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2023 NY Jets sack predictions: Will they take another jump?

Quinnen Williams, Sacks, NY Jets, Josh Allen
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets put up many sacks as a team in 2022, but they’re aiming to exceed that in 2023

Can the next John Abraham please step up for the New York Jets?

As good as the team’s defensive line was in 2022, they still did not have that truly dominant edge rusher on a consistent basis. The biggest threat on the line was clearly Quinnen Williams from the inside, who led the way with 12 sacks. Since pressure rates from the interior are lower as a whole than from the outside, that resulted in less pass rush consistency than the Jets would have liked. Though the 45 sacks they put up tied for seventh-best in the league, many of the sacks were due to coverage rather than quick pressure.

Furthermore, turning pressure into sacks was an issue for the Jets at times last year. While consistent pressure can be considered more important than just sack totals, that is not to say that quarterback takedowns are unimportant. Especially in a league where the trend is toward mobile quarterbacks who can escape pressure, there is increased importance in turning a hurry into a sack.

The Jets have swapped Vinny Curry for Will McDonald, Sheldon Rankins for Quinton Jefferson, and Nathan Shepherd for Al Woods. There are also several other factors that can change the team’s pass rush fortunes.

Will the Jets be able to exceed that 45-sack total and take the next step to become a pass-rushing nightmare?

Health

Despite taking a pay cut, Carl Lawson still figures to hold a prominent role on the Jets’ defense. The McDonald pick will likely dig into his playing time, but efficiency was always the name of Lawson’s game prior to his Achilles tear in 2021 training camp. A reinjury still limited him in 2022, although he played every game.

If Lawson is now fully healthy (which he says he is), perhaps he can get close to his previous heights as a pass rusher. Although his short arms often prevent actual sacks, he ranked fourth in the NFL from 2017-20 with a 14.3% pressure rate. The Jets got glimpses of how disruptive he can be (against Miami, for example), wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and allowing teammates to get home, as well.

Although Lawson was second on the team with seven sacks last season, that came on an 11.3% pressure rate, which ranked 36th out of 77 qualified edge rushers (55th percentile). From a dominant disruptor, he fell to merely average. He did still have a pretty high rate of sacks and hits—5.56% of his snaps resulted in hitting or sacking the QB, which ranked 11th—but his overall impact was reduced.

I think that the Jets would prefer the high-pressure Lawson even with a lower number of sacks. His presence from the blind side can allow the other Jets defensive linemen to get home. Pass-rushing efficiency from Lawson would go a long way. There is reason to believe that in Year 2 post-second Achilles surgery, Lawson can return to his dominant form.

Lawson himself is supremely confident of this, guaranteeing a 10-sack season. I don’t think he needs to be (or will have the chance to be, given the Jets’ logjam along the edge) that sack guy. He just needs to be closer to the player he was in Cincinnati.

Game situations

Bryce Huff‘s 13.6 defensive snaps per game in 2022 demonstrate a key point: the Jets did not face that many obvious passing situations as a defense. So do John Franklin-Myers‘ 188 snaps inside, or 11.1 per game.

The hope for the Jets is that they play with more leads this season, resulting in more obvious pass-rushing situations. That will allow the Jets’ plethora of pass rushers to cook.

Here were the pass-rushing statistics and ranks of the Jets’ defensive linemen in true pass sets last season (qualifiers are adjusted based on the number of pass rush snaps each defender had).

True Pass Set Statistics

  • Franklin-Myers: 21.8% pressure rate (97th percentile), 22.5% pass rush win rate (90th percentile)
  • Lawson: 8.1% sack-plus-hit rate (90th percentile), 21.5% pass rush win rate (87th percentile)
  • Huff: 26.5% pressure rate (99th percentile), 8.5% sack-plus-hit rate (94th percentile), 28.4% pass rush win rate (98th percentile)
  • McDonald: 39.6% pass rush win rate (99th percentile), 20.8% pass rush productivity (99th percentile)
  • Johnson: 22.9% pass rush win rate (93rd percentile)
  • Clemons: 7.0% sack-plus-hit rate (87th percentile)
  • Quinnen Williams: 21.1% pass rush win rate (95th percentile), 19.9% pressure rate (99th percentile), 11.0% sack-plus-hit rate (100th percentile)
  • Quinton Jefferson: 15.0% pressure rate (77th percentile)

That is some dominant pass rush from all sides with a good mix of abilities. Some of the players are good starters, getting in the quarterback’s face; others are good finishers, using a strong motor to grind out sacks and hits on longer-developing plays. A few do both well, like Williams, Huff, and, surprisingly, Lawson.

