Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks, Free Agent, Contract, Jets
Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks, Getty Images

Projecting possible 2022 safety duos for New York Jets

The biggest need the New York Jets defense has entering the 2022 offseason is at the safety position.

Upgrading the backend of the defense with two new talented players would be great for head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to get their unit trending up.

Two new starters will likely be acquired by general manager Joe Douglas. It is fair to expect one signed through free agency and the other added through the draft.

There are many quality options between both free agency and the draft at safety. Below, five possible free and strong safety tandems Douglas and Saleh could build will be discussed.

1. Marcus Williams (New Orleans Saints) and Jaquan Brisker (Penn State)

This will likely be most Jets fans’ favorite pairing listed.

Marcus Williams has been discussed by the fanbase as a top-tier free agent signing. He is entering his sixth NFL season and will be turning 26 in September. For multiple years now, Williams has been regarded amongst some of the best free safeties in the NFL.

Williams could be a true center-fielder in Saleh’s defense, covering plenty of ground on the backend. His elite playmaking ability would be a great boost for the Jets secondary (15 career interceptions).

Jaquan Brisker spent the last three seasons of his college football career at Penn State. He will be turning 23 in April. He possesses the skillset to play in the box in the NFL.

Against the run, Brisker can make an impact as a reliable tackler, making 63 tackles with six for a loss in 2021. In coverage, he totaled five interceptions and 14 passes defended over the last three seasons.

A duo of Williams and Brisker would likely work well. The two have complementary skillsets. Overall, they have the talent to drastically improve the Jets starting safety positions.

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2. Jordan Whitehead (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Nick Cross (Maryland)

Jordan Whitehead is flying under the radar as a top-tier free agent signing. He has started a significant number of games throughout all four years of his career (55 total). Whitehead will be turning 25 in March.

Whitehead can play in the box as a strong safety and stop the run. He has 292 tackles throughout his career (73 per season) along with 22 tackles for loss (5.5 per season). Against the pass, Whitehead can also be effective in coverage. He has 25 career passes defended (6.3 per season) and five interceptions over the last three years.

If the Jets sign a strong safety in free agency, Nick Cross is an under-the-radar third-to-fourth round free safety draft prospect for Jets fans to keep an eye on. Cross has been starting for Maryland since his true freshman season and is a very young prospect who will be turning 21 in September.

As a prospect, Cross can offer a little bit of everything. He can play in man coverage, cover the backend as a single-high safety, and has good size (6-foot-1, 215 lbs), speed, and ball production (three interceptions in 2021). On top of all of that, Cross is a sure tackler.

Whitehead and Cross are not as popular but would offer a lot of promise for the Jets.

3. Quandre Diggs (Seattle Seahawks) and Jalen Pitre (Baylor)

If the Jets are looking for an older veteran in free agency, Quandre Diggs would likely be the top option. Diggs will be entering his eighth NFL season (103 career games played and 78 starts) and turned 29 in January.

Diggs’ ball production would be thrilling for the Jets defense to add. Since 2017, he has had at least three interceptions every season. Over the last two years with the Seahawks, he had five interceptions each season and 17 total passes defended.

Jalen Pitre is a 2022 NFL draft prospect who spent the last five years at Baylor (52 games played). He will turn 23 in June.

Pitre is a physical strong safety who makes his presence felt in the box. Over the last two seasons, Pitre recorded 136 tackles. He also had two interceptions in each of the last two years. His draft stock has gone up as of late. Pitre could be in-play with the Jets’ third-round pick or even as early as their second-round pick.

With this duo, Diggs has the ball production and free safety ability and Pitre would be able to stay where he is experienced in the box.

4. Jayron Kearse (Dallas Cowboys) and Daxton Hill (Michigan)

Jayron Kearse just put together a breakout career year in his sixth NFL season. He just turned 28 and will be going into year seven.

Kearse is a very tall safety (6-foot-4) who mostly plays in the box but specializes in coverage. He played in 16 games for the Cowboys in 2021 (1,014 snaps) and had two interceptions and 10 passes defended (4th-most among safeties). On top of his coverage success, Kearse also helped around the line of scrimmage in the backfield as he had nine tackles for loss.

Daxton Hill had a big junior year at Michigan in 2021. The versatile defensive back spent all three of his years in college at Michigan (33 games played) and will be turning 22 in September.

Last season, Hill had two interceptions, eight passes defended, and 4.5 tackles for loss. Hill offers the ability to play free safety and slot corner. Hill has a projected 4.3 speed and is also a reliable tackler. He is a highly-touted prospect who will likely be selected in the first round.

In Kearse and Hill, the Jets would be greatly upgrading their ability to play in man coverage at safety.

5. Ronnie Harrison (Cleveland Browns) and Lewis Cine (Georgia)

Ronnie Harrison is a good strong safety who has started games all four years of his career (51 total games played). He is still a young player who will turn 25 in April.

Harrison can play in the box and make an impact (five career sacks) and in 2021 he had a career-best four tackles for loss. In coverage, Harrison has had at least one interception in each year of his career. The big frame Harrison possesses (6-foot-3, 214 lbs) can make a difference at strong safety.

Lewis Cine just wrapped up his junior year at Georgia and spent all three years of his college career there. Last season, he had a breakout year statistically and was a core contributor to a dominant championship defense.

In 2021, Cine had 73 tackles, two tackles for loss, nine passes defended, and one interception. Cine can be utilized near the line of scrimmage and as a free safety. He is a good athlete with speed and can play in man coverage. Cine could be a strong option for the Jets with one of their two early second-round picks (35 and 38).

This duo would complement one another well. Harrison is a physical player who can be deployed in the box. Cine has the ability to play deep and in man coverage.

Final takeaways for the Jets

The Jets will have an abundance of opportunities this offseason to address their biggest concern on defense. Being able to sign one player and then draft another would be an ideal approach.

No matter how they get it done, adding two talented starting safeties would provide a substantial upgrade for a defense that was the NFL’s worst in 2021.

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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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Bcantor
Bcantor
6 months ago

How do you write this article without even a mention of Kyle Hamilton? Not saying I want the Jets to draft him but to not even mention him as a possibility seems negligent, don’t you think? He’s allegedly the highest ranked prospect on many team’s big board.