New York Jets positional preview 2021: Defensive line

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: 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. 

Veteran Possibilities 

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, Atlanta 

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 @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: S Marcus Maye named Team MVP

The fourth-year safety topped the list of honorees as the New York Jets released their list of team award winners.

As it turns out, a fourth-year safety from the SEC wound up making a big difference for the New York Jets after all.

The team announced on Thursday that safety Marcus Maye was the winner of their Team MVP Award for the 2020 season. Named after legendary rusher Curtis Martin, the award is voted upon by Jets players. Maye’s name will be added to a large wall at One Jets Drive’s training facility in Florham Park, joining fellow secondary defenders Jamal Adams (2018-19), Darrelle Revis (2009, 2011-12), Brian Washington (1992), and Dainard Paulson (1964).

Forced to take on a larger, stronger role on the Jets defense with Adams dealt to Seattle during the offseason, Maye has earned positive reviews for his 2020 performance and has served as a rare silver lining in a brutal season. He currently ranks second on the team in tackles (71, including a pair of sacks) and leads with 11 pass breakups. Maye has also earned his share of highlight-reel plays, including jaw-dropping interceptions against Miami and Seattle. He also had a critical pass defense in the final stages of the Jets’ Sunday visit to Los Angeles, where they earned their first win of the season over the Rams.

Speaking with Randy Lange of NewYorkJets.com, Maye credited his teammates with helping him win the prestigious green honor.

“I’m out there showing the ability that I have, but it’s not just me out there, it’s 10 other guys,” Maye said. “We all have a common goal and that’s to make plays and win games, and when we step out on the field, that’s what we try to do. So hats off to them.”

“Showing up to work each day and seeing that wall right in front of the door, you have no choice but to look at it and see all the names on it, see all the greats that have been through here. So just being part of that, something that’s going to be there forever, that’s definitely an honor.”

Maye, a second-round pick out of Florida in 2017, is set to become a free agent this coming offseason.

“He’s one of those guys that works hard and doesn’t talk much, but he will speak up if he feels like he has to,’’ former Jets teammate and modern New York Giant Leonard Williams told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. “I think it’s even more powerful sometimes when you hear something from a guy that doesn’t talk much. You know he means it.’’

Other honorees released by the Jets on Thursday included…

S Matthias Farley: Maye wasn’t the only safety honored on Thursday, as Farley won the Community Service Award named after Marty Lyons, the Jets’ former defensive star and current radio analyst. This season, Farley has made virtual visits to Atlantic Health Goryeb Children’s Hospital in Morristown, NJ. He joins Kevin Mawae and Kyle Wilson as the only two-time winners of the title.

DL Folorunso Fatukasi: In the midst of a breakout season on the defensive line, Fatukasi has also won the Kyle Clifton Good Guy Award. The title is voted upon by the Jets’ staff and is named after the longtime defensive presence.

RB Frank Gore: The 38-year-old rusher was bestowed Most Inspirational Player Award named after the late Dennis Byrd. Gore joins his fellow running back Martin (2001-03) on the list of winners of the honor, which pays tribute to Byrd’s recovery from a devastating neck injury during a 1992 game.

TE Ryan Griffin: Griffin was nominated by his teammates to be the Jets’ representative in the Ed Block Courage Award The title is earned by players who “exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage”. Griffin has been praised for rehabbing through an ankle injury suffered last season in unusual times. He has played a majority of offensive snaps this season.

WR Denzel Mims: Injuries have prevented Mims from making a true impact on the field, but the second-round choice earned the Bill Hampton Award, sent to the “Rookie Who Acts Like a Pro”. It is named after a former Jets equipment manager.

The Jets (1-13) return to action on Sunday afternoon for their final home game of the season against the Cleveland Browns (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss at Seattle

Silver linings were few and far between on Sunday in Seattle, as the New York Jets were on the wrong end of a blowout.

The first-ever Jamal Adams Bowl more or less proved the defender correct.

Just about after calling the New York Jets a team that “didn’t want to win“, Adams faced off against his green ex-compatriots for the first time on Sunday afternoon. Adams wound up making some history on his special day, as he became the NFL’s all-time single-season leader in sacks from a defensive back, passing Adrian Wilson’s eight from 2005 with a sack of Sam Darnold in the first half. It was all part of the latest Jets defeat, a 40-3 shellacking at Lumen Field.

Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns for the Seahawks (9-4) before giving way to former Jets franchise man Geno Smith in the third quarter. Elsewhere, fellow former Jet Jason Myers booted two field goals in helping former New York boss Pete Carroll, the longtime head coach in Seattle, inch closer toward another playoff berth. Yet another former wearer of green, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, had six tackles for Seattle, who continues to hold the top NFC wild card spot.

