New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Tennessee Titans

New York Giants, Julio Jones

Tennessee lost several key offensive contributors from its recent postseason runs, including current New York Jets WR Corey Davis.

The Opponent: Tennessee Titans
The Date: Week 4, October 3, 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NY)
The Series: Tennessee leads 25-19-1 (last meeting: 2018, 26-22 TEN)

Corey Davis earned 984 yards on 65 receptions for the Tennessee Titans last season. A bout with COVID-19 held the fifth pick of the 2017 draft just short of his first career four-digit yardage season. Davis played a major role in each of Tennessee’s last three playoff trips, two of which have seen them win at least one game.

Somehow, Davis got lost in the Nashville fold, leading Titans management to label him expendable.

The Titans’ return to the national spotlight…only three teams have partaken in more playoff games since 2017…has been driven by the breakouts of several explosive skill players, including Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, Ryan Tannehill, Jonnu Smith, and, of course, Davis. That group…minus Davis and the New England-bound Smith…is now joined by Julio Jones, who is looking to regain his All-Pro reputation after his last season in Atlanta was decimated by injury.

Tennessee will make only its second visit to MetLife Stadium for a Jets game. They last stopped by in December 2015, a 30-8 Jets victory.

The Skinny on the Titans

Following their heartbreaking visit to the AFC title game after the 2019 season, the Titans broke the 10-win ceiling for the first time since 2008, likewise ending their division title drought. Alas, they had nothing to show for it in the postseason, as a first-round exit at the hand of Baltimore awaited.

The Titans’ current landscape and depth could perhaps best be described as top-heavy. Tannehill is backed up by Logan Woodside and Matt Barkley. Henry’s top spell option is Darrynton Evans, a third-round pick who was limited to 54 yards in an injury-plagued rookie year. They’ll once again be must-see television…as long as they stay healthy.

So what’s been the big problem in Tennessee? The Titans have learned the hard way that defense still wins championships. After losing their chance at the Super Bowl by surrendering a two-possession lead in just over five minutes against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee ranked at or near the bottom in most major defensive categories. The team did muster 15 interceptions…third-best in the AFC…but one of the leaders, Malcolm Butler, has moved on to Arizona.

Despite their lack of depth, the Titans are likely the unanimous favorite in the reeling AFC South, at least until the Indianapolis Colts find a proven quarterback. Houston has far too much to prove, while it’s going to take a lot more than the arrival of Trevor Lawrence for the Jacksonville Jaguars to become relevant again.

New York Giants, Daniel Jones
Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New in Tennessee?

In bidding farewell to their offensive depth, the Titans sought to bolster the weak defense. Before Jones arrived late, their marquee addition was former Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree. The ex-Steeler is coming off an ACL tear but was nonetheless bestowed an $82.5 million contract to help solve their issues. Dupree was removed from the physically unable to perform list last week and has begun practicing.

“Anytime you get paid to pass rush, you go ahead and get sacks and make big plays in the run game, be an all-around player,” Dupree said of his role in his new home in a June episode of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. “You don’t just come in just to be a one-trick pony and just do pass rush. You’ve got to be able to be a tone-setter on the edge, as well, swarming to the ball, stopping the run, evolving your teammates, getting everybody hyped up.”

In addition to Dupree, the Titans also welcomed Denico Autry to bolster the pass rush after three successful years with the Colts. Tennessee also opted to use their top draft pick on defensive help, welcoming Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, who should fill the void Butler left behind.

Though well accomplished…Tannehill has become a reliable starter, Henry is a downright historic, game-changing rusher, Brown and Jones should be a deadly aerial pair…the Titans’ offense has something to prove. Coordinator Arthur Smith earned a head coaching job in Atlanta for his work over the past two seasons, leaving tight ends coach Todd Downing to take over. Downing previously won Pro Football Focus’ Quarterbacks Coach of the Year Award for his work with Derek Carr in Oakland.

New York Giants, Caleb Farley
Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

How to Beat Them

-Jump the Defense

The Titans’ return to the national spotlight is reminiscent of their turn-of-the-century heyday. Back then, they had Steve McNair, Eddie George, and Derrick Mason. Nowadays, it’s Tannehill, Henry, and Brown/Jones pairing.

But there’s a difference: the former group’s offensive fireworks were accentuated by the equally effective defensive work of Jevon Kearse and Samari Rolle.

