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The sneaky reason NY Jets may have signed Javon Kinlaw

Javon Kinlaw, NY Jets, SF 49ers, Stats
Javon Kinlaw, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, Getty Images

Making sense of the New York Jets’ Javon Kinlaw signing

The New York Jets made many good moves this offseason. They rebuilt their offensive line, picked up a No. 2 receiver, filled out their depth in the draft, and made a host of savvy signings and trades.

If there was one head-scratching move Joe Douglas made, it was signing Javon Kinlaw.

Picking up Kinlaw wasn’t the shock. Michael Nania predicted the signing. It was the contract and the projected role that raised Jets fans’ ire. Kinlaw received a one-year, $7.25 million deal with $6.91 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, productive defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Browns. The number and the Jets’ other signings indicate that Kinlaw will start opposite Quinnen Williams for the Jets.

Now, it’s impossible to sell anyone on Kinlaw as an upgrade over Jefferson. He’s simply not. On 82 fewer pass rush snaps than Kinlaw, Jefferson posted 2.5 more sacks, seven more QB hits, and only two fewer pressures. His pressure rate dwarfed Kinlaw’s 12.1% to 9.6%. Even in run defense, a known Jefferson weakness, he still outdid Kinlaw — 38.7 Pro Football Focus run defense grade to 31.3.

The extra $3.25 million the Jets gave Kinlaw is a sunk cost. But there’s one statistic that stands out about Kinlaw which could be why the Jets signed him.

True pass sets

According to PFF, a true pass set “excludes plays with less than 4 rushers, play action, screens, short dropbacks and time-to-throws under 2 seconds.” In other words, it’s a way to measure pure pass rush impact (and blocking) without variables that skew the numbers.

True pass sets are not the be-all and end-all of pass rush. For a player to be complete, they must be able to generate some pass rush without true pass sets. For example, players like Bryce Huff, Micah Parsons, Myles Garrett, and T.J. Watt ranked highly in pressure rate in non-true pass sets as well as true pass sets.

Still, there is immense situational value to players who excel in true pass sets. That means a team can employ them in likely passing situations and trust them to break through.

In 2023, Kinlaw posted strong pressure numbers in true pass sets. He ranked 16th out of 77 qualified interior defensive linemen (79th percentile) with a 17% pressure rate in those situations. He did not necessarily convert them into sacks and hits — his 11.1% impactful pressure rate ((sacks + hits) / pressures) ranked 69th — but he was nevertheless disruptive. His 49.4% true pass set rate was above the average (45.5%) but ranked 32nd out of 77.

How the Jets can capitalize

Just 99 of Jefferson’s 240 pass rush snaps in 2023 were true pass sets — a 41.3% rate that would have ranked 58th out of 77 had he qualified. Solomon Thomas was even lower at 84 out of 223 (37.7%). Only Quinnen Williams got the benefit of a higher true pass set rate at 51.3%.

Perhaps the Jets will change that up in 2024. Maybe Leki Fotu will play more snaps than Al Woods did, pushing Kinlaw into a higher rate of true pass sets. It’s not ideal, as Fotu projects to be a downgrade from Woods as a run defender and isn’t much better as a pass rusher (5.3% pressure rate in 2023; the positional average was 8.7%). Still, that could help the Jets maximize Kinlaw’s potential as a pass rusher.

Once again, this would have been a far better plan if they signed Kinlaw to a backup or rotational-level deal. Still, it’s the one aspect of his game that can help make sense of his contract. If there’s anyone who can get the most out of a player’s true pass set abilities, it’s Robert Saleh, as he demonstrated with Bryce Huff.

The Jets’ defensive line seems significantly downgraded with Kinlaw over Jefferson, but perhaps Kinlaw can change the narrative in 2024.

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23 days ago

You can’t claim a “sunk cost” until you see his production, and you don’t know for certain he was attainable for less money, so that’s a leap.

It’s also possible he’s worth every penny and more. Past performance is only an indicator, not a guarantee of future production.

Quincy Williams wasn’t very good when the Jets got him. The idea that we can predict a players future performance based on past “numbers” is flawed or there would never be a free agent “bust.”

I am not as upset with the Kinlaw signing as most outlets seem to be, I liked Jefferson and wanted him back, but I like this signing. I could be wrong…and if I am I’ll raise my hand. It will be interesting to see if the nay-sayers will do the same should he have a breakout season.