The NY Jets’ ability to affect the opposing quarterback is crucial for their defensive success
They haven’t had a player get to double-digit sacks in a single season since Muhammad Wilkerson recorded 12 in 2015.
The team’s inability to pressure the quarterback was one of the many factors that contributed to their last-place defensive ranking in 2021. The big question is if they’ve done enough for that to change in 2022.
The Jets combine new and old faces in the hope that this year will be different. They know that the pass rush will be essential. As head coach Robert Saleh said at the Senior Bowl, “You guys know how I am with the pass rush. It’s the one group that makes everyone better on defense and it’s the one group that can take away everyone on offense.”
Now, when push comes to shove, sacks are far from the only measure of pass rush. In fact, edge rusher Carl Lawson epitomizes the impact of an edge rusher beyond the actual QB takedowns. Although Lawson has never exceeded 5.5 sacks in a season, his 14.3% pressure rate from 2017-20 was the fourth-best among all NFL edge rushers.
One positive for the Jets is that ESPN had them ranked middle of the league, 16th, in pass rush win rate as a team. However, that did not translate to sacks or pressure.
How will the team perform this season? My prediction will be based on a few factors:
- Snap count and share: Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich have committed to a defensive line rotation. Though the details are not entirely clear, it would not be surprising to see all Jets defensive linemen below 40 snaps per game. That will automatically reduce the sack totals for each individual player.
- Previous sack and pressure numbers: obviously, the past will need to be a strong data point in predicting future performance. Note- I used Pro Football Focus’s numbers when looking at past sack totals; those do not always correlate with the box score totals. My predictions, though, are based on the expected box score sack totals.
- For the entire team, an assumption of better secondary coverage will lead to a slight uptick in total sacks for coverage reasons.
John Franklin-Myers, IDL
2020 stats: 357 pass rush snaps, 76.4 Pro Football Focus (PFF) pass-rush grade (13th out of 52 qualifiers), three sacks, 10 QB hits (15th), 38 hurries (4th), 17.5% win rate (4th)
2022 prediction: 420 pass rush snaps, 10.0 sacks, 18 QB hits, 38 hurries
For pass rush purposes, John Franklin-Myers will play primarily inside. The Jets will kick him out on more run-heavy downs, but overall, expect JFM to reprise his 2020 interior role. Therefore, I went back to his 2020 stats for clues about his pass rush production from that position but added more pass rush snaps due to the likelihood that he will also see some pass rush snaps from the outside.
Although JFM did not put up a large sack total in 2020, his underlying pass-rush stats showed elite production. His win rate and hurries were particularly impressive. Since he put up six sacks from the edge in 2021, I am projecting that his elite win rate and hurries will translate to many more sacks with more offensive line focus across the Jets’ pass rushers.
Carl Lawson, EDGE
2020 stats: 424 pass rush snaps, 84.9 PFF pass-rush grade (ninth among 62 qualifiers), six sacks, 24 QB hits (2nd), 20.0% win rate (4th), 34 hurries (15th)
2022 prediction: 425 pass rush snaps, 8.5 sacks, 25 QB hits, 38 hurries
Carl Lawson‘s return from an Achilles tear will be one of the crucial storylines for the Jets defensive line in 2022. If Lawson can return to his dominant form, the line will gain a tremendous boost from a guy who gets in the quarterback’s face game in and game out. However, the Achilles was Lawson’s third significant leg injury; he also had two prior ACL tears.
Still, Lawson is just 27 years old and has appeared dominant in training camp thus far. The Jets will ease him into gameplay form, but they expect him to be a key cog in their pass rush.
When you look at the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals defense of which Lawson was a part, there was no one else for an offensive line to focus on. Sam Hubbard, Mike Daniels, and Chris Covington did not strike fear into opponents’ hearts. The fact that Lawson managed to get into the quarterback’s pocket is highly impressive considering what he had around him.
Though I expect similar pass rush snap totals (assuming 35 passes per game, Lawson will get around 25), I think Lawson’s overall production will see an uptick. The Jets provide significantly more worry for opposing offensive lines, particularly with John Franklin-Myers and Quinnen Williams tying up the defense inside.
I believe Lawson’s speed will allow him to fly off the edge. The Jets’ top three cornerbacks will blanket opposing receivers, allowing Lawson the extra half-second to get a sack rather than just a quarterback hit or hurry.