The Jets’ mission is thus relatively simple in the theory that they must force the Titans’ defense to win the game. By the time Tennessee comes to visit, the Jets will have had three games to build offensive chemistry. That’s obviously not the most experience together, but it can be enough to take advantage of a Tennessee defense that was already dealing with issues. They can’t let the Titans’ offensive arsenal decide the game.

-Take a Passing Interest

What Tannehill has been able to do in Nashville is inspiring and deserves to be recognized. After a seemingly endless streak of proverbial make-or-break seasons in Miami, Tannehill has forged a long-term NFL path as the Titans’ franchise quarterback.

Yet, he can’t fully bear the load of an offensive box score. Since he entered the league in 2012, Tannehill teams are 4-18 when he throws at least 40 passes. The Titans have taken note…only three of those instances have come in Tennessee.

Forcing Tannehill to win the game obviously then leads to containing Henry, the defending Offensive Player of the Year and 2,000-yard rusher. The Jets’ run defense should enjoy a boost from the return of Kyle Phillips, one of the team’s top run defenders during his 2019 debut before injuries ate up his sophomore season. Former Robert Saleh pupil Ronald Blair should likewise help keep the run game grounded, as he was one of San Francisco’s top rush defenders off the edge.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Ashtyn Davis, Vinny Curry set to miss Week 1

Head coach Robert Saleh announced on Wednesday that the New York Jets will be without two key defenders come opening day in Carolina.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh broke some tough news as training camp practices commenced on Wednesday.

By a “conservative” estimate, safety Ashtyn Davis won’t come off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list until the Jets’ home opener in Week 2 against New England. Saleh likewise predicted that Vinny Curry would also miss the Jets’ kickoff weekend showdown with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on September 12.

According to Saleh, Davis’ problem is the same foot injury that kept him out of the final four games of last season. Davis, a third-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley in last year’s virtual draft, is expected to take on a larger role in the strong safety spot. Veteran newcomer Lamarcus Joyner will likely take on an expanded role, backed by fellow acquisition Sharrod Neasman and former XFL representative Elijah Campbell.

As for Curry, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, Saleh mentioned that an offseason procedure “is going to hold him up”. The Super Bowl champion spent parts of last season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue that cost him four games.

Saleh’s injury updates weren’t fully dire. The head coach mentioned that both Quinnen Williams and Kyle Phillips are anticipated to be ready for the Jets’ visit to Green Bay during the second week of the preseason. New York will partake in joint practice sessions with the Packers before an exhibition battle on August 21.

The head coach went into a little more detail on Williams, whose return is one of the most anticipated of the season after his breakthrough sophomore season. Williams has been sidelined with a foot injury suffered while working out at the team’s training facility over the spring. Saleh said that the third pick of the 2019 draft hasn’t partaken in team activities yet for precautionary reasons, per notes provided by the Jets.

“(We’re taking a) slower approach in terms of making sure that this doesn’t happen to the other foot and all that stuff,” Saleh said. “I’m still not concerned at all about Quinnen, he does look good out there. He started running, he’s in good shape. He’s going through all of it, he’s been here. We’re confident when he hits the field, he’ll hit the ground running.”

Asked if Williams would be ready for Week 1 in Carolina, Saleh merely replied “I don’t want to jinx it”.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets Top 10 Tuesday: Veteran breakout candidates for 2021

As the New York Jets bide time before training camp, ESM looks at some veteran faces that could be poised for a breakout.

As we’ve officially reached a rare dead period on the NFL calendar, ESM presents Top 10 Tuesday, a weekly list series that will center on the past, present, and future of the Jets in a sortable format.

We’ll begin this series by looking at ten veteran players that could rise to the occasion come up big for the Jets as they embark on a new gridiron journey…

Oct 1, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets kicker Sam Ficken (9) celebrates his field goal with teammates during the first half against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

10. K Sam Ficken

Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded for Seattle, the Jets have been through six different kickers. That’d be unacceptable in pretty much every football realm, but such instability is unacceptable for a team with a developing offense. Confidence can be built if points can be scored in as many drives that invade opponents’ territory as possible.

