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NY Jets have an extremely underrated wrecking ball in the middle

Quinton Jefferson, New York Jets
Quinton Jefferson, New York Jets, Getty Images

Lost in the shuffle of the New York Jets’ defensive line is the excellent play of Quinton Jefferson

The New York Jets‘ defense teems with talent and name recognition. Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley, and Sauce Gardner are the most easily recognizable, but Bryce Huff and Quincy Williams have vaulted themselves into national attention with their superb play this season. Jermaine Johnson is garnering more recognition with his strong play in recent weeks. Meanwhile, underrated stars like D.J. Reed and Michael Carter II round out the best cornerback room in the NFL.

Still, amidst all the noise, there’s one Jets player who’s performing as well as anyone without too much fanfare. There’s something about being the other defensive tackle on the Jets that makes Quinton Jefferson fly under the radar. That doesn’t obscure the fact that he’s meant everything to this defense.

Consistent pressure

Jefferson currently ranks seventh out of 74 qualified interior defensive linemen (min. 120 pass rush snaps) with a 13.7% pressure rate. That’s a few spots better than Quinnen Williams’ 12% rate and even better than Jefferson’s already impressive 11.7% rate in 2022, which ranked fifth among IDL.

Jefferson has 3.5 sacks this season, but he’s been in on five total, which is tied for fourth. His 5.7% sack-plus-hit rate ranks fourth. He also ranks 14th in pass rush win rate, showing that he’s beating opposing linemen at a strong rate.

Perhaps part of Jefferson’s superb efficiency may be coming from Williams’ presence next to him. The high double-team rate and extra attention paid to Williams allow Jefferson to knife through the defense. Additionally, the one-gapping, aggressive defense that the Jets play suits his strengths well.

With some of the Jets’ edge rushers not performing up to snuff, Jefferson’s pressure from the interior is that much more important. Although Johnson’s recent improvement takes some of that pressure off, when he’s on the field at the same time as Micheal Clemons, Will McDonald, and/or Carl Lawson, he may be the only one who can generate pressure consistently.

More impact plays in run game

Jefferson hasn’t exactly been good in the run game this year, as his 4.0 average depth of tackle (third percentile) and 52.4 Pro Football Focus run defense grade (35th percentile) would indicate. Still, that run defense grade is better than it was over the last three years (48.6, 42.4, and 40.7). The one-gapping style has allowed him to knife through more often. His 6.5% run stop rate is in the 42nd percentile among defensive tackles and is also a lot better than his 3.3% rate in 2022 and 5.2% career rate.

Still, Jefferson has an 18.8% missed tackle rate in the run game, which hurts his production level. He was at 8.7% in 2022. That’s something he will need to clean up.

More snaps?

After losing Al Woods to a torn Achilles, the Jets could increase Jefferson’s snap count. According to Pro Football Reference, Jefferson has played 47% of the Jets’ snaps this year, while Woods was at 32%. The team can choose to allocate those snaps in several ways.

In 2022, when Sheldon Rankins missed two games, the Jets elevated Tanzel Smart from the practice squad and increased Nathan Shepherd’s snap count. In this case, the injured player is the backup, so you’d think that would mean more snaps for Jefferson. Still, the Jets could choose to sign Smart to the active roster, move Micheal Clemons to the interior more often, increase Thomas’ snap count, and/or sign a free agent or a player on a different practice squad.

Some of the names who are available to sign are Akiem Hicks, Chris Wormley, Ndamukong Suh, and Linval Joseph. Wormley was one of Michael Nania’s suggested defensive tackle targets in the offseason due to his run defense. That might be the Jets’ best option.

Still, Jefferson may receive a snap bump, in which case his role on the team will be more important than ever. He’s buffering the Jets’ pass rush in a tremendous way and will need to continue to do so for their defense to succeed.

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Matt Galemmo
7 months ago

I’ll admit it, I was yelling at my screen, “Why is Jefferson on the field?,” when Barkley was going to be handed the ball on every play. Knowing his reputation as a bad run defender, I didn’t understand using him over Thomas.

Aside from one 36 yard run, I suppose it didn’t hurt the Jets (the penalties were the problem). Still, you have to do better than ~4 yards per carry when you absolutely know the run is coming, don’t you?

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