Previewing an extremely deep New York Jets defensive line competition
As the rounds ticked down in the 2022 NFL draft I was fully expecting the New York Jets to take a defensive tackle at some point. They had addressed the defensive end position with the selections of Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons, but the defensive tackle position remained untouched by the time New York made its last pick.
Despite not addressing defensive tackle in the draft, it is still hard to argue that the Jets don’t have plenty of depth on the defensive line. The Jets currently have 17 defensive linemen signed to the roster.
Quantity doesn’t always equal quality. But it could be argued that for the first time in a long time, the Jets have both.
Last year the Jets carried nine defensive linemen into Week 1 as part of their final 53-man roster. It doesn’t take a Harvard man to work out that 17 doesn’t fit into nine very easily. I could see a world where the Jets carry 10 defensive linemen this year and only five linebackers. After all, the Jets found themselves playing a lot of 4-2-5 defensive packages last season with Quincy Williams and C.J Mosley dominating the snaps at the second level.
Even if the Jets decide to carry 10 defensive linemen, that would leave seven very disappointed players on the outside looking in.
Let’s break it all down, as the competition for spots on the defensive line is going to be intense come training camp.
Guarantees to make the roster
They say there are no guarantees in football; well, there are a few when it comes to the Jets’ defensive line. These players will certainly make the team.
Williams is arguably the most talented defensive lineman the Jets have. Williams has put up back-to-back seasons of solid production, ending 2021 with 6.0 sacks and 53 tackles after posting 7.0 sacks and 55 tackles in 2020.
You get the feeling that Williams is only just starting to scratch the surface of his talent. Many expect 2022 to be the big breakout year where Williams goes from a good player to a dominant one. He’s safe.
Whether John Franklin-Myers makes the roster isn’t in doubt. The bigger question is where will he play.
Franklin-Myers spent the majority of his time at EDGE in 2021 and Pro Football Focus gave him the highest grade of his career at 80.3. He started hot with sacks in three of his first four games but ended with just two sacks over his final eight games. Among defensive linemen on the team, Franklin-Myers was far and away the best run-defender for the Jets.
Could the Jets shift JFM inside to play next to Quinnen? Franklin-Myers has played the vast majority of his snaps lined up over the tackle or outside of the tackle, with just 178 of his 1,518 career snaps coming over the guard or center.
The prized free-agent acquisition whose season was over before it even began.
Carl Lawson is guaranteed one of those starting defensive end spots and will be looking to make up for lost time. Lawson was sixth in the league with 64 total pressures in 2020 as a member of the Bengals, and he’ll be looking to put another dominant season on tape for his new team.
The Hutch to Lawson’s Starsky, Jermaine Johnson split opinions pre-draft in relation to what his ceiling is. I personally had him as a top-5 talent, so I’m thrilled to get him in the building as a late first-round pick. It’s rare for the Jets to have two edge rushers with serious talent and the Jets look to have that.
It’s rare that a fourth-round pick doesn’t make the opening-day 53. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen but the Jets seem extremely high on Micheal Clemons and for good reason. He did an outstanding job over the last two years at Texas A&M, and as Joe Douglas said, he brings that nasty to the line.
I did a deep dive on Clemons over on my daily newsletter today if you want to check that out and learn more about the man.
These five players are the guys who I believe have their roster spot guaranteed.
Likely to make the roster
Now, we move on to the guys who are likely going to find their way onto the roster.
Undrafted out of Memphis in 2020, the Jets seem to like Bryce Huff even if he didn’t make that big leap that many expected him to when Carl Lawson went down last season. PFF credited Huff with four sacks and 17 pressures on 209 pass-rushing snaps. That’s a pressure on every 12 snaps, which isn’t bad considering he was in and out of the lineup so much.
Huff is still young and is still developing. I think he’s likely to make it.
I didn’t know whether to put Sheldon Rankins in this tier or not. The Jets could cut Rankins and save $5.4 million on the cap. But one look at the roster depth behind him would suggest he’s not going anywhere unless the Jets bring in someone like Larry Ogunjobi.