If the Jets can force opponents into obvious passing situations, their prior results would indicate a devastating outcome for offenses.

Efficiency

The Jets’ heavy defensive line rotation means that it’s difficult for any individual player to rack up massive numbers. Williams’ performance was all the more impressive when considering that he did so on just 420 pass rush snaps, which ranked 21st among defensive tackles.

(Incidentally, the top four interior defensive linemen in terms of pass rush snaps—Chris Jones, Christian Wilkins, Jeffery Simmons, and Daron Payne—all either received or are slated to receive massive contract extensions this offseason. Dexter Lawrence, the other defensive tackle to receive an extension, ranked ninth in pass rush snaps.)

Still, that is why utilizing rate statistics provides a more complete picture of how a pass rusher performed. Compiling sacks is nice, but putting them in context is important.

If the Jets’ pass rushers are efficient, they can end up with a high cumulative sack total even if each individual player does not light up the stat sheet. Last year, Williams was the only Jets player to exceed 10 sacks, and Lawson was the only other one to even get seven. Their third-most productive pass rusher, Franklin-Myers, had just five sacks. Still, they managed to pull together 45 total takedowns.

Usage

Related to efficiency is how the Jets plan to use their pass rushers. Franklin-Myers and Clemons both seem slated to move inside on passing downs, while Jefferson is a pass rush specialist. At the same time, the Jets aren’t taking Williams off the field on those downs, which creates a lot of traffic. Throw in Huff and McDonald and you have a group of players who can all pin their ears back and rush.

Franklin-Myers is a better pass rusher from the inside, but the Jets seem content to leave him on the edge due to his fantastic run defense there. That will most likely cap his pass rush productivity. Clemons did not do much as a pass rusher from the edge last season but showed flashes of dominance in the preseason from the interior; will he be able to carry that over with his bulked-up frame?

Johnson, meanwhile, seems slated to get more reps as a former first-round pick. But will his pass rush actually improve? If not, are they keeping him on the field over Huff, a more productive pass rusher but a far inferior run defender?

How much Huff and McDonald play can also affect the Jets’ sack totals. Huff didn’t necessarily light up the stat sheet with sacks, but he often came around the edge and allowed Williams and Franklin-Myers to dominate inside. Will the Jets really keep him as just a pass rush specialist playing 13 snaps a game? If he plays more, will his productivity dip?

This discussion will impact the Jets’ sack totals.

Coverage

Joe Blewett showed in his game reviews how the Jets’ coverage and pass rush often bailed each other out. At times, great plays from Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed allowed coverage sacks; at others, one of them was beaten, but Williams or another pass rusher got home to cover for the cornerback.

Although Gardner and Reed are still the most dominant cornerback duo in the league, the Jets’ linebacker and safety coverage is a lot more suspect. Will the Jets’ coverage be able to bail out their pass rushers this season? Or will teams find ways to run quick screens and crossing patterns past an aggressive defense, as the Patriots did, and not allow the Jets’ pass rushers to get home?

Player totals

I’m going to use Michael Nania’s projected snap count rates as a guide to predict how many sacks I think each player will have. Although this is Michael’s ideal rather than a prediction of what the Jets will actually do, I think it’s close enough as a baseline. Note that in 2022, I predicted that the Jets would have exactly 45 sacks, although the way I got there was wildly different from what actually occurred.

The Jets had roughly 1,100 defensive snaps in 2022. Let’s give them 1,050 in 2023, in line with the 10th-most defensive snaps among teams in 2022. (That is likely too high.) We’ll go in order of projected snap count.

Quinnen Williams

There is always a possibility of regression for Williams after his breakout 2023 season. However, barring injury (which is a concern with him), I believe he will reprise his role as a dominant interior defensive lineman.

Michael projected that Williams will get 73% of the defensive snaps in 2023, which would bring him to 767 snaps. In 2022, 60.8% of Williams’ snaps were pass plays; using that same rate, he would have 466 pass rush snaps.

