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Starting FS, NT, and more: NY Jets’ top defensive training camp battles

Nathan Shepherd, New York Jets
Nathan Shepherd, New York Jets, Getty Images

Loaded with depth, the New York Jets’ defense is set to host multiple competitive battles in training camp

The starting nose tackle

This is arguably the Jets’ biggest weakness at a starting position at the moment. After losing a core starter over the last three years in Folorunso Fatukasi and with no viable replacement added, the nose tackle position is a concern for the Jets.

The two players who could be in a battle for this job are Nathan Shepherd and Jonathan Marshall. Shepherd has the experience advantage now that he has played five years with the Jets, whereas Marshall possesses immense athletic upside (9.99 Relative Athletic Score).

With Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, and Solomon Thomas all on the interior as apparent locks to make the roster, Marshall and Shepherd may be competing for one roster spot.

The fifth linebacker

C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams are set to be the Jets’ starting linebackers again in 2022. Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen, two second-year players still adjusting to a position change, should be on the roster as 2021 draft picks.

From there, the battle for the fifth spot in this group will be a competition. The group rounds out with Del’Shawn Phillips, Marcell Harris, and DQ Thomas.

Phillips has an upper hand based on his time with the Jets last year and with his core contributions on special teams. Harris has three years of experience with Robert Saleh from San Francisco (2018-20) and can also compete with Phillips on special teams.

Thomas is an undrafted rookie who the Jets invested a relatively high amount of money into ($130,000 signing bonus). He has an opportunity to take a role on defense with his past production and athleticism.

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The sixth cornerback

Currently, the Jets’ three starting cornerbacks appear to be locked in with Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II. The two outside backups will likely be Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols.

The sixth player of this group could be either Javelin Guidry or Isaiah Dunn. Both were added as undrafted free agents: Guidry in 2020 and Dunn in 2021. The team does seem to like them both.

Guidry likely has an upper hand because he can be the backup to Carter in the slot. He has also played some snaps on the outside and offers tremendous speed that can be useful on special teams. Dunn gained tons of notoriety during last year’s training camp and flashed a few times as an outside corner during the regular season.

As a result of the two big additions in Gardner and Reed, the competition for depth roles to round out this group will feature viable talent.

The starting free safety

The Jets improved the safety position this offseason with the signing of Jordan Whitehead. He will start at the strong safety position. From there, no other significant investment was made to the position.

At free safety, the starting role could be up for grabs between experienced veteran Lamarcus Joyner and second-year player Jason Pinnock. Joyner and Pinnock offer versatility with their experience at cornerback and should make for some intriguing competition.

The fourth safety

With Whitehead, Joyner, and Pinnock, the safety position appears to have three final roster locks.

For the fourth spot, there will be a battle. Considering some of the depth, the team may even carry a fifth safety. The main players consist of Ashtyn Davis, Elijah Riley, Will Parks, and Tony Adams.

Davis has all the athletic ability but has struggled to stay healthy and grow. He was a recent third-round pick in 2020 and still has the potential to improve, so that could help his chances.

Riley joined the Jets on short notice midseason last year and did a solid job for himself. The front office and coaching staff seem to like his game.

Parks is the veteran of this bunch heading into his seventh year in the NFL with 76 games played. He was re-signed by the Jets early this offseason.

Adams signed with the Jets shortly after the 2022 NFL draft as a free agent. He tested exceptionally well athletically during the pre-draft process, and, as a former cornerback, his speed and coverage skills give him a chance.

There will be some interesting battles to watch for the Jets heading into training camp. Not to mention, there is always the likelihood that Joe Douglas will sign or trade some players to change this picture somewhat.

Either way, while this defense has some uncertainty at key positions, it opens up opportunities for young players to step up and carve out a role.

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1 year ago

The moving parts on the defense will be fun to watch as training camp unfolds. I hope someone out-plays shepherd, he’s one of those guys who’s good enough to play, but has enough mental breakdowns to crush the defense. I also wonder, is there any chance they move Hamsah back to safety? I know they liked him as a LB, but it didn’t go well, and maybe he’s just a safety?

verge tibbs
1 year ago
Reply to  Jets71

Sheps one of those guys that i thought was a surprise he wasnt cut at cut downs last year, lol. Youd think he gotta be a goner this year but they just dont have any beef in the middle there. He could actually make the team again. Hopefully they upgrade maybe when someone gets cut off another team.

1 year ago
Reply to  verge tibbs

I know, that’s why I’m hoping someone beats him out.