The lone scoring the Jets (0-13) could muster was a 45-yard field goal from Sergio Castillo, who missed three others. Sam Darnold threw for 132 yards while Josh Adams led the runners with 27 yards on six carries.

3rd Star: WR Braxton Berrios

3 receptions, 49 yards

The Jets’ offensive struggles took center stage once again with Denzel Mims missing and Jamison Crowder limited. Berrios did what he could to stem the bleeding, becoming the closest thing the Jets had to an offensive standout. His 49-yard output was his best showing since September.

2nd Star: DL Folorunso Fatukasi

2 TFL, 1 sack

Fatukasi has been a strong silver lining whose late breakout has been masked by the Jets’ problems as a whole. He nonetheless kept things going with a strong day of visiting the Seattle backfield, capping things off with a late sack of Geno Smith. Change is undoubtedly coming to the Jets organization in some way, shape, or form. Fatukasi is doing what he can to make sure he’s not a casualty.

1st Star: S Marcus Maye

4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD

This season has been…well, it’s been nothing if not a chore to get through from a Jets fan’s perspective. But Maye has been doing what he can to make the season tolerable, primarily by trying to make sure the Jets have some representation in the SportsCenter Top 10.

Maye’s acrobatic interception while covering D.K. Metcalf kept the score at a manageable 7-3 deficit, if only for a short while. The offense failed to do much with it, but Maye made yet another case for a chance to extend his stay in New York as free agency looms. Maye’s turnover coming shortly after Adams dropped what could’ve been a pick-six might’ve only sweetened the deal for Jets fans looking for even the tiniest morsel.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Don’t fault the New York Jets for defying the “tanking” method

Fans across the tri-state area admonished the New York Jets for the sin of playing better football on Monday night.

Let’s be clear from the get-go that while metropolitan fans have been forced to deal with a lot in the year 2020, it pales in comparison to the issues on a broader scale. If the biggest problem in your life is seeing Henrik Lundqvist in a Washington Capitals sweater or that the New York Knicks fell in the NBA draft lottery, you’re a lot better off than at least 99.999999999 percent of the rest of the world, especially in these trying times.

That being said, it was hard not to send at least a few sympathies to New York Jets fans on Monday night.

If only because New York City skyline shots are ratings gold, the Jets partook in their second nationally televised NFL game this season on Monday night, their AFC East showdown with the New England Patriots streamed to the masses of a football-loving public. Placing such a matchup in a national TV slot more or less explains why Hollywood keeps churning out gory, repetitive interations of franchises like Saw: they’re violent, often one-sided, and unpleasant from anything but a macabre sense, but people keep watching them, so the powers that be continue to make sure they remain in production. Since 2010, seven New York-New England get-togethers have been placed in either the primetime windows of Sunday, Monday, or Thursday night. The Jets have lost each of those meetings, including a 30-27 last-second defeat on the most recent edition of ESPN’s Monday Night Football. It’s the Jets’ ninth consecutive loss to New England and their ledger reads 0-9 for the first time in franchise history…a mark so dubious even Rich Kotite and Co. managed to avoid it.

Yet, when Nick Folk’s 51-yard triple sailed through the uprights as time expired, Jets fans throughout the tri-state area were…relieved?

Yes, the 2020 season has become so wretched for Jets fans that they are actually resorting to begging the Patriots to humiliate them. Such declarations are made in the name of tanking, the supposed art of intentionally losing games so as to secure a better draft pick. As the only winless team left in the NFL and only one single-win left on the docket (the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars), the Jets are well in position to secure the top overall choice, presumably to be used on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Tanking has become a far-too-common entry in the New York sports ledgers recently. The Jets’ case to do only increases due to the NFL Draft’s straightforward method of sorting. Unlike their counterparts on the ice and hardwood, the NFL eschews a lottery system, merely ranking non-playoff teams from worst to best record in determining the first 18 picks. A lower strength of schedule serves as the primary tiebreaker. It’s understandable that fans comfort themselves through thinking of the future, whether it’s via endless visits to Tankathaon or rhyming/alliterating social media tags (#TheEndeavorForTrevor).

. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Jets have had to deal with accusations of tanking after eight straight defeats (with an average margin of defeat at three possessions). A mini fire-sale that bid farewell to touted names like Le’Veon Bell (released), Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson (the latter two traded for day three draft picks) did nothing to ax those notions. Head coach Adam Gase, perhaps the most common name on the top of many Jets’ fan purge lists, insisted that it wasn’t a sign of a complete 2020 shutdown.

