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Is this an accurate ranking for the NY Jets defensive line?

NY Jets, Quinnen Williams, NFL, DL, Rank
Quinnen Williams, New York Jets, Getty Images

Is the New York Jets’ defensive line a little overrated?

When describing the New York Jets’ top-tier defense, many would start with the team’s vaunted defensive line. It’s Robert Saleh’s pride and joy as a defensive coach.

However, when you look a little deeper into the numbers and film, a slightly different picture begins to emerge. Although the Jets’ defensive line is good, it’s the secondary that often buoys the line rather than the reverse. Sauce Gardner, D.J. Reed, and Michael Carter II are the nucleus of the defense, with everything else flowing out from there.

That’s why it was a little surprising to see Pro Football Focus rank the Jets’ defensive line as the best in the NFL. It’s certainly top 10 and likely top 5, but the best in all of football? That’s a little much heading into 2024 for several reasons.

Run defense

When ranking a defensive line, there are two aspects to make note of: pass rush and run defense. Although the Jets project to have a strong pass rush, their run defense along the defensive line is highly suspect. Although Quinnen Williams was the league’s top-graded interior run defender (90.4), per PFF, their other three defensive tackles were among the worst-graded run defenders in the league.

Javon Kinlaw, the presumptive starter next to Williams, ranked 99th out of 103 qualifiers (min. 150 run defense snaps) with a 31.3 grade. Leki Fotu, the supposed Al Woods replacement, ranked 91st at 40.7. And the Jets’ defensive tackle with the second-most run defense snaps in 2023, Solomon Thomas, was at 32.2, ranking 97th.

Along the edge, the Jets lost their best run defender in John Franklin-Myers. Jermaine Johnson is above average, and Haason Reddick is mostly average in this area. But replacing Franklin-Myers with Reddick is definitely a run defense downgrade, and the interior is a significant concern.

Overrated pass rush?

According to Pro Football Reference, the Jets ranked fourth in the NFL in 2023 with a 26.5% pressure rate. Considering that the Jets blitz at one of the lowest rates in the NFL, that pressure comes almost exclusively from their front four. Still, their quarterback knockdown rate ranked 11th at 9.8%, showcasing that they weren’t quite as good at getting home as they were at affecting the quarterback.

While disrupting the passer’s timing may matter more than hits and sacks, getting the passer to the ground is important, too. Is the Jets’ defensive line the top in football if they ranked 11th in knocking the passer down?

Furthermore, the Jets lost three of their top pass rushers in the offseason. Bryce Huff, Franklin-Myers, and Quinton Jefferson combined for 146 pressures, 19.5 sacks, and 29 quarterback hits on 933 pass rush snaps. They replaced the trio with Will McDonald, Reddick, and Kinlaw, who had 115 pressures, 17.5 sacks, and 18 quarterback hits on 1,047 pass rush snaps. That’s a definitive loss. While McDonald has immense potential, banking on that potential in ranking the Jets’ defensive line No. 1 in the NFL ignores the reality that many players fail to live up to their potential.

Lack of depth

One largely overlooked aspect of the Jets’ defensive line is its thin depth. If any of Reddick, Johnson, McDonald, or Quinnen Williams gets hurt, the Jets have no replacement who comes even close. Micheal Clemons is the Jets’ top edge replacement, followed by undrafted free agents Braiden McGregor and Eric Watts. In the interior, the Jets are already thin in the starting lineup with Kinlaw, and behind him, the grouping of Fotu, Thomas, and UDFA Leonard Taylor hardly scares anyone.

While very few teams have quality replacements for their top players, that’s a lot of players to have such poor replacements for. Because the Jets rotate so often along their defensive line, they’re also more vulnerable if injuries hit than other teams might be.

When ranking an entire defensive line, the depth matters. The Jets don’t have much of it.

Is Quinnen the deodorant?

Then again, Quinnen Williams is a top-three defensive tackle in the NFL. When you look at the other players in the conversation, Chris Jones and Dexter Lawrence, the other players on the Chiefs’ and Giants’ defensive lines are not nearly as good as Reddick, Johnson, and McDonald, in particular. Therefore, perhaps Williams is such a difference-maker that he alone merits the No. 1 ranking.

Still, San Francisco’s Nick Bosa and Javon Hargrave are likely a better tandem than the Jets have, while Philadelphia’s Bryce Huff and Jalen Carter certainly come close. Dallas’ Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence are also strong.

Again, if the Jets are top-five anyway, Williams may give them just as good an argument as any other team for the No. 1 slot.

Overall, while I believe the Jets’ defensive line is a tad overrated, it’s still one of the strongest units in the league and a tremendous part of their defense.

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mlesko73
24 days ago

Agree….often lately, hmmm
I do worry about our run defense. I think our LB’s hide a little bit of our deficiencies there.

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