Here are Williams’ sack rates over the first four years of his career: 0.72%, 1.85%, 1.66%, 2.86%. Obviously, 2022 represented a huge leap from what he had ever produced prior. Let’s say that Williams’ sack rate dips slightly to 2.50%. That would still give him 11.65 sacks. We’ll round that and give him 11.5 sacks in 2023.

John Franklin-Myers

Last season, I greatly overestimated the number of sacks that Franklin-Myers would have (10) compared to what he actually produced (five). Part of that mistake was assuming that he would play the majority of his snaps on the interior rather than on the edge. Michael projects that Franklin-Myers will play 58% of the total defensive snaps—41% on the edge and 17% on the interior. This is exactly the split he played in 2022.

58% of the snaps would give him 609 total defensive snaps. In 2022, 59.3% of Franklin-Myers’ reps were against the pass, which would yield 361 pass rush snaps. Because we’re using the same edge/interior split as in 2022, it is fair to assume a similar production level from Franklin-Myers in 2023. His sack rate in 2022 was 1.32%. A similar rate would yield 4.76 sacks, which we’ll round up to another 5.0 sacks.

Jermaine Johnson

Johnson performed about as I expected in his rookie season: he was a strong run defender who struggled to generate a consistent pass rush. It didn’t help that he played fewer true pass sets than average.

A 45% snap share would be a significant boost for Johnson, as he played 35% of the Jets’ defensive snaps post-bye (once Martin was traded). That would give him 473 snaps in 2023. In 2022, 48.9% of Johnson’s snaps were pass-rushing reps, which would translate to 231 pass-rush snaps. Let’s bump that up to 250.

Johnson had a 1.66% sack rate in 2022. Let’s say he makes a very modest jump to 1.75%. There is a distinct possibility that his sack rate will actually go down considering that they were mostly on extended reps and not plays on which he beat his man directly. Still, at 1.75%, that would bring him to 4.375 sacks, which we’ll round to 4.5.

Carl Lawson

While Lawson played a full slate of games in 2022, the fallout of his twice-torn Achilles still hovered over the season, making it far from injury-free. The trick for Lawson will be to regain his Cincinnati form while also turning some of his pressure into sacks.

Michael predicted a 43% snap count for Lawson, which would give him 452 snaps. Last year, 65.2% of his snaps were pass plays; I’m going to shear that down to 60% because of McDonald, giving Lawson 271 pass snaps. In 2022, Lawson’s sack rate was 1.62%, which is similar to his career rate of 1.58%. However, let’s say Lawson can be more efficient with fewer snaps and get his sack rate closer to his 2017 form of 1.87% due to better health. That would give Lawson 5.0 sacks.

Quinton Jefferson

At 35% of the snaps, Jefferson would get 368 total snaps. In 2022, 63.6% of his reps were against the pass; I’m going to increase that to 70% because I think the Jets will want to avoid him on the field inside on run plays at all costs. Al Woods is the obvious candidate to play inside on running downs, but even Franklin-Myers and Clemons are likely better against the run on the interior than Jefferson. This would give Jefferson 258 pass rush snaps.

Jefferson had 5.5 sacks in 2022 on 353 pass rush reps, a 1.53% rate. However, that was the highest number of his career by a wide margin, as he hadn’t exceeded even 1% since 2017 (when he had one sack on 78 pass rush reps). Despite having strong interior pressure numbers, Jefferson has not been a sack guy throughout his career with a 1% sack rate. Therefore, we’ll assume a regression to the mean at 1%. That would give him 2.58 sacks, which I’ll round to 2.5.

Micheal Clemons

Michael has Clemons playing 35% of the snaps—28% inside and 7% outside. From what Jeff Ulbrich said, it sounds like that might be more like 10% inside and 25% outside. Still, for the sake of this exercise, I’ll defer to Michael’s numbers. 35% of the snaps would give Clemons a total of 368 snaps. Although he had just 46.9% pass snaps in 2022, if he’s going to play some interior defensive line, let’s assume that number rises to 53%. That gives him 195 pass snaps.

Clemons had a 1.72% sack rate in 2022. I’m going to assume that the advantage of playing against guards will be offset by the fact that it is harder to get sacks from the inside due to double teams and leverage. Keeping his 1.72% rate would give him 3.35 sacks, which I’ll round to 3.5.

