New York Jets: 8 run-stopping defensive tackles the team can sign in free agency

new york jets, linval joseph
Jan 2, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) celebrates after the game against the Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Jets currently have two defensive tackles under contract, Quinnen Williams and Tanzel Smart. From last year’s team, Sheldon Rankins, Nathan Shepherd, and Solomon Thomas are all set to be free agents. With the way Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich like to rotate their defensive line, the Jets will have to get at least three more defensive tackles under contract this offseason.

One skill set, in particular, that the Jets could use having up front on the interior is a run-stopper with some size. When reviewing the Jets’ defensive statistics from 2022, there is so much to love as the unit ranked fourth overall in football and third against the pass. The one area that fell behind, though was the run defense which finished tied for 16th in the league (121.6 yards per game) and struggled drastically down the stretch (133.8 yards per game in the final eight games).

Knowing that an improved run defense can ultimately take the Jets’ defense to an even greater level, potentially the top-ranked unit in football in 2023, adding some run run-stuffing specialists this offseason would be wise. Let’s review eight free-agent defensive tackles set to hit the market who would help bolster the Jets’ run defense.

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Eight free agent run-stopping defensive tackles the New York Jets could pursue:

1. Carlos Watkins, Dallas Cowboys:

Carlos Watkins has played six years in the NFL and turned 29 in December. He spent the past two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, where he played in 27 games (716 snaps). Watkins has the size at 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds. Furthermore, he has the desired length that the Jets love in their defensive lineman with 34 5/8″ arms.

With the way that the Jets rotate in their two backup defensive tackles, Shepherd and Thomas, last year, for example, both averaged 22-25 snaps a game (Shepherd, 24.5 and Thomas, 22.1). Watkins is coming off a year in which he played 23.2 snaps per game, so he would fit seamlessly in that regard with the Jets.

Watkins, who has just five career sacks, is primarily a run defender. His ability to stop the run paired with his size, makes him an intriguing free-agent option for the Jets.

2. Isaiah Buggs, Detroit Lions:

Isaiah Buggs has been in the NFL for four years and spent time with three different teams. He is finally coming off a year in which he recorded over 230 snaps and showed some promise.

Physically, he may not be the biggest at 295 pounds or longest with 31 1/4″ arms, but he does have some height at 6-foot-3. Buggs is still relatively young as well, as he will turn 27 in August.

Even beyond just run defense, Buggs offers some athleticism and pass-rushing ability. He concluded 2022 with 10 quarterback hits and 20 pressures.

Coming off a breakout year as still a young player, Buggs could continue to build on his success from last season.

3. Andrew Billings, Las Vegas Raiders:

Andrew Billings has been in the NFL for seven years and turns just 28 in March. He offers a lower build to the ground at 6-foot but has some size at 311 pounds and length with 33″ arms.

Billings is coming off a year in which he played in 14 games and totaled 481 snaps (34.4 per game). He did some great work for the Raiders in run defense.

The main issue with Billings throughout his career has been availability (67 games played). But, when he has been on the field, as shown last year, he can be a force in the middle of a defensive line.

4. Johnathan Hankins, Dallas Cowboys:

Johnathan Hankins worked alongside Watkins and attained some success for the Cowboys in 2022. I had the Jets sign him in my mock free agency 1.0 the other day.

Hankins has good size across the board at 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, with 33″ arm length. He has played 10 years in the NFL and turns 31 in March.

Last year, he played in 10 games and recorded 236 snaps (23.6 per game). Hankins could replicate just that as the Jets’ third or fourth defensive tackle while getting this run defense to improve.

5. Linval Joseph, Philadelphia Eagles:

The Jets hosted Linval Joseph for a visit in late October. Perhaps, in a few weeks, when free agency starts, they show some interest in him once again.

He ended up spending the final few months of 2022 with the NFC Champion, Philadelphia Eagles, where he played in eight games and totaled 189 snaps (23.6 per game). Despite being 34 years old, Joseph showed that he still has some quality football left.

Joseph offers a ton of size at 6-foot-4, 328 pounds, with 34 1/2″ arm length. With the Jets’ recent interest in Joseph and now having a need for some depth and better run stuffers with size, they could pursue Joseph yet again.

6. Trysten Hill, Arizona Cardinals:

Trysten Hill started the first half of 2022 with the Cowboys before being waived and then claimed by the Arizona Cardinals. He is the youngest player out of the eight mentioned here. Hill has played four years in the NFL and just turns 25 in March, making him a fascinating free agent.

Hill has a solid frame at 6-foot-2 and 310 pounds with some length to boot, having 33 3/8″ arms. He is coming off a year in which he played in a career-high 13 games and recorded 228 snaps (17.5 per game). Hill picked up five tackles for loss in 2022, another career-best.

The youth, size, ability to play the run, and the fact that Hill is coming off his first quality year in the NFL make him a polarizing depth piece for the Jets at defensive tackle.

7. Hassan Ridgeway, San Francisco 49ers:

Hassan Ridgeway has played seven NFL seasons and will turn 29 in November. He has a solid frame standing at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds with 33″ arms.

In 2022, he played in 12 games for the San Francisco 49ers, accumulating 284 snaps (23.7 per game). He contributed to the 49ers’ second-ranked run defense in the NFL (77.7 yards per game).

Ridgeway is also appealing for the Jets because of the similar scheme they run to the 49ers, Robert Saleh’s former team.

8. Chris Wormley, Pittsburgh Steelers:

Chris Wormley has played six years in the NFL and turns 30 in October. He is gifted with height at 6-foot-5, length with 34 1/4″ arms, and size at 300 pounds.

Wormley played in 13 games last year, compiling 338 snaps (26 per game). He picked up three tackles for loss and 29 total tackles.

The unfortunate thing with Wormley is that he is coming off surgery for a torn ACL. That being said, he is another viable option set to hit the market for a Jets team in need of some defensive tackle depth.