Ficken, set to enter his third season in green, seemed like he was on his way toward ending the constant turnover. He converted each of his first nine field goal attempts (five alone during a Thursday night tilt against Denver) but he lost the spark after missing several games with a groin injury. This time around, Ficken will compete with undrafted free agent Chris Naggar to get his job back. He can become a vital silver lining in the Jets’ expected growing pains if he’s able to capitalize on a career-best 86 percent success rate from three.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Defensive Lineman Kyle Phillips #98 of the New York Jets makes a stop call against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

9. DL Kyle Phillips

The versatile Phillips, entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season. Veteran injuries forced him into starting duties, but he made the most of his opportunity with 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Phillips was a consistent backfield invader in his rookie season, as his seven tackles for a loss were tied for fourth-best on the team and his quarterback pressures (6) were good for third amongst his fellow linemen.

Alas, an ankle injury prevented Phillips from building on the momentum from his rookie season. To make matters worse from a personal standpoint, the Jets spent the offseason bolstering their front seven with established veteran names that could leave Phillips in an awkward spot. He’ll certainly return with a vengeance in 2021 and will keep things interesting in the second halves of preseason games.

8. OL Dan Feeney

Perhaps no one in the NFL has increased their profile better than Feeney this offseason. The former Los Angeles Charger has gone viral for his goal celebrations at New York Islander playoff games, becoming the literal face of the Jets’ support for their blue and orange comrades on Long Island.

The surge in popularity has had many asking exactly what the Jets get in Feeney, who was mostly used as a depth option in Los Angeles. His experience at center could prove vital: Sam Darnold went through three different primary centers in three years and the Jets would love to establish some starting lineup stability for incoming franchise man Zach Wilson right from the start.

trevon wesco, new york jets

7. TE/FB Trevon Wesco

With Tyler Kroft arriving as an established goal-line option and strong potential behind undrafted free agent Kenny Yeboah (not to mention the return of starter Chris Herndon), the third-year, fourth-round pick faces an uphill battle to make an impact as a tight end. But he can make an offensive difference through the resurrection of the archaic fullback spot.

As we discussed last week, the days of Richie Anderson and Tony Richardson may be gone, but the Jets appear set to resume the Wesco experiment at fullback after injuries prematurely shut down the project last season. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur previously reaped the benefits of Kyle Juszczyk’s prescience in San Francisco and believes that Wesco’s bulkier size could allow him to do things that even the All-Pro fullback wasn’t capable of.

“(Wesco) is a bigger body, he’s longer,” LaFleur explained last week, per notes from the Jets. “He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations.”

6. LB Blake Cashman 

One has to wonder if it’s now or never for Cashman, who enters his third NFL season in an unusual spot. The fifth-round pick from 2019 filled in serviceable when C.J. Mosley got hurt two years back, but injuries of his own have limited him to only 11 games in his career so far.

It’s always tough to condemn a player for getting hurt in the NFL. After all, football is a violent game and injuries happen. When they do, players should take all the time they need to heal up properly. But the NFL has proven time and time again that it’s willing to make business decisions that aren’t anything personal. Cashman appears to be a good fit in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defensive landscape, so it would be a shame to see his NFL career end before it truly begins.

Dec 20, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back Ty Johnson (25) scores a touchdown as Los Angeles Rams strong safety Jordan Fuller (32) defends the play during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5. RB Ty Johnson

It’s a bit of a shame that Johnson’s mini-breakout was masked by the malarkey of Adam Gase’s final days at the helm. For example, Johnson made Jets history in a December tilt against the Raiders by earning the first triple-digit yardage game for the Jets in over two full calendar years. Not only did the Jets waste the historic tally through Gregg Williams’ ill-advised final blitz, but Johnson earned only 13 carries over the next three games (as opposed to 22 in the Las Vegas debacle).

Johnson has a decent chance to shine in the Jets’ new-look, minimalist approach at running back. The present focus has turned to newcomers Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman, but don’t let Johnson’s status as a holdover from the Gase era fool you: he’s capable of making an impact at moment’s notice. His speed and experience in lining up in the slot could also pay big dividends in LaFleur’s system, giving him a bit of an edge over the more north/south-inclined La’Mical Perine.

4. WR Braxton Berrios

With so many new receivers on their way in, it’s somewhat easy to forget about Berrios, one of the leading receivers from last year’s woebegone two-win squad. He faces a bit of a battle to make the roster, but the former Patriot got his season off to a great start in minicamp, emerging as one of the most pleasant surprises. It was enough to earn special props from Wilson.

