Jets fans should be absolutely stoked about Gang Green’s defensive line in 2021. Through a collection of moves in free agency and the NFL Draft, the New York Jets look to have an elite defensive line for years to come. With a good mixture of talent and depth, this could potentially be looking like the New York Sack Exchange 2.0. Here is the New York Jets Position Preview Series #6: Defensive Line.
A New Defensive Scheme
With the hiring of Robert Saleh, the Jets will have a new look defense in 2021. The Jets have been running a 3-4 defense for 15 years, but they will now be running a 4-3. Whereas before they employed two middle linebackers instead of two defense tackles, now the opposite is true. This puts a lot of pressure on the defensive line to get pressure, which this group surely won’t have trouble doing.
New free agent signing Sheldon Rankins looks to join Foley Fatukasi and John Franklin-Myers on the inside. In addition, Quinnen Williams and Carl Lawson will be flanking them on the edge. For the defense to be successful, this group will need to be creating lots of pressure, but the defense won’t be blitzing a ton. This means each guy will have to win their 1 on 1 matchups on pass rush snaps, easing the pressure off of the defensive backs.
While fans might have some worries about the Jets young defense, just look at what Saleh was able to do in 2020 after two of the San Fransisco 49ers‘ best players went out early in the season. While they finished as the 17th ranked scoring defense, they allowed the fifth-least yards in the NFL. Sure, the 49ers have a better defense on paper, but at one point the following players were all out with injury: Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt. Saleh will have them playing like a group bad men.
Development Paying Off
Fatukasi was drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. They then traded him to the Jets for essentially a bag of chips. Now, three years later, Fatukasi looks to build on a quietly good season in 2020 as a great rotational piece for Robert Saleh and Co.
Franklin-Myers, who was drafted in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. From there, he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, who would go on to release him after the 2018 season. The Jets jumped on him quickly, picking him up off waivers. In 2020, Franklin-Myers had a great season, finishing in the top 2% of pass rushers in pressure rate. Not to mention, he is another rotational piece for this defensive line.
Both players should see lots of playing time on the defensive line, alongside Nathan Shepherd, who isn’t quite on their level but can certainly ball out.
The Big Names
Williams is one of the most beloved players in the Jets’ recent franchise history. After being drafted no. 3 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, he has steadily improved every season. Surrounded by a ton of hype coming out of Alabama, a lot of analysts thought he could be the best player in the Draft. While it’s too early to call right now, his current trajectory could mean he does end up there. Williams finished 2020 with with 37 solo tackles last season and eight sacks, good for 10th and sixth at his position, respectively.
In free agency, possibly the biggest signing the Jets made was none other than the man himself, Lawson. Lawson is one of the most underrated players in the league, and this is likely because he doesn’t filled the stat sheet. In 2020, his first season starting (he only started 11 games), he had 18 solo tackles and 5.5 sacks. This doesn’t look great, admittedly, but his pressures and QB hits really speak volumes to the chaos he creates in the backfield. Lawson finished 2020 with 64 QB pressures and 24 QB hits, good for fourth and second at his position, respectively, per PFF.
When looking at both of these players, teams will have to double at least one of them. The opportunities this can create are limitless.
What to Expect
This defensive line has the depth and the production up front to really do some damage. With the addition of Robert Saleh, their potential is essentially limitless.