The New York Jets defensive line arguably has the most depth out of any position group on the team. The Jets have 17 players on the roster between edge and defensive tackle at the moment. The quality of talent runs deep. There may be 11 players in the group come Week 1.
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Let’s evaluate what this defensive line could end up looking like:
The four starters
The base front four the Jets have to their advantage in 2022 will be significantly better than a year ago. Quinnen Williams is the longest-tenured player out of this bunch heading into year four with the Jets. The expectation is that he will take his game to an improved level this season.
The edge will be much improved with Carl Lawson coming back healthy and the addition of Jermaine Johnson in the first round of the draft. Having these two on the outside will now enable John Franklin-Myers to go back inside and succeed where he did in 2020. Overall, this is a good front four with the potential to grow.
Tons of pass-rushing depth
There are six players who fit into this group, and it is hard to sort them out. To start, Jacob Martin was signed to a three-year contract in free agency. He will line up on the edge, where he thrives with his speed and bend. He is similar to another edge in Bryce Huff, who was very productive for the Jets last year. At defensive tackle, the Jets now have two veteran backups who are both known to rush the passer.
Sheldon Rankins is back, and Solomon Thomas was signed in free agency. It will be fascinating to see how they will both get playing time. To round this part of the line out are two edge defenders in Vinny Curry and Micheal Clemons. Similar to the rest of the players mentioned here, Curry and Clemons are both primarily pass-rushing specialists.
Who will be the fifth defensive tackle?
From the two groups above, the Jets are already set with 10 defensive linemen barring a trade or injury. Now, it leaves one of the bigger questions. Who will be the fifth defensive tackle and help this run defense that struggled a year ago? The two players who look to be in competition here are Nathan Shepherd and Jonathan Marshall.
Shepherd is one of the Jets’ longest-tenured players now as he is in his fifth year with the Jets. It seemed like he would not be back, but he was surprisingly re-signed very early in free agency. Marshall was drafted in the sixth round a year ago.
From an athletic standpoint, Marshall tested generationally well with a 9.98 Relative Athletic Score. The traits and upside Marshall has are tough to give up on at only 24-years-old. On the other hand, Shepherd is more proven and can help right away. This role will likely only be a secondary one, though. This will be one of the more intriguing roster battles to watch for.
The rest of the defensive line
Four edge defenders and one defensive tackle round out this group. At tackle, Tanzel Smart is back after spending last year on the practice squad. Smart had a strong showing last preseason. On the edge, Tim Ward, Jabari Zuniga, Hamilcar Rashed Jr., and Bradlee Anae complete the group. Ward played in 11 games last year and is now in a tough competition. Zuniga was a third-round pick in 2020 who offers positional flexibility. Both Rashed and Anae are young 24-year-old players who attained pass-rushing success in college. Rashed spent all of last season on the Jets practice squad.
This defensive line is a strength for the Jets, to say the least. There are starters with the chance to be great. The depth in place is solid and capable of taking on reps. Ultimately, as of now, these are the 11 I predict to be on the final roster:
- Edge (6): Carl Lawson, Jermaine Johnson, Jacob Martin, Bryce Huff, Vinny Curry, Micheal Clemons
- Tackle (5): Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, Solomon Thomas, Jonathan Marshall