New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Defensive line

The arrival of Robert Saleh should help stabilize a New York Jets defensive line packed with young potential.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our next portion turns to the front seven, starting with the defensive line…

Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) reaches for Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin (37) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

If you, the reader, often skipped these sections of the offseason recaps, this writer could hardly blame you. After all, reading them from a Jets fan’s perspective may be the Gang Green equivalent of watching Avengers: Infinity War and skipping to Thanos’ snap. 

But the Jets’ defensive line was a rare bright spot in 2020, featuring several breakouts from young pieces. By far the most impressive was that of Quinnen Williams, who immediately reclaimed the narrative on his NFL career after a sputtering rookie season. Williams’ greatest leaps came in the pass rush, more. than doubling his pressures (14 QB hits) and sack totals (7 after 2.5 in 2019). The third overall pick of the 2019 draft credited his resurgence to an adjusted workout and diet routine in a report from team correspondent Olivia Landis. He believes last season the precursor to something bigger.

“I didn’t want to be the player that I was my first year. I hit that goal and I wanted to say that I was on the right track for my career,” Williams said. “I feel like this is the stepping stone for me to get better and better every year.”

Williams wasn’t the only one whose introduction to the mainstream NFL conversation was washed out by the antics of the Jets’ 2020 season. Foley Fatukasi followed through on the promise shown at the end of the 2019 season while previous Super Bowl participant John Franklin-Myers had a career-best year in the interior. Together with Williams, both Fatukasi and Franklin-Myers were among Pro Football Focus’ top 35 best-graded interior defenders.

Admittedly, not everything was a breeze for the Jets’ front group. Kyle Phillips missed a majority of his sophomore season after impressing as an undrafted rookie, while the team bid farewell to veteran leader Steve McLendon through a de facto fire sale in October. McLendon was dealt to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he eventually earned a Lombardi Trophy hoist in February. The Jets are also set back to bring back Ontario-based Nathan Shepherd. Chosen in 2018’s third round out of Fort Hays State, Shepherd has yet to live up to his day two billing but reportedly “turned heads” at minicamp last month.

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) celebrates after a sack of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (not pictured) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The arrival of new head coach Robert Saleh has many projecting that the Jets will switch to a 4-3 setup, which will rely on a strong, rotating edge rush. Their defensive line additions saw them address that area, home to a long-gestating renovation project that hasn’t seen a consistently disruptive backfield invader since John Abraham’s departure.

When Saleh called tackle Sheldon Rankins about joining the cause, the former New Orleans Saint was all in.

“When he called me and expressed his interest and how much he really wanted me to be a part of this and the vision he had for me and Quinnen inside and Carl (Lawson) out on the edge, it got me fired up,” Rankins said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It made me want to be a part of something special.”

One of the first moves the Jets made this offseason, from a roster perspective, was releasing DE Henry Anderson, who had failed to live up to the hype of a $25 million contract. Afforded an additional $8 million through Anderson’s release, the Jets surrounded their young core with veterans that should only up their pressure.

Casual observers dismissed the addition of defensive end Carl Lawson ($45 million over three years after four seasons in Cincinnati) by complaining about his pedestrian sack numbers (11.5 in the last three years after eight in his debut campaign). But Lawson has been one of the league’s most prevalent pressure artists in recent memory, his dominance on display through advanced stats. Even if Lawson wasn’t the one taking the quarterback down, played a major role in the thrower’s eventual demise. Lawson was one of only 11 defenders who reached double figures in ESPN’s “sacks created” category and, in a more conventional area, ranked sixth in QB pressures.

In addition to Rankins, the Jets also welcomed Saleh’s former San Francisco disciple Ronald Blair into the fold before using their final draft pick on DT Jonathan Marshall from Arkansas. Vinny Curry, who previously appeared on Philadelphia’s championship squad, can provide depth and veteran leadership.

carl lawson, new york jets
carl lawson, new york jets

Are They Better Off?

The Jets need to plan for a future where they’re almost guaranteed to face Josh Allen (and possibly Tua Tagovailoa) twice a year until further notice. A strong pass rush is going to be vital if they want to pull themselves out of the playoff drought mire.

General manager Joe Douglas deserves some props for his activities on the defensive front this offseason. Few could’ve blamed the Jets for becoming complacent after the breakouts of Williams, Fatukasi, and Franklin-Myers. Instead, they upped the pressure by surrounding a defensive coach with elite defensive talents that will help foster in this latest…and most hopeful…chapter of the Jets perpetual rebuild. Lawson’s contract, for example, may be steep from a financial sense, as he’s the Jets’ biggest 2021 cap hit at over $14 million. But if he follows the promises of pressure on display over the last few seasons with the Bengals, the three-year deal could wind being one of the most consequential moves in Douglas’ tenure in both a short and long-term lens.

The green glory days have been characterized by strong defensive efforts. With the frontline additions, the Jets have set themselves up handsomely for what’s sure to be a dangerous, yet ambitious, road ahead.

Final Offseason Grade: B+

Are you more confident in the Jets’ defensive line with Robert Saleh in tow? Continue the conversation Twitter @GeoffJMags

UPDATE: New York Jets cut DL Henry Anderson

The New York Jets have released defensive lineman Henry Anderson. Anderson was brought over in a deal with the Indianapolis Colts just 3 years ago. The deal was for a 7th round pick, and it ultimately lead to success in his first season with the Jets. Anderson put up 7.0 sacks, 7 TFL ‘s, and 35 overall tackles. This prompted the former front office to offer him a three-year, $25.2 million dollar extension. The deal has been an utter failure.

