The New York Jets defense was led by an active trio of young defensive linemen
Okay, New York Jets fans – now that we have some clarity on the Zach Wilson situation, we can start talking about the other dozens of players who suited up for Gang Green in its first bout of the 2022 season.
The defensive front was arguably the Jets’ most impressive unit in their 24-21 exhibition triumph over the Philadelphia Eagles. New York racked up five sacks and held the Birds to 3.1 yards per carry on the ground. Philly ran the ball 28 times and could not record a carry for more than 8 yards.
Three young linemen, in particular, were consistently popping off the screen for the Jets. Let’s talk about them.
EDGE Jabari Zuniga
A third-round pick in Joe Douglas’s debut 2020 draft class, Jabari Zuniga is now fighting to preserve his Jets career. He’s on the outside-looking-in of a deep EDGE unit.
Zuniga’s pass-rushing performance in the City of Brotherly Love was a great start to the Florida product’s crucial preseason. Zuniga spent a lot of time in the backfield as he recorded five total pressures – one sack, one hit, and three hurries.
Making the roster will be a tall order for Zuniga. Still, he could make a case for the practice squad or at least put on his best audition for other NFL teams.
DT Tanzel Smart
Tanzel Smart matched Zuniga’s total of five pressures, tying them for second-best on the team. Smart had two sacks, one hit, and two hurries. The 27-year-old also contributed in the other phase with two run stops.
I was impressed by Smart’s performance in the 2021 preseason and truly believed he did enough to earn the roster. That did not come to fruition, as he wound up spending the year on New York’s practice squad, but the fact he is still around means the Jets do have some degree of confidence in his game.
Now, Smart is on his way to putting together a second consecutive preseason of strong play. If he keeps things going, could it be enough to steal a roster spot? The Jets need run-stopping help on the interior of their defensive line and Smart provides that. He can give the Jets a tough decision to make if he chains together two more standout games.
EDGE Micheal Clemons
The Jets’ team leader in pressures was rookie edge rusher Micheal Clemons, who agglomerated a tremendous total of seven. Clemons had one sack, one hit, and five hurries in a very active performance. The Texas A&M product also tossed in a pair of run stops.
Clemons looked NFL-ready in his NFL debut. He consistently drove defenders into the backfield using his power. His pad level, leverage, and hand usage were impressive. He did a great job of getting beneath his man and accurately firing his hands into their chest; two things that are crucial for maximizing force. Clemons was a beast that could not be contained.
While Clemons is a rookie who was selected in the fourth round, it’s important to remember that he is already going to be 25 years old later this month. Clemons is far more physically developed than most rookies. This might limit his long-term upside, but it also means he should be more prepared to make a year-one impact than his peers.
Perhaps Clemons will have a bigger role in the Jets’ defensive line rotation this year than many realize.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds with massive 34⅞” arms, Clemons has the size to be an excellent edge-setting defensive end in the run game. Considering the Jets front-seven’s wealth of explosive pass rushers and lack of fortitude, I could see Clemons being relied upon to play a lot of snaps in rushing situations this year. And, based on his preseason debut, he might be ready to thrive in that role.