“Braxton is a smart guy, that’s one of his best attributes,” Wilson said at the end of minicamp, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a slippery player, he gets in there and runs some great routes. He’s quick, but I think the best attribute is just knowing what’s going on. He’s got a great feel for the defense, he’s got great hands. He’s just been in those spots to make plays. We’ve got a lot of good playmakers and Braxton is doing a great job.”

Berrios might also be able to make an impact on special teams. During the 2019 season, he was one of two returners (min. 20 attempts) to average over 10 yards on punts.

Nov 17, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) runs off the field after recovering a fumble during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

3. LB Jarrad Davis

Coming off a brutal two-win season, it was going to be hard for the Jets to convince the truly elite free agents to join their cause. Their consolation prizes include Davis, a former first-round pick that previously repped Detroit.

Davis’ career got off to a decent start, as he earned All-Rookie team honors while working in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s 4-3 system. However, Austin was let go with the rest of Jim Caldwell’s staff at the end of the 2017 season despite guiding the Lions to three winning seasons in their four campaigns. Detroit football hasn’t been the same since and Davis was an unfortunate part of the decline. He failed to adapt to Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni’s set-ups and the Lions declined his fifth-year option prior to the 2020 season. Davis thus joined the Jets on a one-year, $5.5 million deal this offseason.

Davis’ finest performances have come in the 4-3 set that Saleh and Ulbrich are set to implement. He earned his first-round status through working with Geoff Collins at the University of Florida and worked well with Austin early on in Detroit. That knowledge can not only help him break out on a personal level but can also help him take on the role of a teacher of the 4-3 set.

Nov 29, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) runs the ball ahead of Miami Dolphins defensive back Nik Needham (40) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

2. WR Denzel Mims

One thing that’s really unfortunate about Mims’ situation is that he will forever be connected to a fellow member of the green draft class of 2020. When the Jets drafted Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick…Joe Douglas’ first at the helm of general manager…it came at the price of passing on considerable receiving talents (i.e. Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, eventual Rookie of the Year Jerry Jeudy). But those concerns were supposedly alleviated when the Jets when Douglas and Co. were able to snag Mims out of Baylor in the early stages of the second round.

Becton’s early promise has somewhat masked the fact that Mims hasn’t been on the field much in the early going. It has mostly been a case of bad luck, as he dealt with injuries at the earliest stages of 2020 prep and was never really able to get into the swing of things. This time around, Mims missed voluntary workouts due to a (non-COVID-19) illness, causing him to lose valuable reps with Wilson. The spotlight has thus turned to another second-round pick, that of Elijah Moore.

But Jets brass and outside observers still appear to believe in Mims, who serves as a valuable big-play target. Former NFL receiver and current NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson listed Mims as one of his five receivers poised for a breakout, while LaFleur compared Mims to Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.

“It looks like he has a wingspan like Kevin Durant. He’s got tons of range as long as that ball is anywhere around him. If the ball is anywhere in the vicinity, you expect them to get it,” LaFleur said in May, per Max Goodman of SI.com. “He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with. But he’s just gonna have to get out there…it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”

1. LB Carl Lawson

As the Jets seek to re-energize their pass rush…which becomes vital with a presumed pair of matchups against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa in the foreseeable future…one of their biggest acquisitions was Lawson out of Cincinnati. Yet, hard-to-please fans and analysts expressed disappointment with his relatively low sack numbers. Lawson tallied 11.5 over the last two seasons, a drastic declined from the 8.5 he put up in his rookie year.

However, don’t let the relatively pedestrian numbers fool you: Lawson has been an agent of chaos in opposing backfields. According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, advanced stats indicated that Lawson was one of eleven defenders that “created” at least 10 sacks last season, even if he himself didn’t obtain it. In more conventional stats, Lawson also put up 32 overall quarterback pressures, good for second in the league behind only TJ Watt.

Ulbrich noted Lawson’s dedication to the game in some of his first statements as the Jets’ defensive boss.

“(He’s) obsessed with the game,” Ulbrich said of Lawson, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “He wants to become the most technical pass-rusher in the league.”