Anderson’s Struggles

in the past two seasons, Anderson has combined to put up a measly 1.5 sacks, 7 TFL ‘s, and only 77 tackles. Anderson has consistently underperformed, and for the money he was worth, he failed to live up to expectations as a whole, only starting 22 of 32 of games since resigning.

The guaranteed money blocked the Jets from cutting him last offseason and allocating resources elsewhere, now with the availability to free much more cap, the team has released him, freeing up $8.2 million.

The Jets have a plethora of young and talented defensive linemen behind him with Quinnen Williams, John Franklin Myers, Foley Fatukasi, and Nathan Shepherd, who will all see increased playing time now. Anderson is older and less likely to fit the Saleh/Ulbrich defense, making him an easy cap casualty. The move also pushes the Jets closer to the Jaguars for the most cap space in the league as they look to reconstruct the roster this offseason. As for Anderson, he hits the open market, and for a team that still sees potential in the veteran, he could be a tempting depth option. 

New York Jets: 3 stars from Sunday’s win vs Cleveland

The New York Jets took advantage of a depleted Cleveland Browns squad to earn their second consecutive victory in their home finale.

For their role as spoilers, the New York Jets might be gaining some extra Christmas presents across the NFL. 

Jamison Crowder earned touchdowns through both passing and receiving, while the defense sacked a beleaguered Baker Mayfield four times as the Jets (2-13) earned their second straight victory, topping the Cleveland Browns 23-16 in their 2020 home finale. Sam Darnold also threw two touchdown passes (the other going to Chris Herndon) while Frank Gore (48) became the third rusher in NFL history to surpass 16,000 rushing yards. The ensuing loss of the Browns (10-5) was welcome news for their fellow wild-card combatants in Miami and Baltimore, as well as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who clinched the AFC North title with the Cleveland defeat.

ESM has a trio of game balls to hand out in the wake of another big victory.

3rd Star: DL Nathan Shepherd

3 tackles, 1 sack

Shepherd, a Canadian import out of both Fort Hays State and Simon Fraser, is one of several Jets establishing himself as essential personnel as the Jets go through the macabre process of free research and development. He was a constant prescience in the Cleveland backfield on Sunday, earning three tackles, a sack, and two other pressured hits on Mayfield, making sure the polarizing thrower was even more uncomfortable without his top receivers in tow.

2nd Star: LB Tarell Basham  

5 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack

There no greater defense than Basham’s antics as Cleveland’s comeback fell just short. The Ohio alum ended each of the Browns’ final two drives, forcing a pair of Mayfield fumbles that secured the final score. His first, recovered by John Franklin-Myers, allowed the Jets to add Sam Ficken-induced insurance, while the other was recovered by the Browns, but unable to be advanced due to rules enacted inside the final two minutes of the second half.

1st Star: WR Jamison Crowder

7 receptions, 92 yards, 1 TD
1 carry, 14 yards
1-for-1, 43 yards, 1 TD

Could it be that the Jets’ new franchise quarterback has been on their roster the whole time?

Obviously, Crowder isn’t that man, but the Jets were happy to provide Duke fans with a blast from the past during Sunday’s festivities. New York trickery was likely the first sign to the Browns faithful that Sunday was not going to be their day, as his 43-yard strike to Braxton Berrios put the Jets ahead for good. It was Crowder’s first touchdown pass since the 2014 Sun Bowl, when he gave the Blue Devils a late lead over Arizona State with a 12-yard scoring toss.

Crowder, who has turned into one of the NFL’s most dependable slot receivers, also got his name in the scorebook through his traditional aerial ways, nabbing a 30-yard scoring grab from Sam Darnold to conclude the Jets’ first drive of the second half.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: 3 Under the Radar Players to Watch Out for in 2020

The New York Jets are entering the 2020 NFL season with one of the youngest rosters in the league. There are many solid players on the New York Jets who are not household names but are one good season away from being recognized as someone of the top players in their positions. I have devised a list of three under the radar players on the Jets who are about to break out in 2020.

Nathan Shepherd

Shepherd was taken with the 72nd overall pick back in the 2018 NFL draft. His career got off to a slow start with an underwhelming rookie year and a 6-game suspension to start his second year in the league. At the time many fans were upset with Shepherd and did not expect him to be on the roster for 2020 until he came back from suspension and made an immediate impact. Shepherd came back into the lineup and disrupted opposing offensive lines. His stats may not show it but on tape Shepherd flashed his pass-rushing ability during the last two months of the season. If Shepherd can take the next step do not be surprised to see him in the green and white for a long time.

Marcus Maye

Ever since his rookie year Marcus Maye has been one of the most overlooked players on the Jets. Marcus Maye is the Robin to Jamal Adam’s Batman; he constantly does what is asked of him and occasionally makes a game-breaking play. Maye is in the final year of his rookie contract and has been the subject of trade over the past year. Maye will most likely want a big contract in free agency, and it is unlikely the Jets will offer him one. Expect a career year for the ball-hawking free safety as he tries to impress potential employers for the 2021 season.

Braden Mann

Arguably the Jets’ second-best pick of the 2020 draft Braden Mann is going to show why he was selected in the fifth round of the draft. Mann was the best punter in college last year and one of the best punting prospects to come out in recent years. Mann is a good directional punter and has a cannon for a leg averaging 51.1 yards per kick in 2019. The Jets lost Lachlan Edwards this year in free agency, but they may have added a future all-pro punter as his replacement. If Mann can do half of what he did in college he will be just as good as Lachlan Edwards and with Adam Gase running the offense, he will have plenty of opportunities to show off.