The addition of Al Woods could bring about major changes to the New York Jets’ philosophy at DT
After signing wide receiver Randall Cobb earlier in the day, Joe Douglas kept his foot on the gas pedal. The New York Jets are expected to sign former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods, according to SNY.
— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) May 3, 2023
Woods, 36, is a seasoned veteran with 13 years of NFL experience. At 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, Woods is a space-eating behemoth who boasts incredible strength and is best known for his run-stopping ability. He is the polar opposite of the Jets’ typical prototype for defensive tackles: smaller, faster, more explosive guys who can get downhill and rush the quarterback.
In 2022, Woods ranked 34th out of 150 qualified defensive tackles (78th percentile) with a run-stop rate of 8.5%, making 18 run stops on 212 run-defense snaps. Woods rarely makes an impact as a pass rusher; he only has 9.0 sacks and 20 QB hits in 155 career games. That’s an average of 1.0 sack and 2.0 QB hits per 17 games.
With the addition of Woods, the Jets have finally accounted for the losses of Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shepherd to fill out their four-man defensive tackle rotation. Woods joins Quinnen Williams, Quinton Jefferson, and Solomon Thomas in the Jets’ projected rotation on the interior.
It’s a unique lineup – constructed in a way that could demand significant changes by the coaching staff.
The Jets’ rotation now features two defensive tackles whose skill sets lean heavily toward one phase of the game. Woods, as previously mentioned, is a run-stopper who does little in the passing game. The other one-dimensional player is Jefferson, who creates pressure at a top-tier level as a pass rusher but struggles mightily against the run.
Considering the one-sided skill sets of Woods and Jefferson, it will be interesting to see if the Jets alter their defensive tackle rotation accordingly. New York will not want to have Woods on the field in too many passing situations and vice versa for Jefferson.
Throughout their careers, Woods and Jefferson’s teams have utilized them in a proper fashion to maximize their skill sets. The Seahawks exemplified how to do this in 2022 while both players were on the team. Woods played only 42.2% of his snaps against the pass, ranking eighth-lowest out of 140 qualified DTs (position average: 55.8%). Jefferson played 63.6% of his snaps against the pass, ranking 20th-highest out of 140 qualifiers – and that was actually a few points lower than his career average (66.3%).
However, over the past couple of years under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets have not utilized their defensive tackles in this fashion. The Jets have employed a more rigid approach with their defensive tackles. Essentially, they’ve had an A-team duo and a B-team duo who usually come on and off the field together. The rotations are usually made for rest purposes and are not molded to fit certain likely-pass or likely-run situations.
Williams and Rankins were the starting duo while Shepherd and Thomas were the backup duo. The Jets typically rotated Williams and Rankins out at the same time, subbing in Shepherd and Thomas for a few plays or a full drive to give the starters rest. Run/pass situations didn’t seem to affect the Jets’ rotational decisions all that much.
For instance, in 2022, each of the Jets’ top four defensive tackles ranged from 50.2% of their snaps vs. the pass (Nathan Shepherd) to 60.9% (Quinnen Williams). Nobody was utilized in nearly as extreme of a fashion as Woods and Jefferson are required to be used.
The Jets will have to alter their philosophy in 2023. They cannot afford to have Woods on the field for too many pass-rush snaps or Jefferson on the field for too many run-defense snaps. New York must ditch the A-team/B-team swaps and start rotating based on the situation.
The ideal plan should be to sub in Woods for high-likelihood rushing situations (first/second down, short-yardage, goal-line) and sub in Jefferson for high-likelihood passing situations (third down, second-and-long, playing with a lead).
This could be a strong unit if the Jets adjust their DT rotation to accommodate the strengths and weaknesses of the players. And it seems likely the Jets are willing to make the necessary changes. Woods is such a drastic departure from the Jets’ usual preferences at DT that it would be difficult to imagine they signed him without planning to use him in his ideal role. Throw in the signing of Jefferson, another one-dimensional player, and it seems clear the Jets are preparing to make major changes to how they manage their DT rotation.
Alongside a first-team All-Pro in Quinnen Williams, the Jets now have an excellent run-stuffer in Woods and one of the league’s most efficient interior pass rushers in Jefferson. It’s a solid unit on paper. To ensure it performs at a solid level, the challenge for Saleh and Ulbrich is to mask Woods and Jefferson’s weaknesses while emphasizing their strengths. If the Jets can get that done, the interior of the Jets’ defensive line will be in good shape.
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