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NY Jets: Quinton Jefferson’s polarizing skill set could alter the DL

Quinton Jefferson, NY Jets, Seahawks, Stats, Film
Quinton Jefferson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Complete breakdown of new Jets DT Quinton Jefferson: Strengths, weaknesses, role, usage, and more

The New York Jets have signed defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, addressing one of their biggest needs on defense. As the roster currently stands, Jefferson projects to start alongside Quinnen Williams in the Jets’ 4-3 defensive front.

Let’s get to know everything about Jefferson as a player.

Career background

Jefferson just turned 30 years old on March 31. The Pittsburgh, PA native was drafted out of Maryland by the Seattle Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. Jefferson played four years in Seattle before spending one year with the Bills (2020) and one year with the Raiders (2021). He returned to Seattle for the 2022 season.

Durability

Jefferson offers a strong track record of durability. He has not missed a game since 2019 and has only missed two games over the past five seasons.

Physical profile

  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 291 pounds (15th percentile)
  • Arm length: 33.375 inches (57th percentile among DT)
  • Hand size: 8.875 inches (2nd percentile)
  • 40-yard dash: 4.95s (82nd percentile)
  • 10-yard split: 1.69s (83rd percentile)
  • Vertical jump: 29 inches (46th percentile)
  • 3-cone drill: 7.95s (14th percentile)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.37s (91st percentile)
  • Bench press: 24 reps (26th percentile)
  • Relative Athletic Score (RAS): 8.06 out of 10

As a smaller defensive tackle with excellent athleticism, Jefferson is an ideal fit for the Jets’ aggressive defensive line.

The Jets prefer athletic defensive linemen who can fire off the ball and explode into the backfield. Jefferson fits the bill. While the aforementioned testing numbers were recorded seven years ago, Jefferson remained an upper-echelon athlete for the DT position in his age-29 season.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jefferson recorded an average pass rush get-off time of 0.99 seconds in 2022, which ranked 29th-fastest out of 132 qualified defensive tackles (79th percentile). This metric measures how long it takes for a defensive lineman to cross the line of scrimmage after the ball is snapped.

Usage

In addition to his athletic profile, Jefferson is also a good fit for the Jets’ defense because he has been used in an extremely similar fashion to how the Jets used Sheldon Rankins last year. Jefferson is ready to fill the exact role that opened when Rankins signed with the Texans.

Here is a breakdown of where Jefferson lined up on the Seahawks’ defensive line in 2022 (ranks among 140 qualified DT):

  • Edge: 4.9% of defensive snaps (37th)
  • Over the tackle (4i or 4-technique): 46.5% (11th)
  • Over the guard (2i, 2, or 3-technique): 47.7% (108th)
  • Over the center (1-technique or NT): 0.4% (134th)

And here is a look at Rankins’ distribution:

  • Edge: 1.6% of defensive snaps (66th)
  • Over the tackle (4i or 4-technique): 49.1% (7th)
  • Over the guard (2i, 2, or 3-technique): 43.2% (117th)
  • Over the center (1-technique or NT): 6.1% (75th)

The main reason Jefferson and Rankins were used so similarly is that they were both among the leaders in snaps lined up over the tackle. Rankins (49.1%, 7th) and Jefferson (46.5%, 11th) both ranked near the very top in the frequency at which they aligned over the tackle. The league average for DTs is only 21.3%.

I ran a formula that compared the snap distributions of 139 qualified defensive tackles to Rankins. Jefferson was the fourth-most similarly-used defensive tackle to Rankins out of those 139 qualifiers.

Quinton-Jefferson-NY-Jets-Stats

There’s yet another area in which Jefferson is a shoo-in fit to replace Rankins: They both primarily played on the left side of the defensive line.

Rankins played 86.9% of his snaps on the left side of the Jets’ defensive line in 2022. Jefferson’s lean was not as stark, but he did still favor the left side as he played 69.1% of his snaps over there. He should be ready to fill in for Rankins as the Jets’ starting LDT while Quinnen Williams maintains his spot as the RDT (Williams played 88.4% of his snaps on the right side).

Role

Jefferson was only listed as a starter in three of his 17 games last season, but he played 565 snaps (33.2 per game) and appeared on 49% of Seattle’s defensive snaps. That’s not far off from Rankins, who averaged 37.2 snaps at a 55% rate.