Rankins offered some interior pass-rush last season but he was horrendous against the run. His 34.4 PFF run-defense grade would rank him 313th amongst all defensive linemen who played 100 snaps or more.
The Jets gave Jacob Martin a three-year, $13.5 million deal, which would indicate he’s very likely to make the roster. He has $6 million guaranteed so it’s not a ton of money to eat if he gets outplayed in camp but chances are he’ll be in the edge rotation.
Martin finished the 2021 season with four sacks and 38 pressures, so if Huff is on this list then Martin should certainly be here as well.
In The Running
If you add the guaranteed five players to the likely three players, you get eight players who should make the team. Now you have a whole bunch of guys who are in the running for those final one or two spots on the roster.
Bradlee Anae had 13 sacks in his final year at Utah but failed to make an impression in Dallas after being drafted in the fifth round in 2020. His inability to play the run was often given as a reason for his lack of playing time in Dallas, which is not great for a Jets team who struggled to stop the run last year. He’s a long shot to make it in my eyes.
Vinny Curry has a history of being productive when he plays and he does bring that veteran leadership to what will be a very young defensive line in 2021. Although he is a defensive end by trade he does have some inside/out versatility, similar to JFM, and that could prove valuable to a team short on defensive tackle talent outside of Quinnen.
Hamilcar Rashed Jr.
With the sheer depth and quality of depth the Jets have at EDGE, I’d say Hamilcar Rashed Jr. is a long shot to make this active roster. He looks to be in great shape in OTAs but the preseason will likely be his audition for a spot on another team.
You don’t expect a lot from a sixth-round pick in year one and Jonathan Marshall wasn’t able to provide a lot, but it’s year two where your roster security becomes a bit perilous if you don’t make improvements.
Marshall generated one pressure on 35 pass-rushing snaps and was graded at 38.3 against the run by PFF, which is only slightly better than Rankins. I didn’t see enough to make me think he’ll make the roster, but then again he only got 77 total snaps in 2021, so it’s hard to judge.
Robert Saleh seemed to really like Nathan Shepherd in 2021. His 495 total snaps were the third-most among New York’s interior defenders after Williams (613) and Foley Fatukasi (558).
Shepherd wasn’t as impactful in rushing the passer as Rankins, but he also wasn’t as terrible against the run either, although his 46.8 grade still leaves much to be desired.
The Jets signed Shepherd to a one-year deal in March and considering his snap count I’d favour him to get one of the remaining spots.
Tanzel Smart has bounced around the league after being drafted in the sixth round by the Rams in 2018. The Jets are his fourth team and considering he spent most of 2021 on the practice squad, I imagine that’s where he’ll end up again in 2022.
Solomon Thomas has never lived up to the expectation of being the third overall pick in the draft, but he does have a history with Saleh from their time in San Francisco.
It’s hard to find players who graded out worse than Rankins against the run, but Thomas is one of them. His 28.0 grade against the run was one of the worst marks in the league and although he has inside/out versatility, you have to imagine with the Jets’ depth at EDGE he’d be looking at making the team inside. I wouldn’t bet on it personally.
Tim Ward had one pressure on 99 pass-rushing snaps for the Jets last year which isn’t great for an edge rusher looking to make this roster. He is one of those players who isn’t horrible in any area but doesn’t excel at anything either. He’s one of the longer shots to make the roster this offseason.
It’s hard not to be disappointed by Jabari Zuniga, the Jets’ third-round pick in 2020. Zuniga was cut by the team in September but re-signed to the practice squad the next day. When you’re not making the team in your second year as a third-round prospect, your future with that team doesn’t look that great.
The New York Jets’ DL battle will be a competitive dogfight to watch in the offseason
There you have it: all 17 players in question and only 10 spots to fit them into.
Personally, I think we’ll see 10 defensive linemen carried into the season with Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Carl Lawson, Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, Bryce Huff, Jacob Martin, Sheldon Rankins, Jonathan Marshall, and Vinny Curry making the cut… but who do you think makes the final 53?