“I never look at waving the white flag. That’s not in my DNA,” Gase said earlier this fall, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. Regarding the departures, Gase noted that “I know it’s not always ideal, but that’s the NFL. That’s what it is. That’s part of what happens when you don’t win. We’re at a part of the season where we haven’t won a game yet, and things like this happen”.

But obsessively, almost masochistically, hoping your team loses is not the way to go.

For one thing, the unpredictable nature of the NFL Draft is too much to hinge every one of your future hopes on. One look at the countless montages all of the football rights-holders play on draft weekend showcasing the Jets’ high-profile misses should tell you that. Even if the Jets do earn the No. 1 pick and the presumed rights to Lawrence, he’s not going to wave a magic wand and make them into a contender again. It should be clear at this point that the Jets don’t seem to be making any major decisions when it comes to the beleaguered coaching staff, at least before the year lets out.

The macabre silver lining of such a woebegone record is the gift of consequence-free opportunities (at least from a franchise standpoint) for your team on game day, chances to work with research and development, see what works and what doesn’t. For their part, the Jets did seem to take advantage of this dark gift and played their best game of the season on Monday night. Sure, the Tom Brady-free Patriots aren’t what they used to be, but the fact that the Jets put up a good effort against a desperate divisional foe should be inspiring to whatever fans have opted to stick around for this.

Yet, what could’ve been a night of hope and inspiration was instead one of fear for the fanbase for the majority of the evening. The mortal sin of a New York sports rooting for a Boston team is often only applied in “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situations. There were probably New York Yankees fans that secretly clamored for the Red Sox to top the Mets in the 1986 World Series. The New York Giants’ faithful donned a new shade of blue for Super Bowl LII, unsuccessfully getting behind the Patriots’ championship cause against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fans must realize, though: even if games have no consequence in the long run…box scores from the final seven games might week be erased from the New York archives at the end of the season. But to these players, Monday’s game in New England…and the final seven games overall…mean everything.

A combination of health and social factors have served as reminders that these athletes are human. These are not interchangeable parts. Living, breathing men and women partake in these games for our entertainment, a form of amusement we, the sports-loving people, have turned to in these times of turmoil. The dark side of it is that careers and livelihoods are on the line. For some on this Jets roster, it could be the last time they see their names on an NFL depth chart. To tell these players to toss a game aside so your team will be on the clock sooner…potentially taking that player’s replacement…is naive. Tanking is a ludicrous notion in any sport. Asking players to do so in the 16-game nature of the NFL makes it even more callous in the wider picture.

Take, for example, Folorunso Fatukasi. A native of Far Rockaway and now-defunct Beach Channel High School, Fatukasi has been on and off the Jets’ active roster since joining the team as a sixth-round pick in 2018. There was promise on display from Fatukasi last season after missing all but one game in his rookie year, but perhaps nothing to truly solidify his status for the Jets’ future. His case, and perhaps many others, was perhaps hurt by a lack of preseason games, exhibitions canceled in the wake of the ongoing health crisis. The casual observer might not be able to tell whether Fatukasi was more likely destined for the Jets or, say, an XFL roster in the future.

But with injuries and the ongoing purge taking over, Fatukasi has pounced on his newfound opportunity, particularly when McLendon was dealt to Tampa Bay. His Monday output (7 tackles, including a big fourth-down stop that eventually led to a Jets field goal) added to his impressive 2020 resume, one that has him ranked in the top ten of Pro Football Focus’ interior defensive lineman ratings.

Do you really want to tell this guy to quit now for the mere possibility of hope later? Fakutasi admitted that the situation is far from ideal, but he and his fellow Jets are committed to figuring things out immediately.

“It is frustrating,” Fatukasi said, per Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post. “But we’ve still got a lot more work to do and guys are going to make sure that we’re encouraged to get this thing turned around somehow.”

Even before his big Monday night moment, Fakutasi was adamant that tanking wasn’t in the Jets’ vocabulary, without ever having to say those cursed words.

It is Monday night football, but at the end of the day it is another game, another opportunity,” Fatukasi said in a pregame report from Jack Bell of NYJets.com “My biggest objective is to go in and play as hard as I can with my teammates, rally with my teammates, and play a good game.”

“This is what we play for…to get a W.”

Do you really want to tell a guy like that to lose on purpose? Do you really want to tell the Jets’ upcoming free agent group, consisting of 28 players, some of whom will be biting and crawling for a chance to stay in the league, that their futures mean nothing? If and when Sam Darnold returns, shouldn’t he get seven final opportunities to prove he’s the Jets’ franchise man?

