New York Jets positional preview 2021: Defensive line

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The rise of Quinnen Williams and some diamonds in the rough has made the defensive line a rare secure spot on the New York Jets’ roster.

The Position: Defensive Line
On the Roster: Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson, Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers, Kyle Phillips Bryce Huff, Nathan Shepherd, Jabari Zuniga, Tanzel Smart
Free Agents: Trevon Coley
Reserve/Future:Ā N/A

As if the New York Jets didn’t have enough problems on their homefront, the 2020 season served as a not-so-friendly reminder that they’re going to have to deal with Josh Allen for a long, long time. Cam Newton and Tua Tagovailoa didn’t live up to the hype in their AFC East debuts, but if Deshaun Watson’s not coming to the Jets, he might well take his talents to South Beach (if his Houston employers can be convinced to bargain, that is). New England struggled with Newton but they enjoyed a rushing breakout with Damien Harris and will welcome back a healthy Sony Michel come next season.



Simply put, the Jets need to make sure their first line of defense is fortified moving forward. Despite their endless struggles in 2020, the unit became one of the Jets’ most reliable areas.

Quinnen Williams, for example, was one of the most pleasant surprises in football, recovering from a tough rookie year to become one of the league’s most dominant interior linemen (55 tackles, 14 knockdowns, 10 TFL, 7 sacks). Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi and Henry Anderson each became veteran breakouts, while John Franklin-Myers became a reliable depth option. While each dealt with injuries, the Jets have high hopes for youngsters Kyle Phillips and Jabari Zuniga. In an uncannily welcome situation, the unit has only one potential departure through free agency (Trevon Coley), though that doesn’t account for potential cap departures like Anderson ($8 million).

Adding to the defensive line’s importance is new head coach Robert Saleh’s dedication to the 4-3 defense. The Jets haven’t run such a formation on a consistent basis since Bill Parcells and Herm Edwards helped ring in the new millennium.

Saleh expects Williams to be the headliner of his unit moving forward. During Saleh’s time in the Bay Area, the 49ers extensively scouted Williams when they picked right before the Jets in the 2019 draft. San Francisco eventually took Nick Bosa but Williams left an impression on his new coach.

“With regards to (Williams) his mindset, his athleticism, his power, his love for football, I’m really, really excited to see him in our system, especially up front with the way we design with that attack style,” Saleh said, per team report Jack Bell. “He’s a game-wrecker. He’s somebody you have to game plan against to keep him at bay, and, obviously, it gives the other 10 guys an opportunity to excel just because of the focus that he’s going to garner.”

Free-Agents-to-be

DT Trevon Coley

Coley was scooped off Arizona’s waiver wire in December and didn’t appear in a game in a Jets uniform. He tallied 14 tackles and a sack over six games with the Cardinals this season. The Jets were his seventh team since entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of FAU in 2016.

Will They Draft?

Adding help to the defensive line is low on the Jets’ priority list for the time being, though the possibility could be raised if they move Anderson through a release or trade. If they had their usual output of picks, they’d probably focus beyond the front four, but they could potentially explore a mid-tier option like Janarius Robinson from Florida State or the versatile Malcolm Koonce from Buffalo. If they want to replenish the interior, they could look at Williams’ Tuscaloosa successor Christian Barmore, though he would likely require a pick over the first two days.Ā 

Veteran PossibilitiesĀ 

DE Kerry Hyder, San Francisco

Hyder is one of many San Francisco free agents that should expect a call from the Jets. He originally joined the Jets as an undrafted rookie out of Texas Tech in 2014 before latching on with Detroit and Dallas prior to his San Francisco stint. After Solomon Thomas was lost for the year, Hyder put up a career-best 8.5 sacks, leading the team. He may not be a household name, but he would provide an instant boost to the Jets’ edge efforts.

DE Bruce Irvin, Seattle

The Jets’ defensive line has potential, they just need some guidance, a push in the right direction. Irvin was set to somewhat fulfill that role by returning to the Seahawks, where he worked with Saleh during his first two NFL seasons as a 2012 first-round choice. A torn ACL limited him to only two games, but, at the right price, he can be a veteran mentor that happens to know what it’s like to work in a Saleh system.



DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, AtlantaĀ 

Having previously worked with Jeff Ulbrich, the Jets’ new defensive coordinator who held the same title in Atlanta, the undrafted sophomore from UCLA enjoyed a breakout season of sorts. He partook in all 16 games and picked up 31 tackles while also recovering three fumbles. If the Jets are looking for an interior depth option that knows what to expect from Ulbrich’s schemes, Tuioti-Mariner would be the way to go.

Outlook

In the grand scheme of things, the front four is one of the rare areas where the Jets don’t have to make too many adjustments. Yet, when you win two games in an NFL season, help from the outside would be welcome up and down the roster. If the Jets opt to let veterans like Anderson and Fatukasi go to earn additional cap space, only then would they perhaps become truly active. Still, with a new regime, namely Saleh and Ulbrich, coming in, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add a familiar face or two to potentially create a smoother transition.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMagsĀ 

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