Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, NY Jets, Stats, Rookies
Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Drafted three rounds apart, both Johnson and Clemons are critical parts of the Jets’ defense

There are many players on the New York Jets‘ defense who receive credit for their complete turnaround.

Sauce Gardner gets the most hype as befits the No. 4 overall pick, especially one who combines such swag and panache with an elite (perhaps All-Pro?) level of play.

Quinnen Williams is still underrated despite his breakout season, but he’s also second in Pro Bowl voting at his position and is acknowledged to be the Jets’ biggest difference-maker defensively.

D.J. Reed has started to garner more recognition for his contributions. C.J. Mosley is overrated but always praised on broadcasts for leading the defense. Bryce Huff broke onto the national stage when he hit Josh Allen in a critical spot, helping the Jets upset the Bills.

However, two Jets defensive linemen are still not given much credit around the league. You don’t hear about them on broadcasts or even necessarily notice when they make plays. But they’re both coming on strong, and they’re both critical pieces on the team.

Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons are quiet but significant boosters of the Jets’ defensive turnaround. Neither might be an elite pass rusher right now, but they still make things happen on the field.

Run game impact

Johnson, the No. 26 overall pick, has been pretty much exactly as advertised for the Jets. The team took him for his upside, not necessarily expecting him to be a dominant pass rusher from Day 1 as evidenced by his lower snap counts. They wanted his edge-setting, toughness, and 100% effort, as well as his high-character impact in their locker room. They could have taken Kayvon Thibodeaux with the No. 4 overall pick or gone for George Karlaftis at No. 26, but the Jets wanted Johnson.

Boy, has Johnson delivered in the run game. He does not qualify as an edge defender in run defense due to just 83 snaps (in part because he missed several games due to injury); however, among 108 edge defenders with at least 75 run defense snaps, Johnson has the highest stop rate at 12.7%. Stop rate is defined as a tackle that causes a failure for the offense (generating a negative Expected Points Added, meaning a stop for less than 40% of required yardage on first down, 60% on second down, or 100% on third and fourth down).

For reference, the average stop rate among qualified edge defenders (min. 120 run snaps) is 6.3%, which means that Johnson is double the average.

This dominance shows up on film, as well. Johnson often shoves away multiple offensive linemen to set an edge, allowing the Jets’ other defenders to rally to the football. The missed tackles among the team’s linebackers in recent weeks emphasize the importance of that extra second or two to swarm the running back. Furthermore, Johnson himself has not missed a single tackle in run defense; the league average among qualifiers is 11%.

Meanwhile, Clemons has not been quite as dominant, but he’s still above average. His 7.3% stop rate is better than 73% of edge defenders (min. 75 run snaps), and he also has not missed a tackle in run defense. This is particularly important when taking into account that Clemons is backing up Carl Lawson, who is a below-average run defender. Lawson’s stop rate is just 3.6%, and his 25% missed tackle rate in the run game is the eighth-worst among those 108 edge defenders. While John Franklin-Myers holds his own in the run game on the other side, having Clemons in there on running downs is a huge boon to the Jets’ run defense.

True pass sets

While neither Johnson nor Clemons has quite gotten there as a pass rusher just yet, both have started to come on recently. Johnson had a critical sack of Josh Allen in a situation that was exactly as the Jets envisioned when they drafted No. 52: chasing down the Bills’ monster QB with elite speed, maximal effort, and a massive tackle radius.

Both Johnson and Clemons have found more success in the pass rush game when the offense is in a true pass set, meaning a pass play that excludes the rush-eluding play designs: screens, play-action, rollouts, and plays with a quarterback time to throw outside 2-4 seconds.

Pass-rushing statistics in true pass sets are far more stable from year to year and provide a better idea of how the player truly performs as a rusher. Although it is important for an edge rusher to recognize screen passes and play-action to refine his game, there is higher variance in that performance.

Clemons is actually above average in his pass rush on true pass sets despite a below-average pure pressure rate (9.6% vs. the league average of 11.2%). He has an 18.5% pressure rate in those situations, which would place in the 74th percentile among qualified edge rushers (min. 195 total pass-rush snaps).

Even more impressive, his pass-rush win rate of 32% is the sixth-best among edge rushes in true pass sets. Clemons only has 94 total rushes, but his impact on pure pass-rush plays has been impressive. Furthermore, Carl Lawson is far less impressive in those situations, racking up just a 13.1% true pass set pressure rate.

Johnson also has some work to do on his overall pass rush, as his 8.8% pressure rate is quite a bit below the 11.2% average for edge rushers. However, he’s dead average, 14.3%, in true pass sets, which means he can still be relied upon in pass-rush situations. His pass rush win rate of 19% in true pass sets is also average.

The Jets have a tendency to use their backups at the edges at the same time rather than staggering them. It is that much more important, then, that both of them provide legitimate value, as they cannot be covered for by a starter on the other side. By the numbers and on the field, both Jets rookies have more than held their own with the responsibility placed upon them.

Johnson’s and Clemons’s success in limited snap counts this season may allow the Jets to save cap space in the offseason by restructuring or releasing one of their pricey veterans, John Franklin-Myers or Carl Lawson (with Lawson far more likely due to his decreased production and minimal dead cap).

That’s getting a little ahead of ourselves, though. The Jets are in the thick of the playoff race, and their young edge rushers have played an underrated but impressive role.

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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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mlesko73
mlesko73
2 months ago

Great observations, in general, and w/ data specifics.
I love these two guys. High motor is something we have sorely missed, and is so evident in other great players around the league (see Bosas and Watts).
IMO, we should play JJ on all downs except the most obvious passing downs. Same on right side w/ Clemons. As you say, if the opposition passes on these downs neither JJ nor Clemons is a slouch. Clemons’ bull rush is nearly unstoppable.
I still think JFM is best used inside (one of the writers here provided stats that bear this out via production, Nania?)
By any means, both JJ and M Clemons are draft successes and will provide the team w/ added flexibility come FA time. My vote would be to jettison Lawson.

Peter Buell
Peter Buell
2 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

Mosely and Lawson need to restructure in a very team friendly way or be replaced. Ik one of then, I guess Mosely based on the dead money you attributed to Lawson has a big dead cap number.
Back on more reasonable deals while bringing in younger guys.
I’d say Lawson is easier replaced because of the depth at DE but $$ might be needed to upgrade LB in the offseason.
Waaaay off topic: I’ll never understand trading Demario Davis and replacing him with Williamison a number of years ago.
Davis turned into one of the better mlb in the league and really helped lift the Saints D.

mlesko73
mlesko73
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Buell

We helped out the Saints so much w/ Jonathan Vilm we thought we’d repeat the process.
Losing those two guys and Abraham (more abt $$$) were absolute disasters.

Mike Palazzo
Mike Palazzo
2 months ago
Reply to  mlesko73

2009 & 2010 would have been a great time to have Abraham and Vilma.

Shaggy07
Shaggy07
2 months ago
Reply to  mlesko73

We did get Mangold with the Abraham pick so not a disaster.

Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago

Glad you pointed these guys out, both are legit prospects who have shown great upside. When I see Johnson out there, to me, he “looks the part” for some reason when I watch I can see a budding starter.

Clemmons’ motor is always on display and hard not to notice, even if he’s not always in the right place. It has been noted trading Martin was for Huff, but it also opened up some snaps for these guys who are getting better week by week. Let’s hope it continues because they are going to need them down the stretch starting with the next to really difficult road games.

Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

True about Johnson, I’m thinking more reps could be coming as he improves. He’s got work to do but I like what I see to this point.