Tony Adams, Jermaine Johnson, NY Jets
Tony Adams, Jermaine Johnson, New York Jets, Getty Images

With the New York Jets remaining inactive on the FS market, could they end up betting on Tony Adams?

Entering the 2023 offseason, the free safety position was one of the New York Jets’ top needs. Their previous starter, Lamarcus Joyner, was set to become a free agent – and he was arguably their worst defensive starter in 2022, anyway.

Fast forward to April 4 and the Jets are still yet to add a free safety. They did trade for Baltimore Ravens safety Chuck Clark, but Clark is a box safety, not someone you want playing a ton of reps in the deep part of the field. The same goes for Jordan Whitehead, who remains on the Jets’ roster (despite being an appealing cap-casualty candidate) after starting at strong safety in 2022.

There is plenty of time for the Jets to sign a veteran starter at free safety, and some experienced starters do remain on the market, such as John Johnson and Adrian Amos.

However, as time drags on and the Jets’ free safety hole continues to remain unfilled, it is becoming more and more likely that the team’s lack of activity is a sign they are confident one of their most unheralded young players can step up and seize the role: Tony Adams.

Adams, 24, was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois in 2022. After an impressive preseason, Adams surprisingly made the Jets’ opening-week roster – which is an enormous vote of confidence from the coaching staff.

For the first 16 weeks of the year, Adams mostly appeared on special teams while making sporadic cameo appearances on defense as a slot cornerback. Adams played in nine of the Jets’ first 15 games (he was a healthy scratch in the six games he missed) and logged 123 snaps on special teams compared to just 14 snaps on defense.

But in the Jets’ Week 17 game against the Seahawks, Joyner left with a hip injury in the first quarter, and Adams would take Joyner’s place at free safety. Adams played every snap throughout the remainder of the Seahawks game and would start at free safety in the Jets’ season finale against Miami, playing every snap until he left with a concussion in the third quarter.

Adams played 104 defensive snaps over the Jets’ final two games of the season and performed admirably. He made 12 tackles – most notably, he provided strong support against the run as he took precise angles when charging downhill from his deep alignment. In coverage, Adams managed to avoid being targeted a single time over 50 coverage snaps. Adams also avoided committing any penalties.

Seen below are three stellar tackles that exemplify Adams’ impact against the run.

In each play, Adams takes an excellent angle from his deep alignment, displays great closing speed, and then makes a clean finish in space to prevent the runner from gaining any extra yardage beyond the contact point.

Adams’ coverage skills were also impressive. He displayed good instincts and sound fundamentals.

Here, Adams does a nice job of navigating route concepts with Jordan Whitehead. After scanning underneath and confirming both of the receivers on his side of the field are settling down in the shallow area, Adams turns his attention to the other side of the field to continue searching for potential threats. He locates the post route coming into his zone and picks it up, matching the receiver downfield. Whitehead leaves the deep route for Adams and drives down on the dig route over the middle.

This next play is another example of good recognition in coverage, which is promising to see from a rookie safety.

This receiver tries to beat Adams (who is playing the deep half to the field side) with a post-corner route, but Adams denies it. The anticipation he shows is outstanding. Long before the receiver even starts breaking outside, Adams is already speed-turning and transitioning outside to cover the corner route. Adams puts himself in the perfect spot to eliminate the route, which proves to be important since Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson is clearly looking at the route and appears eager to make the throw. Instead, Thompson is prompted to hold the ball thanks to Adams’ positioning.

I think Adams’ anticipation on that play is a product of tremendous film study and translating it to on-field recognition. Adams starts turning outside at least two full steps before the receiver gives any sort of inclination he is going to break out. It seems likely that Adams saw this formation/concept on film, recognized it pre-snap, formed an idea of what might be coming, and then confirmed his expectations post-snap – allowing him to run this route for the receiver. Outstanding stuff from a rookie in his first start.

Another intriguing aspect of Adams’ coverage repertoire is his ability to cover in the slot.

Adams drops down into the slot to man up against the No. 3 receiver on the field side. He stays with the receiver step-for-step on the seam route.

Adams started the regular season as a backup slot corner, as he lined up in the slot on 10 of his first 14 defensive snaps. But even after taking over for Joyner, Adams was still used in the slot relatively often for a safety. Adams lined up in the slot on 23 of his 104 snaps from Weeks 17-18. That’s 22.1%, more than double the rate Joyner played (10.4%). Adams’ slot versatility is just another intriguing trait he brings to the position.

Betting on an unproven UDFA is risky, but Adams’ tape inspires confidence

Will the Jets actually bet on Adams as their sole solution at free safety going into training camp? That certainly seems unlikely.

As intriguing as Adams may have looked in 2022, it would be negligent roster management to hand the starting job to an undrafted free agent based on a two-game sample size. I think the Jets will add a free safety who can compete with Adams for the starting role, whether it be a veteran signing or a draft pick.

However, what does seem likely at this point is that the Jets will not add a big-ticket free safety who will lock Adams out of an opportunity to earn the starting role. Barring something unforeseen, the best the Jets will do is a cheap veteran stopgap or a non-first-round draft pick, which means the door will be open for Adams to win the job.

And I do believe the Jets’ faith in Adams is the main reason New York has not been more aggressive at this position. His performance at the end of 2022 was legitimately promising, and as we know, the Jets’ defensive coaches have shown they are supremely confident in their ability to develop young players.

Even before he showed flashes over the final two games, Adams was already a beloved player among the Jets’ coaches. You don’t make the opening roster as an undrafted free agent without impressing the coaching staff to an extreme degree.

After forging a late-season breakout that proved the coaches right for believing in him, it’s easy to imagine that Adams might be a player the Jets are smitten with as we enter 2023.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at] - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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2 months ago

Micheal – great article as usual. Hopefully Adams makes some plays this season. Based on a Raven’s channel all_22_films it may be that the Jets see him as a do-everything safety but also a more than capable deep safety based on his usage last season.