HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 28: John Franklin-Myers #91 of the New York Jets defends against the Houston Texans during an NFL game at NRG Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
John Franklin-Myers, New York Jets (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

The former waiver-wire pickup is already an underrated nightmare for opposing defenses

The New York Jets have been ripped apart and stripped down since the beginning of general manager Joe Douglas‘s tenure. The organization now finds itself on the upswing of the rebuilding pendulum. Waiver additions are often insignificant, but Douglas has found a crucial diamond in the rough for the future of this Jets team.

Plucked off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams in 2019, defensive tackle-turned-defensive end John Franklin-Myers has found himself a home with the Green and White. After steady improvement during his time in New York, JFM ultimately received his due from the Jets last October in the form of a four-year, $55 million contract with $30 million guaranteed.

JFM was thrust to the edge in the hopes of filling the massive void left by new edge rusher Carl Lawson, who sustained an Achilles tear in training camp. He far exceeded anyone’s expectations, proving he is an all-around defensive lineman who dominates at the NFL level.

Pro Football Focus ranked Franklin-Myers as the NFL’s 12th-best edge rusher last season among players with 500+ snaps, giving him an 80.3 overall grade. That made him the Jets’ highest-rated player on either side of the ball.

The first four weeks were especially electric, which quickly made the big extension a priority for Douglas. Three sacks, one forced fumble, 11 hurries, and a whopping 17 pressures in the first four games made it clear that Franklin-Myers was a force up front. The Jets had every reason to lock their guy down long-term, and they did.

Franklin-Myers signed his extension prior to the London game versus the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5. While many critics claim he “disappeared” for the rest of the season, that simply isn’t true. JFM averaged 3.0 pressures per game post-extension, compared to his average of 4.3 to start the season. He played likely the best game of his career in Week 12 against Houston and posted seven total pressures in the season finale at Buffalo.

With three total pressures, two sacks, and a commanding interception with a long return, Franklin-Myers’s outing against Houston was the best game of his strong season.

JFM initially played defensive tackle with the Jets in 2020 and was superb. He wasted no time in his first season in New York showing that he can play. In late December, he trailed only Aaron Donald in pressure rate among defensive tackles with an absurd mark of 17.2%. He finished third by the end of the season at 14.4% (over double the positional average that year).

What should his usage look like in 2022?

After Franklin-Myers proved he can excel playing both outside and inside, head coach Robert Saleh has options. It would be foolish not to deploy JFM’s diverse talents. There will be some split of edge and defensive-tackle snaps for Franklin-Myers, but what is the most optimal deployment method to maximize both his personal ability and production from the line as a whole?

Jet X’s Michael Nania analyzed this topic, dissecting the perfect utilization for JFM in 2022. Thanks to the abundance of ties between the 49ers and the Jets, defensive lineman Arik Armstead was the perfect archetype to examine in carving out a tweener role for Franklin-Myers.

In his analysis, Nania writes, “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.”

There are some striking similarities between the usage of Armstead in San Francisco and what Franklin-Myers can do in New York. Both have played solid football on the edge, but excel at their jobs in the interior. The difference is especially striking for JFM.

“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%).”

Franklin-Myers is truly a different rusher on the interior, and it would be in Saleh’s best interest to deploy him there the vast majority of the time. As for the ideal split, Nania believes we’ve already seen it in years past:

“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’s interior abilities to be placed at the forefront. At the same time, the Jets should not waste the unique versatility that he offers.”

It only makes sense to try and re-kindle that version of JFM on the interior after his astonishing work back in 2020. The Jets have substantially rebuilt their edge depth for 2022. Therefore, there is no longer a dire need for edge play that would call on JFM outside of early-down run stopping.

In fact, the revamped defensive line for Gang Green allows Franklin-Myers to tap into his full potential.

Powerful nature and improving nurture

Douglas and Saleh finally committed to bringing premium assets to the Jets’ defense in 2022. This defense was dead-last in just about everything in 2021. The external factors have greatly shifted in favor of JFM (and the entire defensive line) so that he can be rewarded for his elite play.

Among the notable additions, the return of Carl Lawson and the arrival of 2022 draftee Jermaine Johnson stand out. Lawson is an elite edge rusher coming off his third major injury (two previous ACL tears before Achilles tear). It’s fair to be concerned about him being the same player, but it’s clear he knows how to rehab and return to dominance.

Johnson is a very talented prospect who arrived via the 26th overall pick. He has a great toolbox of pass-rush moves and is wise beyond his years. JJ is an excellent fit for the Jets’ defensive scheme, and you could argue there wasn’t a better team to land him. The team should feel his presence quickly.

The abundance of edge talent the team has added should finally reward the talented interior rushers. JFM and teammate Quinnen Williams will finally have a respectable edge presence to keep opposing quarterbacks in their sights. With a more well-rounded unit, the stat lines for each starter should see a noticeable bump, particularly in sack numbers.

But the defensive front isn’t the only group to see major improvements this year. New York also greatly overhauled their questionable secondary. College cornerback phenom and No. 4 overall pick Sauce Gardner and productive veteran corner D.J. Reed are big additions. Incumbents Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols flashed great play last year, but Sauce and Reed will likely occupy the starting corner roles on the outside.

With reinforced corner play throughout the depth chart, quarterbacks will surely have a harder time finding open targets from the pocket. By forcing them to hold the ball for longer, the defensive line is given a bit of insurance time to get home and disrupt the play. When you combine a more complete rushing corps with more time to make a play, you’re bound to see sizable statistical improvement across the board.

This defensive unit — barring the well-known injury bug — has created a strong symbiotic relationship between the coveted front and talented backfield on paper. There is certainly some high upside for the group in 2022, but it’s a low floor when you’re coming off of being the league’s worst. There’s a lot riding on many young players.

Things are looking up and looking scary in New York. It’s been decades since the infamous New York Sack Exchange, but could the next era of the Sack Exchange be here? Only time will tell, but Franklin-Myers would certainly be an integral part of it.

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Oliver Cochrane is a Jets X-Factor news and social media contributor. Email: olivercochrane[at]icloud.com

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