New York Jets: Defensive expectations for upcoming season

New York Jets, Jamal Adams

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The New York Jets‘ defense played well last season, ranking seventh in the NFL in fewest yards allowed. The defense kept the team in games and was one of the few somewhat-consistent areas of the team. The team should be bolstered with some new additions, both in the draft and free agency, and some returning players. I won’t mention every player, but let’s take a look at the expectations for each defensive position group for this upcoming campaign:

This is assuming no additions or changes will be made from this point, i.e. Jamal Adams will be on the team



 

Defensive Line

The defensive line had some positives, and negatives, last season. The main positive is that they contributed greatly to allowing the second-fewest amount of rushing yards last season, behind only the Buccaneers. The line, led by Steve McLendon and Quinnen Williams played well in that regard. McLendon totaled 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks while Williams produced 28 total tackles, one fumble recovery and 2.5 sacks as well. Keep in mind, Williams played in only 13 games last season, as a rookie, due to an ankle injury which kept him off the field weeks two, three and four. Barring any injuries or suspension, he should be expected to improve. He should be expected to total around 40 tackles and 5 sacks across a full season in year two.

One player I expect to get more consistent playing time is Foley Fatukasi. The third-year man out of UConn played in 14 games last season, totaling 26 tackles, in which 7 were for a loss, and a sack. To top it off, from weeks six through nine, he was the third-highest graded defensive lineman in football, behind only Aaron Donald and Calais Campbell. That is some outstanding company to be in, especially for someone who is mostly a rotational player. As a result, I believe he gets more consistent playing time, although he will not be a starter.

The team also added defensive end Jabari Zuniga in the third round of the draft. In 42 collegiate games at Florida, he totaled 118 tackles, in which 34.5 were for a loss, and 18.5 sacks. Depending on his field time and progression, he can add somewhat of an edge rush, which the defense needs. Overall, expect the run defense to remain in the top-five.

 

Linebacker

The linebacker group is going to be an interesting one leading up to, and throughout, the season. The group, led by C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson, could be set up for a strong campaign. Both players are coming off of injury-riddled seasons and should be expected to bounce back. Mosley played in just two games while dealing with a recurring groin injury. In the first game of the season against the Buffalo Bills, Mosley showed why he was signed to lead the linebacker group. Before leaving the game, he totaled 6 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pick-six. If he remains healthy and plays all 16 games, Mosley should be expected to total no less than 90 tackles and a couple of sacks and interceptions. He should have a well-rounded season as he is accustomed to having.

Avery Williamson missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. The year before, he totaled 120 tackles, 6 for a loss, and 3 sacks. There’s no reason to believe that, if he’s healthy, he won’t be near those numbers again. While he may not exactly replicate them due to the number of talented linebackers around him, he should be able to put up numbers near those that Mosley should be expected to.

The team brought back a few players from last season during free agency as well. They brought back James Burgess, Jordan Jenkins and Neville Hewitt. Jenkins, an outside linebacker, had a career-high in sacks last season with eight. His returning outside rush will be one of the top options this upcoming season. For a team that doesn’t have the strongest presence of outside pass rush, Jenkins returning was a nice touch. He shouldn’t be expected to repeat and have a career-high in sacks again, but he should be expected to have between 5 and 6 sacks easily. As for Hewitt, he played the most snaps out of any Jets linebacker last season with 718. He shouldn’t be expected to play the same amount or even have the same amount of production, especially if the main starters remain on the field. He should be a rotational player.

 

Cornerback

The cornerback group played better than many people thought they did. With that being said, they were a middle-of-the-pack group. The team ranked 16th in the league in passing yards allowed per game. The group, led largely by Brian Poole last season, has him returning on a one-year deal. Poole is arguably their best cornerback and should be expected to retain that title throughout the season. He should be expected to have a slight increase in passes defended with more depth and talent around him in the secondary.

 

The Jets also added veteran Pierre Desir to the group. Desir, who recently played for the Colts, is not necessarily a team-changing addition. However, he does add experience and depth to the thinnest part of the defense.

One of the most interesting additions to the cornerback group is rookie Bryce Hall. Before the 2019 season, Hall was projected to be a potential first-round draft pick by some mock drafts. However, his season was cut short due to injury, and, as a result, he fell to the fifth found. While on the field, Hall, who transitioned to cornerback after originally playing wide receiver, has shown good ball skills and coverage. During his junior season, he led all collegiate players in pass breakups. If he can stay healthy, the Jets may have drafted a day one talent in the fifth round. Hall shouldn’t be expected to be a day one starter, but rather a rotational corner who can produce. In all, the Jets should be expected to have a more productive and stronger year from their corners.

 

Safety

Jamal Adams is the leader in the secondary, on defense and the team as a whole. He has even been in the discussion for being the best safety in the league. After not making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, he has made it in each of the last two seasons. He should be expected to be a Pro Bowler once again and be among the top safeties in the league.

Marcus Maye has been a nice complimentary piece to Jamal Adams since they were both drafted in 2017. Maye bounced back with 65 total tackles, 7 passes defended and one interception after his season before was cut short due to injury. Maye is more than capable of increasing his tackle amount to above 70, as he showed his rookie season. He should be expected to approach the 75 tackle mark and have a few interceptions.

Now we get to Ashtyn Davis, who was drafted by the Jets in the third round of this past draft. Davis is somewhat of a mystery in the secondary. He can play safety, of course, but he could also be moved to play slot corner or nickel. He is extremely versatile and can provide help anywhere. Whether it be rotational help at safety or fill-in time at corner, Davis should provide help everywhere. In all, the Jets’ safety group should be expected to be one of the best in the NFL.

 

Bottom Line

The New York Jets’ defense should be better as a whole this upcoming season. Their run defense should be expected to remain top-five and their pass defense should show improvement. A defense that has some big-time players, such as Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley, now has a better infusion of talent and help around them. Expect the defense to move up a few spots in the rankings next season.

 

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