New York Jets lose the Calais Campbell sweepstakes: Here’s who they should pivot to
Free agent defensive tackle Calais Campbell has elected to sign with the Atlanta Falcons, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Campbell was scheduled to meet with the New York Jets on Thursday. Atlanta snatched up the six-time Pro Bowler before he could get to New Jersey.
With Campbell off the board, the Jets’ search for a new starting defensive tackle will forge onward. They still need a quality player to start beside Quinnen Williams after allowing Williams’ former partner in the starting lineup, Sheldon Rankins, to sign with the Houston Texans.
Some good options remain on the free agent market. Here are five players New York should consider targeting after missing out on Campbell.
Quinton Jefferson, Seattle Seahawks (Week 1 age: 30)
Schematically, Quinton Jefferson is a fantastic fit to fill Rankins’ role in the Jets’ defense.
I ran a formula that compared 139 qualified defensive tackles to Rankins, revealing how closely their 2022 usage matched Rankins’ usage in terms of how often they lined up at each of the different spots on the defensive line. Jefferson was the fourth-most similarly-used defensive tackle to Rankins out of those 139 qualifiers. Among free agents, Jefferson ranked second behind only Fletcher Cox – who the Jets aggressively pursued until Cox took less money to stay in Philadelphia.
The main reason Jefferson and Rankins compared so closely was their high frequency of lining up over the offensive tackle. Rankins played 49.1% of his snaps at either 4i-technique (over the tackle’s inside shoulder) or 4-technique (head-up against the tackle), which ranked seventh-highest among 140 qualifiers. Jefferson was only four spots behind Rankins, placing 11th with a rate of 46.5%.
At 6-foot-4 and 291 pounds with a 4.92 forty time (82nd percentile among DTs), Jefferson is a smaller, more athletic defensive tackle who would fit the Jets’ penetrating 4-3 scheme. Jefferson would bring high-level pass-rushing skills to New York, but his run defense would be a downgrade compared to Rankins.
Jefferson’s pass rushing efficiency was elite in 2022. He ranked fifth among defensive tackles with a pressure rate of 11.7%. That was only two spots behind Quinnen Williams, who placed third at 12.4%. In total, Jefferson had 42 pressures, which placed him 14th at the position.
However, Jefferson placed 133rd at his position with a run-stop rate of 3.3%. He only had seven run stops in 17 games.
If the Jets are willing to compromise their interior run-stopping to try and build a dominant pass rush, Jefferson makes sense. He’s a great scheme fit and a very talented pass rusher, but he just doesn’t provide the two-phase reliability that made Rankins so valuable in 2022.
Then again, Rankins’ run defense was poor in 2021 before he enjoyed an unexpected turnaround in 2022, so it’s not necessarily a guarantee that Rankins would have provided the same level of run support if he were re-signed. With this in mind, perhaps the Jets will keep their focus on the passing game and try to move closer to becoming the league’s best pass-rushing team. Signing Jefferson would aid greatly in that quest.
Jefferson’s poor run defense is tough to overlook, though. The Jets’ defense has more room to improve against the run than against the pass (they were 4th in pass defense DVOA and 10th against the run), so in that case, maybe they will prioritize run defense when looking for potential new defensive tackles.
Chris Wormley, Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 1 age: 29)
Chris Wormley posted a Relative Athletic Score of 9.74 out of 10 when he was coming out of Michigan in 2017. Like Jefferson, he is a tremendous athlete who would fit the Jets’ desire for explosive, penetrating defensive linemen. Wormley is also a solid fit to fill Rankins’ role as he ranked 37th out of 140 defensive tackles with 32.0% of his snaps lined up over the OT last season.
However, Wormley’s skill set is the opposite of Jefferson’s. Wormley is a formidable run-stopper who will help the Jets stay sturdy on the interior, but he is not much of a pass rusher.
Wormley ranked 13th among 140 qualified defensive tackles with a run-stop rate of 9.9%. He picked up 14 run stops in 13 games despite playing a limited role. Wormley was also an extremely reliable finisher, missing just one tackle against the run all season.
As a pass rusher, though, Wormley ranked 81st out of 140 qualifiers with a 5.7% pressure rate, recording 11 pressures on the year.
Poona Ford, Seattle Seahawks (Week 1 age: 27)
Poona Ford is another good fit to fill Rankins’ role. He played alongside Quinton Jefferson in a Seattle defensive front that operates similarly to New York’s (after all, Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich both coached there together under Pete Carroll), which means he also played a lot of 4i-technique. Ford ranked as the 16th-most similarly used defensive tackle to Rankins out of 139 qualifiers.
Ford has been a regular starter for Seattle since 2019 and is generally considered a respectable player in both phases. Over the past three seasons, Ford had a pressure rate of 7.1%, which is essentially even with the 2022 league average of 7.0% for defensive tackles. Ford is also tied for 20th at his position with 20 tackles for loss since 2020.
Durability is another plus with Ford. He’s only missed one game in his career due to injury, which came back in 2019.
If the Jets are looking for an experienced, durable starter who might not offer any exciting traits but can provide competent play in both phases, Ford is a nice option.
Matt Ioannidis, Carolina Panthers (Week 1 age: 29)
Matt Ioannidis ranked as the 23rd-most similarly used DT to Rankins out of 139 qualifiers.
Ioannidis fits the Quinton Jefferson mold from a skill set perspective. While Ioannidis is much bigger than Jefferson, weighing in at 310 pounds, Ioannidis is another penetrating pass rusher who creates a lot of pressure in exchange for shaky run defense.
In 2022, Ioannidis ranked 16th out of 140 qualifiers with a 9.8% pressure rate. Outside of a rookie season where he barely played, Ioannidis has never posted a pressure rate below 9.0% in a single season. His career pressure rate is an outstanding 11.2%.
Against the run, Ioannidis placed 100th out of 140 qualifiers with a 5.5% run-stop rate in 2022. Ioannidis also tied for the fourth-most missed tackles against the run with seven.
Shelby Harris, Seattle Seahawks (Week 1 age: 32)
Yes, another Seahawk.
Shelby Harris was heavily used as a 3-technique in Seattle, so he’s not necessarily a shoo-in Rankins replacement in terms of how the two players were used last year. Still, Harris is worth including because he is coming off such a good year in both phases.
Out of 140 qualified defensive tackles, Harris ranked 18th in run-stop rate (9.4%) and 41st in pressure rate (8.2%).
As we mentioned earlier, it’s Rankins’ two-way effectiveness that made him a valuable player for the Jets’ defense last year. Rankins’ bread-and-butter has always been his pass rushing, but in 2022, he took a big leap as a run defender, doing a solid job of filling his gaps on the early downs.
Being able to survive in both phases is a crucial trait for a starting defensive tackle, as they have to face both pass plays and run plays quite often and cannot be hidden from one phase or the other. Because of Rankins’ improvement against the run, the Jets’ defense was excellent against both the pass and the run when they had all of their starting defensive linemen on the field.
Of all the players on this list, Harris is probably the most capable of matching Rankins’ two-way competence as a starter next to Quinnen Williams.
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