Bryce Huff

Michael has Huff getting a big bump in snap count from 19% to 33%. That would give him 347 total snaps, a leap from the 191 he had in 2022. I would assume that this would give him some more snaps on run defense by default; although his rate was 90.6% pass in 2022, it was a softer 61.8% in 2021 and 58.4% in 2020. Let’s go with 77.5% pass in 2023, giving him 269 pass rush snaps.

In 2022, Huff had a 2.02% sack rate. That will inevitably fall if he’s not playing exclusively on passing downs. His career rate is 1.35%. Let’s go in the middle of the two and say that his rate will be 1.69%; that would give him 4.5 sacks.

Al Woods

Woods is a run-first defensive tackle who likely won’t see that many pass rush reps. Michael gave him 30% of the snaps in 2023, which is 315. In 2022, 57.8% of Woods’ reps were against the run; I’m going to bump that up to 70% the same way I put Jefferson at 70% pass, which would give him 30% of snaps against the pass. That’s 95 pass rush snaps.

Woods posted a 1.28% sack rate in 2022. However, he has just nine career sacks on 1,716 pass rush attempts, a 0.52% rate. With the Jets, I assume that his rate will be similar to the latter number of 0.52%, which would give him 0.5 sacks.

Will McDonald

Michael gave McDonald 30% of the snaps, which is roughly where Johnson was at as a rookie in 2022. That would give him 315 snaps, the majority of which will likely come against the pass. In college, McDonald played 57.1% of his snaps against the pass; let’s increase that to 70% in his rookie year, or 221 snaps.

McDonald had an absurd 4.29% sack rate in college. That’s highly unlikely to translate over to the NFL. In his more disappointing senior season, he had a 1.92% sack rate. Let’s lower that to 1.75%, recognizing that Johnson was at 1.66% last season and McDonald is a superior pass rusher. That would give him 3.86 sacks, which we’ll round up to 4.0.

Solomon Thomas

Solomon Thomas was essentially a waste of space for the Jets last year, at least on the field. However, the team re-signed him, and we have to assume he’ll see some action. Michael gave him 15% of the snaps, or 158. 51% of Thomas’ snaps came against the pass in 2022, but I think that number is going to reduce to 40%, or 63 snaps.

Thomas has a 0.62% career sack rate, and it was at 0.26% in 2022. Split the difference at 0.44% and you get 0.277 sacks, which we’ll generously round up to another 0.5 sacks.

The rest of the pack

The Jets blitz the least of any team in the NFL, so other players compiling more than a sack or two is unlikely. Of the team’s other players, Quincy Williams is the most effective blitzer. He had three sacks on 29 pass rushes last season at a 10.3% sack rate. For his career, he has five sacks on 117 rushes, a more modest 4.3% rate. Assuming that Williams gets another 30 blitzes in 2023, he’d get 1.29 sacks; let’s round that up to 1.5.

C.J. Mosley had 37 pass rushes in 2022 and had one sack, a 2.71% rate. For his career, he has a 1.71% rate, including a 2.27% rate as a member of the Jets. Let’s go with his 2.27% rate and 35 pass rush attempts; that would give him 0.80 sacks, which we’ll round up to 1.0 sacks.

Jamien Sherwood is a wild card here, as he’s had only six pass rush reps in the NFL, which produced 0.5 sacks. For now, he’s the Jets’ third linebacker, assuming Kwon Alexander does not return. In college, Sherwood had 2.5 sacks on 48 pass rushes, a 5.2% rate; however, that was from the safety position. He is also not the most athletic player out there, as he posted a 4.24 Relative Athletic Score (5.09 compared to linebackers rather than safeties) and 4.76 40-yard dash. Let’s give Sherwood the same 0.5 sacks as he had last year just in case.

No players from the Jets’ secondary had a sack in 2022. They had 46 total pass rush attempts. There is no reason to think that they’ll magically get a sack in 2023, particularly since the Jets don’t disguise their blitzes well.

Sack totals

  • Quinnen Williams: 11.5
  • John Franklin-Myers: 5.0
  • Carl Lawson: 5.0
  • Bryce Huff: 4.5
  • Jermaine Johnson: 4.5
  • Will McDonald: 4.0
  • Quinton Jefferson: 3.5
  • Micheal Clemons: 3.5
  • Quincy Williams: 1.5
  • C.J. Mosley: 1.0
  • Al Woods: 0.5
  • Solomon Thomas: 0.5
  • Jamien Sherwood: 0.5

I have a total of 45.5 sacks for this Jets team, which is virtually the same amount as they had a year ago. Most of my sack projections are on the conservative side based on previous history.

