97 (Percentile: 97th)
  • PFF run defense grade: 78.3 (10th) – S
  • Percentile: 90.63
  • Missed tackle rate: 6.1% (19th) – S Percentile: 81.25
  • Run-stop rate: 4.5% (19th) – S Percentile: 81.25

A 2018 third-round pick of the Jaguars who is still only 24 years old, Ronnie Harrison had a good all-around season against the run for Cleveland in 2021. He made 11 run stops on 244 snaps against the run and missed only two tackles in the phase while making a total of 31.

Harrison has a large frame for the safety position at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. Known as a thumping strong safety, he spends most of his time near the line of scrimmage. In 2021, he lined up in the box on 44.8% of his snaps and in the slot on 20.0% of his snaps. He played deep safety on 35.2% of his snaps.

Honorable mentions

Here are the 10 best RDS performers who are set to become unrestricted free agents and were not listed above:

  • CB Nevin Lawson, Jaguars (86.4) – Age 30.8
  • IDL Calais Campbell, Ravens (84.0) – Age 35.4
  • IDL Sebastian Joseph, Rams (81.5) – Age 26.9
  • EDGE Dorance Armstrong, Cowboys (80.7) – Age 24.7
  • IDL Tyler Lancaster, Packers (80.6) – Age 27.2
  • LB Leighton Vander-Esch, Cowboys (80.5) – Age 26.0
  • IDL Harrison Phillips, Bills (80.3) – Age 26.0
  • LB Zaire Franklin, Colts (79.5) – Age 25.6
  • S Jayron Kearse, Cowboys (79.5) – Age 28.0
  • CB Kevin King, Packers (79.3) – Age 26.8

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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1 year ago

Lewis seems like the type of 4-3 DE they need, and they certainly can use a major injection of talent at LB. How much of their problems with the run D is scheme? We know Saleh says get to the QB, doesn’t that beg to open up big running lanes? And…if that’s the case shouldn’t the LB’s be able to handle that? I’m not sure but I do know they get gashed by the run and any JV team can hit them with a screen or swing pass for a huge play. That has to change.

1 year ago

Great article. Well these guys seem like prime run defenders but how do they do on other aspects of the game ? Maulet was bad in coverage, Lewis seems like a part time player. But what are your thoughts on other aspects of Harrison, Hill, and Johnsons game? Would they make complete players and what would you value their contracts at?

verge tibbs
verge tibbs
1 year ago

Great work with this RDS stat. Ronnie Harrison looks like a great target that JD would look at. If hes decent covering RBs and TEs… that would make him a perfect candidate, imo