The New York Jets have so many great defensive linemen that one key member gets lost in the shuffle
If I asked you to name the New York Jets‘ best defensive linemen, which names would you mention?
With all of those undoubtedly excellent players, the second-highest-paid man on the line flies under the radar: John Franklin-Myers. In many ways, that’s because he often does the dirty work to enable other players to excel.
Against the Los Angeles Chargers, though, Franklin-Myers finally had his day in the limelight. He showed exactly why the Jets valued him enough to give him $14 million per year, even though many fans view that as an overpay in hindsight.
In fact, Franklin-Myers quietly put together a strong start to the season even before this breakout game. We just didn’t notice.
Dominating Los Angeles
Against the Chargers, Franklin-Myers put up an incredible eight pressures, one sack, four quarterback hits, and two pass deflections.
In this game, Franklin-Myers lined up on the left side of the defensive line, as usual. Out of his 35 snaps in the game, he lined up over the right tackle 13 times, 10 times at the traditional hand-in-the-dirt edge position, and 11 times standing up on the edge. That means that he matched up against Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins for much of the game.
Before the Chargers game, I mentioned that Pipkins was an ideal matchup for both Johnson and Franklin-Myers. His weak bench press numbers at the NFL Combine (third percentile) suggested possible vulnerability to a bull rush. The results held true, as Pipkins allowed seven pressures on 38 pass rush snaps. The Jets single-handedly increased Pipkins’ pressure rate from 5.8% to 7.1%.
Pass rush prowess
What’s interesting is that Franklin-Myers’ numbers were already excellent before this game. On 169 pass rush snaps through seven games, he had 29 pressures for a 17.2% pressure rate. For reference, Myles Garrett has a 17.9% pressure rate on the season.
After Franklin-Myers’ eight-pressure game against the Chargers, he’s now up to a 19.1% pressure rate on the season. That level of production, even through half a season, is incredible.
Even if you consider that Franklin-Myers plays a decent number of reps on the interior of the defensive line, his production level is still much more efficient than in the past. In 2021-22, while playing 15.9% and 28.5% of his snaps from the interior, he posted pressure rates of 12.3% and 13.5%, respectively. Those numbers are above average for edge rushers but were likely buoyed by his play from the inside due to his speed advantage there.
This season, Franklin-Myers has played 31.1% of his snaps inside, most of them over the tackle. That’s a small boost in inside reps, but the increase in pressure rate to 19.1% is far more significant.
To take it a step further, even if you remove his two eight-pressure games against the Bills and Chargers, Franklin-Myers has a pressure rate of 15.2% in his other six games, well above the 11.3% edge rusher average. He’s simply been an ultra-productive pass rusher in terms of affecting the quarterback despite his low sack total (two).
Pro Football Focus has not graded Franklin-Myers all that well in the run game this season. After he ranked in the 86th percentile in 2022, he’s down to the 46th percentile this season.
Michael Nania graded Franklin-Myers as one of the Jets’ best run defenders in 2022. There have been many examples of his edge-setting allowing Quincy Williams and others to penetrate and stuff ball-carriers. He’s never been a big run-stuffer himself (4.3%, 5.9%, and 5.3% from 2021-23), but he holds ground on the edge and does not allow the ball carrier to get outside.
Statistically, you can see Franklin-Myers’ impact partially from what happens on the edge when he’s in the game vs. when he’s not. Here are opponents’ numbers when running over right tackle or right edge.
- With Franklin-Myers: 37 carries, 4.0 YPC, 40.5% success rate, -0.109 EPA per carry
- Without Franklin-Myers: 21 carries, 6.1 YPC, 52.4% success rate, 0.0478 EPA per carry
Overall, on runs to the right of the offensive formation, offenses have a 38.3% success rate with Franklin-Myers on the field and 45.5% when he’s off it. This is not the be-all and end-all of run defense. Still, it likely indicates that Franklin-Myers is not the primary cause of the Jets’ spotty run unit.
The one downside
Franklin-Myers is one of the heaviest edge defenders in the league, weighing in at 289 pounds. In 3-4 defenses, he would likely play as a defensive end/tackle, functioning in the interior of the defense. In their 4-3 scheme, the Jets have used him for the last few seasons as an excellent edge-setter who can manhandle guards from the inside on passing downs. His pass-rushing seems to have taken a step up from the edge this season, though.
The only issue the Jets face with Franklin-Myers is when they go up against running quarterbacks. With his relative lack of speed on the edge, he often finds himself in futile pursuit. While the Jets have struggled against running quarterbacks even with other edge rushers, it’s more pronounced with Franklin-Myers on the field. Players like Jermaine Johnson, Bryce Huff, and Will McDonald, who are smaller and faster, are more likely to be able to catch up to a running quarterback.
Never have to worry have to worry about Jermaine Johnson lacking effort
Both JJ (off left) and JFM (off right) bull rush their respective tackles and get some push, pinching the pocket for Mr. Unlimited
Mr. Unlimited rolls away, JJ chases him down for the forced fumble pic.twitter.com/iDbVE7Xo9q
— Joe Blewett (@Joerb31) October 11, 2023
Still, overall, this is a worthwhile tradeoff for the kind of production that Franklin-Myers is generating.
Ever since the Jets drafted Johnson, there has been speculation that they will try to trade Franklin-Myers after 2023. That’s not as simple after they restructured his contract in the offseason. Still, a post-June 1 trade could give the team $13.9 million in 2024 cap relief against $2.5 and $6.6 million in 2024-25 dead cap. That’s significant savings for a team in some cap trouble in 2024.
Still, this speculation demonstrates a lack of appreciation for what Franklin-Myers brings to the team. He’s never been a big sack guy (his career high is six), likely due to his shorter arms (32⅞ inches, 24th percentile). Still, his consistency in both the run and passing games is underrated. Even with Johnson’s continuing breakout and Huff’s otherworldly production, it’s not so simple to part from the team’s best edge-setter.
It might be different if Will McDonald showed more. McDonald was drafted to replace Carl Lawson in the Jets’ rotation. The plan before the season was likely to let Huff go, but he’s been so dominant that they cannot. If McDonald had developed into a Year 2 contributor, the Jets could replace Franklin-Myers with Johnson and have two other edge defenders to take starter-level snaps. That hasn’t happened, though.
The problem is that the Jets must lock up Huff. He has an outrageous 29.3% pressure rate this season. He’s started to get closer to a 50% snap rate as the season goes on. It might be premature to discuss this, but Franklin-Myers’ situation should be part of the equation. Can the Jets really have three defensive linemen getting paid north of $14 million per year?
One way or another, any part of this discussion must include the underrated but immense value that Franklin-Myers brings to this defense.
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