The player with the biggest chance to outperform the number I gave him is likely Johnson. With a 45% snap share, any improvement in his technique could pay big dividends. He has excellent speed, a strong motor, and a wide tackle radius, giving him the opportunity to make plays against running quarterbacks (see: Allen, Josh). Johnson always had a relatively high sack rate because of his ability to get coverage sacks or make the takedown on longer-developing plays in which he didn’t immediately beat his man.

The other player who could potentially break out is Huff. I went conservative in his sack prediction, but he had a number of plays on which he came very close to a sack. Huff does have short arms (measured at 31 3/4 inches during the East-West Shrine Game in college), which could diminish his sack total, rather like Lawson’s. Still, he had a strong sack rate a year ago and could potentially repeat that.

Here, I have Williams’ sack rate declining slightly, but maybe that won’t happen. He was so utterly dominant in 2022, utilizing his power to literally throw guards and centers aside. Maybe a higher snap rate will actually unleash him even more.

I might have also been a bit conservative with Clemons. Just like Franklin-Myers dominates guards as a pass rusher, Clemons showed flashes of being able to do the same. I’m not convinced he’ll play inside as often as Michael projected, but if he does, he could actualize the “beast” persona that he has.

I know that some of my colleagues have predicted higher sack totals. What do you think, Jets fans? Too conservative? Too much? How many sacks will the Jets put up in 2023?

Follow Rivka Boord on Twitter @rivka_boord

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wa2k99
wa2k99
10 months ago

Amazing that we both predicted 45 sacks in 2022 and we were both spot on!

Peter Buell
10 months ago

If they stick with Clemmons inside and JFM inside half his snaps, I think the front will be special.
Quincey Williams will grow even further this year.
LB concerns me as a whole. No idea why Kwon isn’t here.
I’ll go for the gold with the 3 cb coverage, improved safety play and go 60+ sacks.

dudizt
10 months ago

I believe you are being a bit conservative and I think we will be playing with more leads and more leads earlier. A lot of the games last year were back and forth, and just believe we will have more pass rushing opportunities this year.

Matt Galemmo
10 months ago

I believe, from anecdotal evidence, that d-line play improves (or declines) exponentially. The Bengals were controlling the 2022 super bowl until the Rams’ D-line took over the game, as the Rams d-line did pretty much all year.

I saw shades of that from the Jets last year, but their offense ended up so anemic that there wasn’t anyway the d-line could do enough to win.

I don’t know how much that translates to sacks. A lot, I think, but even if it doesn’t, mere pressure seems to lead to constant pressure, and constant pressure seems to lead to wins. Now the Jets may not have 2021’s Aaron Donald and Von Miller (or they may, with a Jalen Ramsey to boot), but having the ability, or likelihood even, of pressuring the quarterback on every single snap makes this defense reminiscent of that one.

I bet they comfortably pass 50.

TobyGreen77
TobyGreen77
10 months ago

Great article – really interesting approach and thinking. I have high hopes for Jermaine Johnson’s second season and I think Will McDonald is going to surprise some people – his usage in his final college year was ludicrous, as he was mainly in a 3 man front.

My main question was a very specific one – you say there were no sacks for the secondary last year. I remembered the first play fo the game against the dolphins when Sauce sacked Bridgewater and put him out of the game. Wasn’t that counted as a sack? Or did he get it out first?

Jets71
Jets71
10 months ago
Reply to  Rivka Boord

I too am not as high on Johnson when it comes to sacks, but I do recall him “looking the part.” I like McDonald but he’s light and that will take some adjusting.

I think your sack projections are pretty on point, I think it’s important to consider the “don’t give up the explosives” as a defensive philosophy. I think that leads to more opportunities for “underneath” stuff to be open and that will also play a part in the limited sack totals.

Rich
Rich
10 months ago

I’m going to predict that McDonald will get 9 sacks, almost double digits, with very low snaps. This is based only on his college tape. He looked freakishly quick, explosive, and low. It’s a complete hot take, but I’m going with it.

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