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Will NY Jets have a safety competition in training camp?

Ashtyn Davis, NY Jets, Safety, Competition
Ashtyn Davis, New York Jets, Getty Images

Many New York Jets fans expect a training camp battle at safety

New York Jets fans, if you’re pounding the table for Justin Simmons, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Joe Douglas does not invest in the safety position. It seems that Robert Saleh doesn’t care too much about the position in his defense. The Jets have managed to field an excellent defense in back-to-back seasons despite subpar safety play.

That leads to questions about the Jets’ current safety room. One level of concern is the depth in the room: Jarrick Bernard-Converse is a converted safety and barely played in 2023, while Mr. Irrelevant Jaylen Key has a long way to go to prove that he can make the roster.

Therefore, re-signing Ashtyn Davis was natural. However, some Jets fans think the team brought Davis back to compete for a starting job, specifically with Chuck Clark.

Let’s examine the likelihood of this scenario based on the factors at play.

Offseason expectations

Before Davis re-signed with the Jets, Robert Saleh said, “Traditionally we keep four (safeties), and we love Ashtyn. I know he’s out there. I know he’s looking, but if he watches this video, we love you, buddy.”

The Jets wanted Davis back, but Davis was “looking.” Per Zack Rosenblatt of The Athletic, the Jets didn’t expect Davis to return because he wanted a starting job.

If the Jets were giving Davis a real shot at a starting job, would he have checked out his market so thoroughly first?

2023 usage

The Jets showed with Bryce Huff that they see certain players limited to specific roles within their defense. Rookies are one thing — Jermaine Johnson’s playing time doubled from 2022 to 2023, Will McDonald is set for a significant bump in snaps, and Tony Adams became a starter — but when the player is pigeonholed into a role, they don’t seem likely to expand beyond that.

Davis is almost a textbook case of this. While the Jets used him defensively in 2023 after he played just 13 defensive snaps in 2022, he only got 218 snaps. That was even after Chuck Clark went down for the season and Adrian Amos left.

Davis’ usage was atypical for a safety: 39.0% in the box, 36.2% at slot corner, and just 21.1% deep. For reference, the Jets’ starting safeties, Adams and Jordan Whitehead, played 41.6% and 47.1% deep, respectively. In fact, NFL Next Gen Stats lists Davis’ position as linebacker rather than safety due to his regular alignment.

That means the Jets used Davis near the line of scrimmage for the majority of his snaps. They could always change their minds, but it seems from 2023 that they have an intended role for Davis, and it’s not the same role as their starting safeties play.

Alternative

Jets fans consistently underrate Clark. The Ravens replaced him with a first-team All-Pro in Kyle Hamilton, but Clark was a rock-solid safety in Baltimore. Clark is a particularly strong tackler, a notorious Jets defensive weakness. He missed just 7.3% of his tackles from 2020-22, the ninth-lowest rate among safeties (min. 1,500 snaps). Davis missed 16% of his tackles in 2023.

Clark is also a strong presence in the run game. He was above-average among safeties in run stop rate in each season from 2020-22, including top-15 finishes in 2020-21. As Michael Nania explained, Clark’s 4.9-to-1 ratio of run stops to missed tackles was more than three times the safety average of 1.6-to-1. While Davis was at 3.0-to-1 in 2023, it was on a small sample, as he had just 3 stops and 1 miss on 105 run defense snaps. For his career, he has a 1.25-to-1 ratio.

Furthermore, Clark has provided better coverage out of the slot than Davis. In his career, here are Clark’s slot numbers:

  • 56 targets
  • 29 completions
  • 215 yards
  • 3 touchdowns
  • 2 interceptions
  • 12 passes defensed
  • 64.2 targeted passer rating
  • -14.2% completion percentage over expected
  • 69.6% coverage success rate
  • 0.7 yards per cover snap
  • 6.4 yards per target

Meanwhile, in 2023, Davis allowed 8 of 9 receptions for 63 yards, a 95.8 passer rating, and a 44.4% coverage success rate out of the slot. Davis is certainly more athletic than Clark, but he hasn’t put that athleticism together to be an every-down safety.

The only reason to change

The Jets will switch to Davis only if they think Clark is severely impeded by his torn ACL. At age 29, Clark may have lost enough foot speed to sap his effectiveness. In that case, the Jets would turn to Davis as an alternative.

Still, if the Jets were really that concerned about Clark, I suspect they would bring in someone else to fortify the room. They clearly did not indicate to Davis that they consider him starter-worthy.

Overall, I don’t think there will be a safety competition this offseason. Tony Adams and Chuck Clark will be the starters. If Clark is healthy, the Jets’ safety room has a chance to be significantly better than it was in 2022-23.

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Jonathan Richter
25 days ago

I could see us signing Tashawn Gipson. Knows the D, should be affordable. Reliable vet.

Last edited 25 days ago by Jonathan Richter
hh11212
hh11212
26 days ago

100% Agree. I think this take is spot on!! Not sure where the Davis is a starter hype train is coming from. Clark is proven and it is very hard to envision a scenario where Davis is legit competition.

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