Tanzel Smart, New York Jets
Tanzel Smart, New York Jets, Getty Images

Smart was a monster in preseason for the Jets

When the New York Jets elevate a fan favorite to the active roster, fans tend to respond with only a touch of hysteria.

Case in point: when Chris Streveler was elevated from the practice squad prior to the first Jets-Patriots matchup, many were dreaming of a Streveler package replete with heroics similar to his preseason comeback antics.

In the end, Streveler was inactive for the game with no clear explanation given about the roster shenanigans.

That is unlikely to happen in this case, as the Jets elevated DT Tanzel Smart from the practice squad to take the place of the injured Sheldon Rankins. Although the Jets hope Rankins can avoid injured reserve, it is likely that he will miss a minimum of three weeks. Smart will fill the void on the roster, at least for this week.

Smart is one of those preseason darlings who has just never been able to crack the roster. Although he appeared in three games for the Jets in 2020, logging 26 snaps, he’s missed the active roster each of the last two seasons despite logging impressive preseason performances. This past preseason, Smart tied for third among defensive linemen with nine QB pressures. However, he was a victim of the logjam on the Jets’ defensive line.

One of Sheldon Rankins’s strongest areas this year has been his pass rush in true pass sets. A true pass set (TPS) is a passing down excluding a screen, play-action pass, rollout, time to throw of less than two seconds, and a play in which there is a three-man rush or less. In other words, TPS attempts to gain the measure of a pass rusher’s success on plays in which said success is more or less in his control. With plays like a screen or rollout, often the pass rusher has no shot to impact the quarterback.

Rankins has had only 61 TPS snaps this season. However, he’s made the most of them. He has a 19.7% pressure rate on such snaps, the fourth-best mark among 66 interior defensive linemen (min. 150 total pass rush snaps). Incidentally, Quinnen Williams is third at 20.5% on nearly double the snaps, while Nathan Shepherd is at 16.7% on just 36 TPS snaps and Solomon Thomas is at 5.1% on 39.

Given those numbers, it seems that Shepherd has earned the chance to replace Rankins on true pass sets, as he’s been highly active in that area. However, Tanzel Smart’s preseason TPS pressure rate was 18.7% on 32 snaps. That means the Jets should consider giving him a look in such situations, as well.

Equally as important as Smart’s pressures were his defensive stops, meaning tackles that constituted failures for the offense. Smart logged five stops, which was tied for seventh among interior defensive linemen.

In the Jets’ first matchup with the Patriots, Rhamondre Stevenson logged 83 yards after contact, including one 35-yard gain on which he gashed the Jets’ safeties. In that game, the Jets’ defensive tackles, Williams, Rankins, and Shepherd, had one stop each. They’re going to need more than that to contain Stevenson and Mac Jones, who ran for several key first downs in the first matchup.

There are two big questions to answer regarding Smart’s ability to produce a tangible impact in this game. One is whether preseason means anything. After all, Micheal Clemons was a beast in the preseason, and although he’s played nicely for a rookie and made several impact plays, he does not look nearly like the man-among-boys that he appeared to be in the preseason.

More importantly, what do the Jets think about how the preseason can and will translate to the regular season? Clearly, they’re not as enamored of Smart as the fans are. However, they must think something of him to have elevated him from the practice squad rather than, say, bringing up Jonathan Marshall or rolling with John Franklin-Myers inside. (JFM has a 20.8% pressure rate in true pass sets this season, although it’s unclear what the breakdown is among his snaps inside and outside.)

Personally, I would like to see what Smart can do. Nathan Shepherd has had a sneakily strong season; I owe him an apology after questioning the Jets’ coaching staff for keeping him on board. That being said, Solomon Thomas has not done much (other than getting his hand in Josh Allen’s face on a nice play against Buffalo), and I would like to see Smart take at least a portion of his snaps, as well as some of Rankins’s.

If the Jets are not going to shift JFM inside more frequently, it would be wise to see whether Smart can make an impact in Rankins’s absence. They know what they have in their other guys. While David Andrews’s return to the Patriots’ lineup creates a tougher matchup for the Jets’ interior line, Smart still deserves the opportunity to play.

How the Jets deploy their defensive line has been a fascinating season-long storyline. After a rough start, Jeff Ulbrich (another man to whom I owe an apology) has earned trust due to the overall production of the different pieces on the line. Let’s see what he thinks about Smart.

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Rivka Boord has followed the Jets since the age of five. She is known locally for her in-depth knowledge of football. She hopes to empower young women to follow their dreams and join the sports conversation. Boord's background in analytics infuses her articles with unique insights into the state of the Jets' franchise and the NFL as a whole.
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10 months ago

Please note, that no team has poached Smart or Jonathan Marshall. So despite an impressive preseason, the entire league has not taken notice. This is a well deserved opportunity for Tanzel, giving a motivating message to 15 other PS players that they all have a chance. The extra 30 thousand , for being on the varsity is pretty nice too.