Can the New York Jets have an elite defense in 2020?

New York Jets, Jamal Adams
Nov 10, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets strong safety Jamal Adams (33) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets have the ability to play at a high-level on defense in 2020, but it boils down to the depth and if they can supplement injuries properly. However, let’s take a look at the starting units and if they have the potential to be elite by any means.

The New York Jets’ starting players by unit:

Starters on the Defensive Line: Quinnen Williams, Steve McLendon, Henry Anderson

The Jets selected Quinnen Williams in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft, and he struggled to a degree in his rookie season. The former Alabama standout has plenty of potential that has yet to be unlocked, having posted 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in 13 games last season. He only played on 46% of defensive snaps, which indicates he should probably see an uptick in that category moving forward. He has the potential to be elite, and he is an integral part of the Jets pass rush scheme. I fully expect him to take a significant jump in 2020.

The next interior defender is Steve McLendon, who posted similar numbers to Williams last season. His 2.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits closely mirrored the rookie’s, but McLendon played in three more games. He had an impressive missed tackle percentage of 5.3 and is known for his quality against the run. He is a staple on the Jets defense and contributes heavily to the run-stopping category.

Henry Anderson, who stands at 6-foot-6 and 301 pounds, was another contributor for the Jets last season on the left side of the defensive line. He only compiled one sack and nine quarterback hits, but he has the potential to be a producer. I wouldn’t expect him to be a double-digit sack player, but he did record 7.0 in 2018. He will be 29 years old next season, and we should expect him to increase his production a bit.

Backups on the Defensive Line: Kyle Phillips, Nathan Shepherd, Foley Fatukasi

Starters at Linebacker: Jordan Jenkins, C.J. Mosley, Avery Williamson, Tarell Basham

The Jets’ linebackers are one of the strongest units, with CJ Mosley set to return from injury. Mosley is undoubtedly their best player at the position, but having Jordan Jenkins and Avery Williamson alongside him doesn’t hurt. We know that Mosley is already at the elite level, but Jenkins is well on his way to being a fantastic player for Gang Green. He recently signed a one-year deal with the Jets after recording 8.0 sacks and 13 quarterback hits in 14 games last season.

Avery Williamson, on the other hand, missed the entire 2019 campaign, but two years ago, in his first season with the Jets, he logged 120 tackles and recorded three turnovers. His 4.0 missed tackle rate was awe-inspiring, and if he can replicate these numbers in 2020, the Jets will have a stellar linebacking corps.

Tarell Basham is an expected starter on defense as well. In his third season in the NFL, he posted 2.0 sacks and four quarterback hits in two games started last season. While his numbers don’t suggest he can be an elite player, he is serviceable for the time being. Mosley, Williamson, and Jenkins are the three premium talents at the position.

Backups at Linebacker: Blake Cashman, Patrick Onwausor, Jabari Zuniga, Frankie Luvu

Starters at Cornerback: Logan Ryan, Pierre Desir, Brian Poole

The Jets recently signed Logan Ryan to a one-year deal to supplement the loss of Trumaine Johnson. Ryan is a talented veteran corner who can fill in as the number one option on defense. Their starters include Ryan, Pierre Desire, and Brian Poole. This unit is underrated on paper, but they are producers and efficient against the passing game.

Ryan is an interesting corner, having tallied 4.5 sacks last season and eight quarterback hits. He has proven to be healthy throughout his career and will be 29 years old in 2020. His 113 combine tackles suggest that teams targeted him in coverage, and his 66% completion rate against is a bit concerning. He also allowed five touchdowns. If teams back off Ryan and allow him to play cornerback on an island, he should see relative success.

Bless Austin is another player to keep your eye on for the Jets, who saw tremendous success in his rookie season coming out of Rutgers. Austin has the potential to develop into the number two corner moving forward, but for now, Desir will man the position. Desire has seen his fair share of struggles in the past, but he’s best suited for off-ball man coverage. Expect to see him in a lot of man-coverage situations in Gregg Williams’ scheme.

Backups at Cornerback: Bless Austin, Arthur Maulet, Quincy Wilson 

Starters at Safety: Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye

The safeties unit for the Jets is arguably one of their strongest, consisting of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Adams is an elite talent who has racked up impressive numbers so far in his career. In 2019, he earned 6.5 sacks as a strong safety and tallied 75 combine tackles. His 5.1 missed tackle rate is extremely impressive, and he limited opposing quarterbacks to just a 55.3% completion rate. He only allowed two touchdowns on 38 targets. Adams has been demanding a new contract for some time, and the Jets would be silly to let him walk.

Maye, on the other hand, played In all 16 games last season, posting decent numbers. He posted 65 combined tackles and seven passes offended. However, the most impressive number was his completion percentage at 50. He allowed three touchdowns and 20.1 yards per completion, which is a bit problematic. He played on 99% of defense of snaps, proving his durability and his ability to play free safety at a quality level.

I expect him to improve his numbers a bit in 2020 and hopefully create a bit a few more turnovers.

Overall, the Jets do you have a fantastic defensive unit that heavily relies on their health. The depth at every position is minimal, and injuries could force them into a corner once again. However, if they can remain healthy and at full power, this unit has the potential to be elite.