The Seahawks heavily leaned toward using Jefferson in passing situations. Jefferson faced a passing play on 63.6% of his defensive snaps, which was the 20th-highest rate out of 140 qualifiers.

This was nothing new for Jefferson, as his career pass-run split is actually even more drastic: 66.4% of his career snaps came on a passing play. For reference on how high that is, it would have placed ninth-highest out of 140 qualifiers in 2022.

This is one area where Jefferson isn’t a perfect match for Rankins, as Rankins was utilized in a much more balanced role last season. Rankins played 56.6% of his snaps against the pass, ranking 59th out of 140. That’s close to the league average for defensive tackles, which was 55.8%. Rankins’ solid play in both phases allowed the Jets to trust him in any situation.

There is a good reason Jefferson’s role has leaned so heavily toward the passing game throughout his career.

Outstanding vs. the pass, poor vs. the run

The explanation for Jefferson’s stark pass-run snap distribution is simple: He’s great against the pass but struggles against the run.

Pass rushing success

Jefferson is coming off a tremendous year in the passing game. He ranked 16th among defensive tackles in total pressures (43) despite placing 41st in pass rush snaps (360). His pressure rate of 11.67% ranked fifth-best among qualified defensive tackles:

  1. Javon Hargrave: 12.58% – 57 pressures on 453 pass rush snaps
  2. Chris Jones: 12.42% – 77 on 620
  3. Quinnen Williams: 12.38% – 52 on 420
  4. Dexter Lawrence: 12.28% – 63 on 513
  5. Quinton Jefferson: 11.67% – 42 on 360
  6. Cameron Heyward: 11.65% – 58 on 498
  7. Morgan Fox: 11.24% – 40 on 356
  8. DeForest Buckner: 10.79% – 56 on 519
  9. J.J. Watt: 10.71% – 56 on 523
  10. Maliek Collins: 10.57% – 37 on 350

Quinnen Williams placed two spots higher at No. 3. With Jefferson coming to New York, the Jets now have two of the top five most efficient interior pressure producers from 2022 – forming a potentially devastating pass-rush duo.

Jefferson also had success in the sack department. He finished the year with a career-high 5.5 sacks. His sack rate of 1.67% ranked 16th out of 140 qualifiers. Williams ranked first in this category at 3.10%.

While the 2022 season was easily the best of Jefferson’s career in terms of both pressure rate and sack rate – meaning it was an outlier that he might not be likely to replicate – his career pass rushing track record is still impressive. His career pressure rate is 9.57%, which, for reference, still would have placed 19th out of 140 qualified defensive tackles in 2022. His career sack rate of 1.18% would rank 38th out of 140.

Jefferson might not replicate his top-tier 2022 success, but his career-long consistency allows the Jets to feel confident that he will at least be a well-above-average pass rusher in 2023.

Run defense struggles

The flip side of Jefferson’s game is his run defense.

In 2022, Jefferson only managed to collect seven run stops (116th among DT) over 206 snaps against the run (68th). His run-stop rate of 3.3% ranked 133rd out of 140 qualified defensive tackles.

Jefferson was unable to make game-changing stops deep in the backfield. His average tackle against the run was made 3.3 yards downfield, which ranked 121st. This suggests that many of his tackles were clean-up duty after already allowing the runner to gain sufficient yardage. The league average for defensive tackles was 2.4 yards.

While Jefferson’s 2022 numbers against the run were slightly worse than his usual career averages, he has still tended to be a significantly below-average run defender throughout his career. His career run-stop rate of 5.2% would have ranked 105th out of 140 in 2022, and his career average depth-of-tackle is 2.7 yards, which would have ranked 84th.

Quinton Jefferson gives the Jets a starting-level DT, but his polarizing skill set should demand a change in New York’s approach

In Quinton Jefferson, the Jets have finally acquired the starting-level defensive tackle they have been pining for since Rankins signed with Houston. Jefferson is a perfect fit for the Jets’ scheme and for Rankins’ particular role. He is an excellent pass rusher who pushes the ceiling of the Jets’ already-great pass rush to an even higher level. It’s exciting to think about what Jefferson and Quinnen Williams could accomplish as a pass rushing duo.