Quinnen Williams, IDL
2021 stats: 361 pass rush snaps, 70.7 PFF pass-rush grade (23rd out of 66 qualifiers), seven sacks (11th), four QB hits (41st), 23 hurries (28th), 12.6% win rate (T-20th)
2022 prediction: 385 pass rush snaps, seven sacks, eight QB hits, 27 hurries
In 2021, Quinnen Williams‘s 361 pass rush snaps ranked 42nd among interior defensive linemen. In his three years in the NFL, Williams has never ranked higher than 22nd among IDL in pass rush snaps. The Jets are committed to a defensive line by committee, and they don’t seem to make an exception for their best two-way player.
Williams’ 9.4% pressure rate in 2021 ranked 21st out of 89 IDL. That number was down from 10.2% in 2020. I expect him to hit closer to his 2020 rate simply because of the blocking focus that will be required for his interior linemate, Franklin-Myers, and the Jets’ defensive line as a whole.
That being said, I don’t see Williams exceeding seven sacks. He will always garner a lot of attention, both because of his name as a former No. 3 overall pick and his reputation as the Jets’ best player. I still think he’ll draw the most double-teams on the defensive line. That sack total remains above average for an interior defender, and I expect Q’s overall impact on games to be closer to his 2020 heights.
Jacob Martin, EDGE
2021 stats: 391 pass rush snaps, 69.9 PFF pass-rush grade (33rd out of 69), four sacks (55th), two QB hits (67th), 32 hurries (23rd), 13.3% win rate (39th)
2022 prediction: 350 pass rush snaps, four sacks, five QB hits, 25 hurries
Jacob Martin got into the quarterback’s grill on a weak Houston Texans defense. As a pass-rush specialist, he will be used primarily in obvious pass-rushing situations, especially third down. With all the mouths to feed on the Jets defensive line, I think that means a reduction in his playing time compared to last season. He and Jermaine Johnson may find themselves in a platoon of sorts.
The numbers I predicted for 2022 stand very close to his 2021 pressure rate of 9.7%. I do believe he’ll register a few more actual hits due to better coverage.
Jermaine Johnson, EDGE
2022 prediction: 200 pass rush snaps, 3.5 sacks, three QB hits, eight hurries
Jermaine Johnson posted 11.5 sacks in his final college season, leading to his selection as the No. 26 overall pick in the 2022 Draft. It’s still surprising that he fell to 26 when many had him off the board in the top 10. Still, Johnson’s projection at the NFL level made the bottom of the first round a more appropriate selection for him.
The biggest knock on Johnson as a pass rusher is that his 14.1% pass-rush win rate was middling, only in the 60th percentile among college edge rushers and well below the numbers of Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux. There is an expectation that Johnson could take some time to generate a pass rush at the NFL level.
I see Johnson generating four sacks this season, primarily because he’s good at following through when he does get pressure. There will be times that the Jets’ interior rushers force quarterbacks right into his lap.
Bryce Huff, EDGE
2021 stats: 209 pass rush snaps, 70.9 PFF pass-rush grade, four sacks, six QB hits, seven hurries, 17.0% win rate
2022 prediction: 225 pass rush snaps, 3.5 sacks, seven QB hits, four hurries
Bryce Huff is an underrated member of the Jets defensive line. Though he missed a lot of time due to injury last season, when he was in the lineup, he was highly productive. Still, he is somewhat edged out as a pass-rush specialist by Jacob Martin. I think he’ll still see his snaps, though, and get in the quarterback’s way enough for the Jets to keep throwing him out there.
Some fans have speculated about the Jets trading Huff. That has become more prominent with Mekhi Becton’s season-ending injury in the event that Joe Douglas chooses the trade market for a replacement. I don’t expect that to happen, but you never know.
Solomon Thomas, IDL
2021 stats: 381 pass rush snaps, 61.5 PFF pass-rush grade (47th out of 66 qualifiers), four sacks (27th), nine QB hits (10th), 17 hurries (45th), 11.1% win rate (34th)
2022 prediction: 200 pass rush snaps, two sacks, five QB hits, 4 hurries
Solomon Thomas is a former first-round bust who is living out the nine lives of high draft picks. After he flamed out in San Francisco, it’s pretty much clear what Thomas is: a below-average interior defender who can generate enough pressure to retain a job on an NFL roster.