The sheer quality of upcoming opponents may wind getting the Jets the top overall pick their fans so desire. Five of the Jets’ final seven adversaries are either in a current playoff spot or at the very least tied for one. The exceptions are a Week 17 rematch with the Patriots in New England and their next immediate game against the Los Angeles Chargers following their bye. Los Angeles is only two wins up on the Jets, but, unlike New York, the Bolts at least seem to have some semblance of hope. Justin Herbert appears to be their franchise man and the six losses on their slate have come by a combined 24 points.

Realistically, the pro-tank party’s philosophy could be the talk of the team as they freefall toward an imperfect season. That outlook involves embracing the positives gleaned…and one could look at young developments like Denzel Mims and smile…while thanking the football gods that the Jets did just enough to add another tally to the right-hand side of the win-loss column. 

But you can be assured that the Jets won’t buy into the tanking philosophy. If postgame comments from Monday’s aftermath ring true, they’re focused on November/December 2020…not April 2021.

At least in the grand scheme of things, Jets losses are heartbreaking again. Guard Greg Van Roten made of this change in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. Van Roten made it clear that the best way out of the Jets’ current woes it to go out and win a game.

“A loss like that is heartbreaking because it’s ‘Monday Night Football’ and it comes down to the very last play of the game,” Van Roten said. “I felt like we played well enough to win and just didn’t finish. You lose and you come in on a day like today and everyone’s spirits are down. You have to watch the film, see what you did well and build on that, see what you did not so well and correct it and you have to move on. We have a bye week to kind of recover a little bit, get healthy physically and mentally and hit the ground running when we get out of the break and just go win a game.”

“In this league, you have to play with confidence,” quarterback Joe Flacco added in the same report. “The more you lose, the harder it is to do that. The more you win, you expect to go out there and run for 200 yards and throw for 350 and score five touchdowns. You expect to do that. Right now, the way we’re playing, we’re trying to convince ourselves that that’s going to be the case. We don’t really know. We’ve just got to go out there and continue to believe, continue to take it day by day.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets Position Group Grades: Defensive Line

New York Jets, Quinnen Williams

As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each New York Jets position group within the organization and grade each group. Today’s group is one that is full of talent from top to bottom. From vets to high potential young pieces, this group is not about the individuals but rather the collective unit itself. Gregg Williams is a mastermind in defensive line rotations, and that showed last season. With one of the top rushing defenses in all of football, this group will be graded as a unit rather than as individual pieces. So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the defensive line.

The Starters: Steve McLendon (NT), Henry Anderson & Quinnen Williams

The New York Jets have one key leader up front. Steve McLendon has been a consistent captain and leader in the Jets locker room. His presence is felt on the field as a run stuffer and a consistent force up the middle. He’s one of the most consistent nose tackles in the league, and I expect that to continue this season. Henry Anderson had a breakout season after being acquired from the Colts two years ago. Now, this could very well be his last season donning the green and white. Last season was a quiet year for Anderson, and if he can’t establish more of a presence, he will have a lessened role quickly. Quinnen Williams is the key x-factor of this front seven as a whole. Williams is no longer the baby he was in his first year. Williams looks more athletic and sounds more confident. He had a great camp, and I’m expecting a breakout year from the former 3rd overall selection.

Backups: John Franklin-Myers, Folorunso Fatukasi, Nathan Shepherd, Kyle Phillips, and Jordan Willis.

This group is one that is crucial to the defensive line’s success as a whole. All five guys are expected to play a role in the rotation immediately. Myers had an impressive camp and earned a roster spot, so it’ll be intriguing to see what kind of role he has early. Fatukasi and Phillips are two starting-caliber linemen who had phenomenal years last year. Both men established themselves as two of the most talented young pieces on the defense. Fatukasi is the likely successor to McLendon and Phillips to Anderson. Both guys will look to continue their success in 2020. Shepherd was a highly touted selection from Canada during the former regime’s run. Todd Bowles could never really find a role with him, but the same can’t be said about Williams. Shepherd has role fairly quickly as a rotational end, and I expect him to continue to grow in that spot in 2020. Willis is in a similar spot to Phillips last year, where he will need a strong season to earn a spot in the rotation, but that’s entirely plausible.

Grade: A

As I’ve said, individually, I’m not going to rave about any one piece of the puzzle. When put together, though, with the magic of Williams, this unit is incredibly talented. I fully expect them to take a step forward this year with growth from Quinnen, Fatukasi, and Phillips. I ultimately believe those three will be the key pieces of this line for the next few years. I’m excited for this group, and I’m glad that this is the one group I’ll probably give an A to of all the groups in New York.