New York Jets defensive position battles entering 2022 training camp

Nathan Shepherd, jets

The New York Jets defense enters 2022 training camp with substantially improved pass rushing and cornerback talent. Still, there are a few starting positions that happen to be unknown at this time. In terms of backup roles, the Jets’ defense consists of a battle for roster spots at almost every position going into camp.

How many defensive ends?

When looking at the Jets’ current group of edge defenders, there are two talented starters in Carl Lawson and Jermaine Johnson. After them, there are four players with strong final roster cases. Jacob Martin and Micheal Clemons were both added this offseason. Martin signed on a three-year deal, and Clemons was drafted in the fourth round. Long-time veteran Vinny Curry was re-signed to a nearly fully-guaranteed contract. Also, Bryce Huff is a young player who has shown promising flashes throughout his first two years.

In total, that’s six edge players who are roster worthy for the 2022 Jets. Also, John Franklin-Myers could very well get reps on the edge on running downs. Whether the Jets opt to go with five or six at this position, depending on how many spots they have available, will be worth following.

Defensive tackle

The Jets’ defensive line interior has Quinnen Williams, Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, and Solomon Thomas virtually all locked in. With at least five and probably six defensive ends, the Jets will likely only be able to keep one of Nathan Shepherd or Jonathan Marshall.

With the loss of Folorunso Fatukasi this offseason, the Jets need a bigger player inside who can bolster this run defense. Franklin-Myers, Rankins, and Thomas are not bigger and are primarily interior pass rushers. This allows Shepherd and Marshall to make the roster and play a good amount.

Shepherd seems to be a favorite of the front office and coaching staff. He was surprisingly re-signed this offseason. Shepherd is going into year five with the Jets. Marshall was drafted in the sixth round just last year in 2021. He has generational athletic ability relative to the defensive tackle position. Will the Jets keep Marshall based on his upside, or go with the more experienced veteran in Shepherd?

Linebacker competition

The three linebackers who are final 53-man roster locks are C.J. Mosley, Quincy Williams, and Jamien Sherwood. This position group will likely have five players. The three players likely in a competition for the final two spots are Hamsah Nasirildeen, Del’Shawn Phillips, and Marcell Harris. Nasirildeen is still young as a 2021 draft pick. He has the most talent and room to grow defensively out of the three. Phillips and Harris are more special teams contributors. Harris has prior experience with Robert Saleh from the San Francisco 49ers. Phillips proved himself greatly in 2021 as a top contributor for Brant Boyer’s unit. It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out.

Cornerback depth

As a result of the Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed additions, the many young corners the Jets have had over the last two years will be competing for the final spots of this group. Slot cornerback Michael Carter II is one final roster lock. The two outside backups, 2021 starters Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols, are strong locks. From there, young slot corner Javelin Guidry, core special teamer Justin Hardee, and second-year outside cornerback Isaiah Dunn will make the competition here fascinating. At least one and possibly even two of these players may not make it. Will the Jets opt to go with six or seven cornerbacks on the Week 1 roster?

Starting free safety

The Jets signed a talented, strong safety in free agency in Jordan Whitehead. No significant addition was made at free safety this offseason, though. The top two players competing for this starting role are nine-year veteran Lamarcus Joyner and young second-year player Jason Pinnock. Joyner is more proven but coming off a season-ending injury in the first game of last season. Pinnock has gotten some playing time with the starting defense this offseason. He possesses a ton of athleticism and size at 23 years old.

Who rounds out safety?

It will be intriguing to see if the Jets keep four or five safeties. Whitehead, Pinnock, and Joyner are likely final roster guarantees as mentioned above. The next three players who may be in a battle to make the team are Ashtyn Davis, Elijah Riley, and Will Parks. Davis was a recent third-round draft pick with incredible athletic ability. Riley was acquired mid-season last year, and considering he had to play right away, he held up well. Parks is a seven-year veteran with much more experience. One or possibly two of these players may end up on the outside looking in. It all depends on the number of safeties the Jets have room to keep on the team.

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