With a strong start to camp, Tony Adams could fill the Jets’ void at safety.
While the New York Jets have had a very good offseason, some areas have yet to be solidified as the preseason kicks off tonight in Canton.
The offensive line has many questions. There are concerns about the depth at the linebacker position now that Kwon Alexander has signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. At quarterback, the team is one Aaron Rodgers injury away from having Zach Wilson back under center.
Safety is one of the other positions the Jets have not solidified up to this point. Even with two veterans in Jordan Whitehead and Adrian Amos, the apparent lack of depth has seemed like a potential detriment to the team’s success this season. There was also the concern that Whitehead and Amos are both at their best in the box, while the Jets did not have a player they could trust as a full-time free safety.
But one player’s emergence could fill the void at free safety.
Tony Adams, the 6-foot, 205-pound, second-year safety out of Illinois, is pushing to be the difference-maker New York needs at the position.
Adams has been playing free safety with the Jets’ first-team defense throughout training camp, and he is drawing attention for his highlight plays against the Aaron Rodgers-led starting offense.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) July 31, 2023
Jets head coach Robert Saleh had this to say about Adams last week:
“He checks all the boxes physically; he’s got red line, the red line speed, he’s physical in the box. He’s got great instincts in the run game. He’s got great fuel in the passing. He checks all that stuff. There are a lot of people in this league who check those boxes, but there are only a few that check his mental makeup and everything about him. He’s excited about everything. You see him in a special teams drill; he’s talking crap. You see him in individual, he’s talking, he just loves being out there.”
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich also praised Adams, saying that “his level of knowledge of this defense and his communication” brings “something else” to the Jets’ defense.
As a member of the Fighting Illini’s defense, Adams was a key contributor for five seasons. Playing at both the safety and cornerback positions, he contributed effectively against the run and the pass. Adams had 162 career tackles and, according to PFF, totaled 49 “defensive stops” (plays that result in a loss for the offense) in his career. He added 11 passes defended and six interceptions.
Adams finished his college career with a breakout season in 2021. He was a standout run defender on the outside, ranking 13th-best out of 150 Power-5 cornerbacks (min. 200 run-defense snaps) with an 81.7 run defense grade at PFF. In coverage, Adams had a career-best 75.5 grade while allowing a career-low 57.9% of passes thrown into his coverage to be completed.
Despite this level of college performance, Adams went undrafted in last year’s draft. Concerns about Adams’s missed tackles (12 in 2021 and at least 11 in each of his final three seasons) and overall coverage ability (3 TDs allowed in 2021) caused him to slide, in addition to not having a clear-cut position at the NFL level. Adams’ slide allowed the Jets to pick him up as an undrafted free agent.
Adams impressed the Jets throughout his rookie training camp and preseason, surprising many by making the initial 53-man roster. For most of his rookie year, he either played special teams or was a healthy scratch – until the Jets’ starting free safety, Lamarcus Joyner, got hurt in Week 17.
In limited game action, Adams showed promise that caught the eyes of the Jets’ coaches. With only 104 defensive snaps over the final two games of the season, Adams recorded 12 tackles, including some excellent stops in space against the run.
Adams also looked sharp in coverage as he was never targeted over 50 snaps in coverage.
Seemingly confident in the flashes Adams showed last season, the Jets opted not to completely revamp their safety room. They added Chuck Clark early in the offseason and only added Amos after Clark suffered a season-ending injury.
At least up to this point in camp, the Jets’ confidence has been rewarded.
How much Adams’s emergence would mean for the Jets cannot be understated. Having a safety that can both come downhill in the run game and handle the deep range in the passing game would make it tougher for teams to exploit the Jets in the middle of the field. It would also allow Whitehead and Amos to play their preferred roles. Ultimately, having a stingier safety unit could force teams to attack the Jets’ elite cornerback duo of D.J. Reed and Sauce Gardner.
For most of the offseason, safety was seen as a very weak point of the Jets’ roster. But if Adams can prove to be a diamond in the rough and play a vital role on the Jets’ defense, it will go a long way in helping the unit become even better than it was last year.
There is a lot of time left until the regular season, and while a lot could change, it seems Tony Adams could be the answer to the Jets’ problems at safety.