The success of this one player is a credit to the New York Jets’ defensive coaching staff
Heading into the 2023 season, one of the biggest holes in the New York Jets’ defense was seemingly their linebacker corps. The team’s decision not to re-sign Kwon Alexander or bring in any legitimate depth seemed like a harbinger of disaster.
Eight games into the season, though, it’s arguable that the linebackers have been the strongest part of the Jets’ defense. That is predicated upon the breakout of Quincy Williams, who is truly playing like the best linebacker in football.
Linebacker capital and usage
Many fans were puzzled about the Jets’ lack of interest in bringing in a better linebacker option. If it was the weakness of the defense, why wouldn’t they take steps to correct it?
In 2022 with Kwon Alexander, the linebackers were better statistically than the general perception was. Still, with Alexander gone in 2023, the Jets were seemingly relying on Jamien Sherwood to take his place. That was a dicey prospect considering Sherwood’s lack of athleticism and struggles in coverage. The only other linebacker they brought in was sixth-round pick Zaire Barnes.
Instead, though, the Jets’ linebacker corps has been buoyed by Williams’ explosion. Sherwood has played 69 defensive snaps all season (with only 12 on passing plays), while Ashtyn Davis (62 defensive snaps) and Adrian Amos (18 when Tony Adams was in the lineup) have taken some snaps in a big-nickel package. Still, the Jets have gone with their standard nickel personnel (4-2-5) an astonishing 83.6% of the time this season, rendering the third linebacker spot mostly irrelevant.
They can do this because of how Williams has covered sideline-to-sideline in both the run and pass games.
Saleh and Ulbrich chose not to invest capital into the linebacker position because they have both developed linebackers in the past in Fred Warner and Deion Jones. The pair felt that they could take a highly athletic player and turn him into a force within the system. Joe Douglas picked up Williams off waivers from the Jaguars, as he fits the profile that the Jets’ coaches sought.
It took a few years, but Williams is now showing exactly what Saleh and Ulbrich saw in him. Although his 6.27 Relative Athletic Score wouldn’t indicate it, Williams is incredibly quick. His aggressiveness fits well with the Jets’ defensive scheme.
Williams started out as a raw but talented player in 2021 when he made many highlight-reel plays (8.4% stop rate) but also missed tackles and blew coverage left and right. In 2022, he made some more big plays in the run game (9.6% stop rate) but continued to struggle in coverage. In 2023, he’s taken that next step and is now both an elite run-stuffer (10.7% stop rate) and a lockdown cover linebacker (6.4 yards per reception, 11% forced incompletion rate, 5 pass breakups).
This is not to take any credit away from Williams, who has completely outplayed the $6 million per year that the Jets gave him this offseason. It is simply a tip of the cap to the coaches who helped him get to this point: Saleh, Ulbrich, and linebackers coach Mike Rutenberg.
The Jets have two other linebackers on their roster who fit a similar athletic profile: Chazz Surratt and Zaire Barnes. They kept Barnes on their roster even though he’s inactive each week because they see the potential to develop him into a similar type of player.
In many ways, Barnes is a Williams clone. Unlike Williams, he has the testing numbers to show for it, posting a 9.12 RAS. His athleticism pops on the tape even more than that number would indicate. In the preseason, both his potential and his rawness were on display. He allowed all 15 of his targets to be caught but just 6.6 yards per reception, and he had a 21.2% missed tackle rate. In fact, some of his film looks eerily like Williams’.
Barnes (top hash) sideline to sideline speed 🤌
Effortless mover pic.twitter.com/VAaSoShjdm
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) August 14, 2023
Surratt has a similar profile. The Vikings drafted him in the third round in 2021, but they cut him after a year. The Jets picked him up on their practice squad before he made the roster this year. He has played 141 special teams snaps this season but just four on defense. Hard Knocks showed Saleh praising Surratt, exulting after a strong play, “God he’s so fast. He is so fast! I [bleeping] love that guy” and “That’s my [bleeping] dog!” Surratt’s 8.47 RAS also doesn’t fully represent what he shows on the field.
Chazz Surratt making a good impression to start the preseason 👏
— NFL (@NFL) August 4, 2023
Could Barnes or Surratt be the next Quincy Williams? That kind of leap may be an unrealistic expectation. Still, they’re players with similar profiles who could be the next projects for the Jets’ coaches.
Either way, Williams’ breakout gives the Jets’ coaches a long leash when it comes to the linebacker position. Kudos to Douglas for picking up Williams and to the staff for developing him.
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