Addressing the New York Jets biggest unknown entering 2022

Ryan Moran
New York Jets, Joe Douglas

The New York Jets undoubtedly have a better roster entering the 2022 season. They had an abundance of premium resources between cap space for free agency and the draft, where they made four selections in the top 36 picks. Pair that with a promising start for the 2021 draft class and the Jets look primed to be significantly improved.

Nonetheless, the Jets have recently gone through with a complete rebuild led by Joe Douglas. Just last year, the Jets were the youngest team in the NFL and won four games. As great as this offseason went, not every single need was going to be addressed.

Biggest question: run defense

The Jets enter training camp in about two weeks, with their biggest concern being their run defense.

Last year, it was a glaring weakness. The Jets’ run defense ranked 29th in the NFL, averaging 138.3 yards per game allowed on the ground.

The Jets entered this offseason with their top run-stopper since 2019 as an unrestricted free agent. Defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi ended up landing a big three-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Then, on the second level next to C.J. Mosley, most fans felt a starting linebacker should be acquired to help the run defense.

Ultimately, the Jets invested all of their premium resources elsewhere. Between free agency and the draft, the Jets allocated a minimum amount to a run-stuffing defensive tackle and linebacker. Of the free-agent options at defensive tackle, the Jets only re-signed Nathan Shepherd. At linebacker, they waited until April to sign Marcell Harris. The team did not add any rookie to the interior of the defensive line. No linebacker was selected by the Jets during the draft. Shortly after the conclusion of the 2022 NFL draft, the Jets did sign DQ Thomas as an undrafted free agent.

How can the New York Jets surpass expectations?

The hope has to be that collectively this aspect of the team can find a way to get by and not be a drastic problem like it was a year ago. Ideally, young defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall and young linebackers Quincy Williams, Jamien Sherwood, and Hamsah Nasirildeen can develop fast.

Marshall was a rookie last year who athletically tested on a generational level relative to the defensive tackle position (9.99 RAS). His first year was similar to Fatukasi as neither one played much. Then, Fatukasi was ready for his second year and played exceptionally well. Marshall has the athletic potential to be a contributor.

Out of this group of players, Williams proved himself the most last season. He was added through waivers shortly before the start of the season and played a ton right away. Now, he should be more comfortable with time in the system. He does have a ton of speed, athletic ability, and physicality. If he can be more consistent, Williams has the talent to be an asset.

As rookies in 2021, both Sherwood and Nasirildeen made a position change from safety to linebacker. Hopefully, they are both further along mentally with an entire offseason of experience at the position.

Final thoughts

While inside, there are concerns, some players on the outside the Jets added this offseason can improve the run defense. Jermaine Johnson is a physical run defender with size on the edge. Strong safety Jordan Whitehead thrives as a run defender and will bring a needed mentality with his toughness. Even at cornerback, Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed can both contribute against the run.

Until proven otherwise, this aspect of the Jets is the most significant unknown. The hope for the run defense to simply not be a weakness teams can easily exploit is the rapid growth of young players who have yet to prove themselves. From an optimistic standpoint, the youth grows in confidence and, with opportunities, can find a way to get the job done.