Who will claim the New York Jets’ starting free safety role?
The New York Jets‘ starting defense took the field against the Eagles with more than one starter missing, but as Carl Lawson and C.J. Mosley watched on from the sideline I couldn’t help but notice something I wasn’t really expecting.
Within the Jets’ unofficial depth chart released before the Eagles game, Pinnock was named as the backup to Joyner at free safety and Davis was listed as the backup to Whitehead at strong safety. Parks was listed as the third-string strong safety.
In the modern NFL, safety positions are interchangeable, but the Jets do like to play a single high safety within their current defensive philosophy. When they do go into that formation the chances are Whitehead will be in the box and Joyner will play deep. To start the game against the Eagles, it was Whitehead playing deeper than Parks, but that’s likely more to do with Joyner’s absence more than something we can expect to see as the season starts.
But what that does say to me is the Jets coaching staff might lack confidence in Davis and Pinnock’s abilities to play deep. I know the team has said that they believe Whitehead can do more than play in the box, but that’s where he’s at his best statistically.
Joyner has missed time recently with an unknown illness, although he was back out on the field on Thursday and the hope is that he along with the likes of Lawson and Mosley will be back for Monday’s preseason game against Atlanta. However, relying on Joyner is problematic for several reasons; he’s coming off a season-ending injury and he hasn’t played free safety since 2018.
Parks has continued to make the most of his opportunities through camp, and he was rewarded by the coaching staff with a starting position last wee. In the end, he did end up playing more free safety snaps than box snaps (13 v 12) during his time on the field against Philadelphia.
The issue I’m having so far this pre-season is that none of the free safeties are rising to the top. The hope was that one of Pinnock/Davis would perform to such a standard that Joyner came under pressure for his starting spot, but that simply hasn’t happened. Both have enjoyed good practices here and there, but none of them have been consistently good based on numerous reports.
Our presumption is that Joyner’s spot is safe, but that seems to be based largely on the fact that nobody is really pushing him rather than an unquestioned belief in his ability.
Parks has spent much of his career to date flipping between a slot corner, a strong safety, and free safety, but if given time to focus on one position, he could push Joyner.
The Jets coaching staff loves the athleticism of undrafted rookie Tony Adams. The former Illinois man scored a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.76 during pre-draft testing, ranking third-highest among free safeties (behind Lewis Cine and Nick Cross) in this draft class. But the fact he gave up a touchdown on the only target he saw against the Eagles isn’t the best start.
Elijah Riley saw significant time at free safety over the second half of the game against the Eagles and while he didn’t play badly, the former Army man only has 44 coverage snaps to his name over the first two years of his career.
Both Davis and Pinnock played more in the box than at free safety against the Eagles, but it’ll be interesting to see if they play more free safety against the Falcons on Monday night.
There aren’t that many starting positions wide open on the Jets, but free safety is certainly one of them. Someone just needs to grab the opportunity. So far… nobody has.