After a solid training camp and preseason, Jermaine Johnson looks like the New York Jets’ 2023 breakout player on defense
The New York Jets have plenty of young defensive players with the potential to make a significant leap this season, such as second-year safety Tony Adams and fourth-year linebacker Jamien Sherwood.
Among all of these intriguing young pieces, edge rusher Jermaine Johnson is the likeliest breakout this season on the defense.
Johnson did not play a ton in his rookie season, only tallying 312 total snaps over 14 games (22.3 per game) as the Jets used him in a limited role. Johnson played 34% of the Jets’ defensive snaps in the games he appeared in, primarily being used against the run on early downs.
Despite the limited snap count, the Florida State product showed flashes in his time on the field.
Johnson had three sacks on only 151 pass-rush snaps, giving him a 1.98% sack rate that ranked 41st out of 114 qualified edge rushers. In the run game, Johnson did a good job setting the edge and forcing runs back to the inside or making tackles in space. He was an active play finisher, too, as he placed eighth out of 120 qualified edge rushers with a 9.8% run-stop rate.
After flashing in limited time as a rookie, the Jets are aiming for Johnson to take the next step in 2023. The goal for Johnson is to develop into a three-down threat who can be a long-term staple in New York’s defense.
During training camp and the preseason, Johnson has shown he is on the road to doing just that.
Looking stronger, more confident, and more technically refined, Johnson has been causing problems on a consistent basis throughout the past few months, both for the Jets’ tackles and for the tackles he’s faced in the preseason.
Most importantly, Johnson’s pass rush seems improved. This is the area where he needed the most work after his rookie year, and so far, he seems to have clearly made a leap.
Johnson was at his best against Carolina, recording three total pressures (one sack, one hit, one hurry). Notably, the Jets are allowing Johnson to rush from a stand-up position more often, and it’s paying off. Johnson looks comfortable rushing the passer from this alignment.
Could having JJ stand up be the key to unlocking him as a pass rusher?
Johnson had 3 pressures against the Panthers (1 sack, 1 hit, 1 hurry) and he was standing up on all of them.
– 3 pressures on 5 reps standing up
– 0 pressures on 4 reps with hands in dirt pic.twitter.com/B9KSmg6iH9
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) August 13, 2023
Head coach Robert Saleh talked about Johnson on Thursday, saying how he plays with a “violence to him” and has looked “fantastic”. The Jets’ head coach also raved about Johnson’s ability in the run game.
“Yeah, he’s an old school in the sense that he’s a three-down, run defender, edge rusher. I’d argue his ability in the run game is even better than his ability in the pass game, which is not to knock his pass game ability, but he is very violent at the point of attack. Especially if he’s got a tight end in his hands. He collapses edges and can two-gap get from the edge. He’s very impressive in the run game,” said Saleh.
As good as he has played, Johnson is not satisfied just yet. Speaking Thursday, the edge rusher discussed his mindset and how he wants to approach the season.
“I’m always going to be hungry. I’m always going to want to dominate and be seen as a dominant player. I want to be seen as a player that offenses have to scout for, and like I said, I did the work in the offseason to do that.”
The Jets’ defensive line has a significant amount of depth and talent. Yet, it seems that Johnson is showing the potential to be one of the unit’s best players.
If the second-year edge rusher can translate his preseason and training camp play into the regular season, he will be one of the Jets’ top breakout players in 2023 – becoming a feared presence for offenses around the league.