Since the Jets already have two plus interior starters in Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers, plus so much other competition on the interior, I don’t see Thomas taking many snaps per game. That will limit his pass rush impact. Unfortunately, he is set to be a starting IDL in the base 4-3 defense, but I don’t think that will continue for too long.
Sheldon Rankins, IDL
2021 stats: 411 pass rush snaps, 60.0 PFF pass-rush grade (52nd out of 66 qualifiers), four sacks (27th), four QB hits (41st), 16 hurries (51st), 11.1% win rate (34th)
2022 prediction: 200 pass rush snaps, two sacks, two QB hits, eight hurries
Sheldon Rankins put up weak pass rush numbers in 2021, the worst of his career. Although he generated four sacks, which is decent for an interior rusher, he failed to make a significant impact despite having the most pass rush snaps on the team. I expect his snap count to decrease significantly in 2022, not necessarily because of his lack of production but simply because the Jets have many new mouths to feed on the interior defensive line.
Kwon Alexander, LB
2021 stats: 85 pass rush snaps, 57.1 PFF pass-rush grade, four sacks, four QB hits, nine hurries, 13.3% win rate
2022 prediction: 75 pass rush snaps, 1.5 sacks, five QB hits, five hurries
Kwon Alexander was brought in for his coverage skills as a linebacker, not his pass-rushing prowess. Still, four sacks on only 85 pass-rush attempts is a pretty absurd rate. His speed allows him to get in on the quarterback on blitzes. The Jets don’t send their linebackers all that often, though.
Quincy Williams, LB
2021 stats: 52 pass rush snaps, 64.6 PFF pass-rush grade, two sacks, two QB hits, six hurries, 8.0% win rate
2022 prediction: 50 pass rush snaps, one sack, two QB hits, five hurries
Quincy Williams also has a lot of speed and can be a bruiser when he lays hits on opposing players. He’ll get there a time or two in limited pass-rush action.
Nathan Shepherd, IDL
2021 stats: 244 pass rush snaps, 70.8 PFF pass-rush grade, zero sacks, 10 QB hits, nine hurries, 11.3% win rate
2022 prediction: 175 pass rush snaps, one sack, eight QB hits, five hurries
The Jets re-signed Nathan Shepherd and seem to love the leadership and locker room presence he brings to the table. His role will naturally be reduced due to the presence of multiple other pass-rushing interior linemen. Shepherd failed to record a sack last season, and I don’t foresee his impact increasing with a more limited snap count.
C.J. Mosley, LB
2021 stats: 77 pass rush snaps, 60.1 PFF pass-rush grade, two sacks, zero QB hits, four hurries, 5.8% win rate
2022 prediction: 50 pass rush snaps, one sack, zero QB hits, two hurries
With both Quincy Williams and Kwon Alexander’s speed on tap, I don’t expect the Jets to send C.J. Mosley on the pass rush all that often.
Jonathan Marshall, IDL
2021 stats: 35 pass rush snaps, 61.2 PFF pass-rush grade, zero sacks, one QB hit, zero hurries, 3.1% win rate
2022 prediction: 75 pass rush snaps, zero sacks, one QB hit, one hurry
Jonathan Marshall was a sixth-round pick for the Jets in 2021. Although it’s not guaranteed that he makes the team, I believe it’s likely he will retain a roster spot in the hope that he becomes a better run stuffer. The Jets are thin in that area of the defensive interior, so Marshall has a chance to stand out that way. In terms of his pass rush, I don’t foresee much of an impact.
Micheal Clemons, EDGE
2022 prediction: 100 pass rush snaps, zero sacks, zero QB hits, one hurry
Micheal Clemons was a somewhat surprising fourth-round pick for the Jets. At nearly 25 years old, he does not have much room for physical improvement in his pass rush game. That being said, the Jets appear to see him as a poor man’s John Franklin-Myers. They have made some noise about kicking him inside on pass-rushing downs, which is interesting considering the number of interior pass rushers the Jets have. I don’t expect Clemons to see a lot of time on the field as a rookie.
Other players who may contribute to the pass rush: Jordan Whitehead, SS; Jason Pinnock, FS
Roster crunch cut casualty: Vinny Curry
If you’re counting at home, those numbers add up to 45 sacks. I do anticipate that the Jets will clear the 40 sack threshold for the first time in almost a decade. 45 sacks would have been in the top 10 among all teams in 2021, and I do expect the Jets’ pass rush to finally get there this season.