However, Jefferson’s struggles against the run are something the Jets will have to work around. The main reason Rankins was such a crucial piece for the Jets’ defensive line last season was that he played well as a run defender. Rankins may not have been dominant in either phase, but he was solid in both phases, making him a valuable starter who could be effective no matter the game situation.

Jefferson doesn’t offer the same appeal. While Jefferson’s pass rushing is more impactful than Rankins’, his run defense is much weaker, which could be problematic if he handles a starting role. Starting defensive tackles will inevitably face plenty of run plays. It will be hard to hide Jefferson from run plays if he is asked to start in the exact same role Rankins played last season.

This is why I think it is essential that the Jets alter their approach for the DT rotation in 2023.

Last year, the Jets’ DT rotation was quite rigid. Rankins started at LDT and Williams started at RDT. Solomon Thomas backed up Rankins at LDT and Nathan Shepherd backed up Williams at RDT. Usually, both backups would rotate in together.

Other than moving John Franklin-Myers inside on third downs, the Jets rarely made rotations at DT based on game situations – the rotation was generally based primarily on rest. All four of the primary DTs (Williams, Rankins, Shepherd, Thomas) had fairly normal pass-run splits that did not stray too far from the league average.

With Jefferson coming in, I think the Jets should start basing their rotation on pass-run situations to a more significant degree. This is what Jefferson’s teams have done with him throughout his career to keep him effective. In New York, if the Jets stick with their same plan for the defensive line, Jefferson will play more snaps against the run than he ever has before, and the Jets will likely pay for it.

The Jets will probably balance out the addition of Jefferson by adding a DT who specializes against the run – hence their visit with Al Woods, who is the polar opposite of Jefferson in terms of physical makeup and strengths/weaknesses. This only further increases the appeal of molding the DT rotation to be more reliant on pass-run situations than merely making occasional swaps for rest purposes.

Jefferson needs a pass-heavy role for his effectiveness to be maximized, and a guy like Woods would need a run-heavy role to be maximized. New York can’t expect Jefferson to play too many early-down snaps like Rankins did, and they can’t expect a Woods-type to play too many pass-rush snaps like each of the Jets’ two backups were routinely asked to play (Shepherd and Thomas).

Signing Jefferson is a good move for the Jets, but to get the best out of him, they need to make some changes to their management of the defensive line rotation. Electing to fill their DT hole with a heavily-skewed player like Jefferson (rather than a more balanced player) alters the entire outlook for the defensive line.

Despite the risks of choosing this path, it offers a tantalizing ceiling. If the Jets manage everything correctly, they could end up having a much more well-rounded group of DTs than they did in 2022 – setting the tone for an even better defensive line.

The next step is to complement Jefferson by adding a strong run-stopping DT like Woods. Then, the Jets must make proper adjustments to the rotation, doing the best they can to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of their players. Get these two steps done, and the Jets will be in business.

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Jimjets
Jimjets
1 year ago

Excellent signing. How’s Tanzel Smart against the run? If Lawson stays as coach suggested we can also get more out of Clemons inside and I imagine they add someone in the draft. Looking good!

DFargas
DFargas
1 year ago

The Jets have seemed pretty cavalier about defensing the run since JD became GM IMHO. I thought maybe this could be because the opponents in their division lack strong running games. The 2022 per game statistics online show the Pats, Fish, and Jets were 25, 26 and 27th, respectively, in the league in rushing yards per game, and the Bills were 7th, although I’m sure Josh Allen was a huge part of that. So, maybe this is part of the calculation, but Bill Belichick does not miss a beat, and his Patriots always gash the Jets badly on the ground. Stevenson, particularly, always performs like he received a run free card before games signed by Woody Johnson. I’m not going to feel comfortable about this Jets defense until they shore up their run defense in a serious, not a token, way.

Matt Galemmo
1 year ago

“The next step is to complement Jefferson by adding a strong run-stopping DT”

Is this an innovation by the Jets, or do other teams already use a platoon like this? I like the idea, as it is typical to try and make a team one-dimensional, and with Jefferson/run-stuffing DT platoon you can decide if you want to make them run or throw. Plus in the second half you can use Jefferson when winning and RSDT when losing.

So the theory seems good, but if other teams don’t already do it then I have to question if there isn’t a problem in execution we’re not seeing.

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