Lawson admitted in Dunleavy’s report that he does want his sack numbers to return to the levels he knows he’s capable of. He believes the Jets’ bolstered interior defense, led by 2020 breakout man Quinnen Williams, can help him get there.

“I have the mindset that no matter who is around me I should win my 1-on-1,” the signer of a three-year, $45 million told Dunleavy. “That’s a great thing to have, great interior players, but the way I think of it is to produce no matter what the situation because what if everybody got hurt? Could I use that as my excuse for (fewer) sacks? No.”

What other Top 10’s do you want to see? Let Geoff know on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Henry Anderson released; What it means for the New York Jets

With the veteran Anderson out and over $8 million of cap space in, ESM ponders what’s next for the New York Jets.

The New York Jets bid Henry Anderson farewell on Tuesday night, releasing the three-year veteran. With the release, the Jets now save about $8 million in cap space, bring an already robust number to just under $76 million to spend this offseason…the second-best purse in the NFL, behind only Jacksonville.

How does this change the Jets moving forward? ESM investigates…

This becomes a bigger year for Kyle Phillips

Phillips was turning into something that worked for the Jets over the past two seasons…so, of course, football misfortune befell him. This diamond in the rough emerged as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2019, and he went on to make the most of the time afforded to him. Playing 50 percent of defensive snaps, Phillips became a menacing prescience in opposing backfield, earning 39 tackles (7 for a loss, including 1.5 sacks, led the team) over 15 games (4 starts). The Jets’ defensive staff had high hopes for him entering the 2020 season.

Being an undrafted free agent, he’s just a guy who’s so mature for his age. He’s one of those players you hope can play 10 years,” then-defensive line coach Andre Carter, now holding the same position at LSU, said of Phillips to team reporter Jack Bell. “He just works hard. He’s old school. He can play in various packages. He’s smart. He’s the least of my worries. He’s one of those players you enjoy having in the room because he asks intelligent questions.”

Alas for Phillips, he was never able to make an impact in 2020 due to lineup shuffling and an ankle injury that prematurely ended his season. But as the immediate name behind Anderson on the depth chart, this season takes on greater importance, as the transaction shows the Jets have extended a new brand of trust unto him. His development under Robert Saleh and his 4-3 tendencies will certainly be something to keep an eye on once the team reconvenes.

Nov 22, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets defensive end Henry Anderson (96) celebrates after a fumble recovery against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

There are more funds to work with

The Jets’ cap situation has been discussed and sung about ad nauseam in the metropolitan postings, but the question becomes how they can wisely spend and distribute that money. New York is far removed from the proverbial “one move away” from the Super Bowl…heck, they might be several moves away from merely sniffing a wild card spot at this point. But the release of Anderson will allow them to address perhaps some under-the-radar needs they would be unable to obtain without the $8.2 million afforded to them through this transaction.

For example, the Jets could be well settled in their tight end spot, hoping that Chris Herndon has regained his rookie year form. This extra cap room, though, could perhaps give them the means to seek out some veteran help. Same with the running back spot, where they have plans for La’Michael Perine but are stretched thin with Le’Veon Bell gone and both Ty Johnson and Josh Adams up to hit the market. Now armed with nearly $75 million in cap space, they might also be able to afford multiple marquee free agents.

With the potential to add more weapons, it is in fact possible that the possibility of Sam Darnold staying has been raised ever so slightly.

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder (82) is tackled by Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The purge has begun

Obviously, there are exceptions, but the purge of almost anything relating to the Adam Gase era is officially underway with the release of Anderson. It informally began with the in-season release/trades of Le’Veon Bell, Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson, but now a new cutdown to add even further to the salary cap surplus.

While Anderson’s time in New York was probably up…he earned only a single sack after the career-best 7.5 in 2018…the Jets might be tempted to dismiss some rare, reliable silver linings in an attempt to fatten their wallet even further. The team has a major decision to make on Jamison Crowder, who has been by far their most consistent offensive weapon over the last two seasons. But with a $10 million addition to their cap space picture due upon his release, he could be the next to go (though they could gain back the same amount in a trade). Others potentially on their way out include blockers George Fant ($7.8 million) and Alex Lewis ($5 million). The Jets’ cap picture is very healthy, but when one is cursed with as many issues as they are, every little bit helps. The mandated departure of Anderson is just the beginning.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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 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.