Grading the New York Jets 2014 Lineup Changes (Defense)

Mike Donnelly of TurnOnTheJets breaks down the New York Jets lineup changes on defense heading into 2014.

It’s no secret that the New York Jets defense has been the backbone of the team since the day Rex Ryan arrived. In 2013, the unit was able to rebuild on the fly as they had seven new starters, including two rookies, and still managed to field a very good defense. The stats are somewhat skewed thanks to an offense that constantly turned the ball over and put them in bad situations, but they still finished 11th overall with 334.9 yards a game. With a more experienced unit heading into 2014, how are they shaping up compared to last year’s squad? Let’s take a look.

(For Part 1 on the Offense, click here)

Defensive Line – This is unquestionably the strongest unit on the team and at times last year they were downright dominant, particularly against the run as they allowed a minuscule 3.4 yards per attempt. Nose tackles Snacks Harrison and Kenrick Ellis both had tremendous seasons in the middle, especially Harrison who was arguably the top run stuffer in the entire league. Sheldon Richardson was also awesome in his first season on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. 

The defensive line also provided more of a pass rush than we had seen the past few seasons. Mo Wilkerson racked up 10.5 sacks, Richardson 3.5, and key reserve Leger Douzable 1.5. That’s terrific production in Rex Ryan’s defense where the defensive line is relied upon to crash the pock and have others pick up sacks from around the edge. This five man unit returns in tact heading into 2014 and as awesome as they were a year ago, there is definitely potential for them to be even better, especially Sheldon Richardson, who is an absolute stud. GRADE: +0.5 Tebows.

Outside Linebackers – For the most part, the OLB’s in Rex Ryan’s system can be considered defensive linemen, but they do have some extra responsibilities when it comes to setting the edge against the run and in certain pass coverages. Last year Calvin Pace racked up 10 sacks, which is a very impressive number on the surface, but to be honest it had more to do with the opposing offenses focusing on the linemen in front of him than because of his own great play. That being said, Pace had a career resurgence in 2013, removed the giant fork that had been sticking out of his back, and played pretty well. Antwan Barnes provided a bit of a pass rushing spark but had his season ended early due to injury, and Garrett McIntyre was steady if unspectacular in reserve. Despite much fanfare for some reason, Ricky Sapp did absolutely nothing and was cut midway through the season.

The key man in this group, however, is 2012 1st Round pick Quinton Coples. Coples switched positions to OLB in 2013 and had an extremely promising preseason as he was consistently in the opposing backfield, until he suffered a foot injury and missed the first two games of the season. When he returned, it was clear he was not 100% healthy, he lost all of the momentum he had in the preseason, and he seemed unsure of himself.  It was not until midway through the season that he started to show flashes again of the dominant player he can be. He closed out the season with 3.5 sacks in the final 5 games and he has the potential to be the leading sacker on this team in 2014. I’m expecting huge things from Coples this year, and for that reason alone I would give this unit a + grade, but there are other reasons to be optimistic as well. The return of a healthy Barnes will help, and with rookies IK Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly in the fold, there is some depth for the first time in a while. Lots to like here. GRADE: +1 Tebow. 

Inside Linebackers – David Harris and Demario Davis handled pretty much all the snaps at this position in 2013 and there’s really no reason to expect that to change in 2014. Harris, who is the de facto captain of the defense, was his usual steady self, as he led the team in tackles, had 2 sacks, and improved his coverage a great deal over 2012. Davis had an up-and-down first year as a starter, but he clearly showed enough to make fans understand why Rex Ryan was so high on him. Nick Bellore was the only backup here and was mainly used on special teams, where he is terrific.

Heading into 2014, those three are all returning and 5th round draft pick Jeremiah George is expected to join them. George is likely to be used mostly on special teams, but there is a chance he can be used on defense in certain packages. This group was very solid in 2013, and I expect them to play well again in 2014. Harris is entering a contract year, so he has a bit of extra motivation, and Davis should continue his development. For now though, I’m giving this… GRADE: 0 Tebows.

Cornerbacks – Cornerback was unquestionably the most controversial position on the team throughout the offseason. Antonio Cromartie was released and the team chose not to bring him back. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was pursued but signed with the Giants instead, and fans and media-types freaked out, saying John Idzik blew it. I don’t agree with that line of thinking for a few reasons. First of all, the cornerback play last year was AWFUL, particularly #31. Does nobody remember an injured Cromartie getting beat repeatedly down the field? The team clearly had legitimate concerns with his health and his ability to return to the player he was in 2012, so it was time to move on. As for the free agents Idzik didn’t sign, there’s a very simple reason for that: those guys weren’t worth the money they got. Rodgers-Cromartie was openly talking about retiring before the Super Bowl this year, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him a ton of guaranteed money either. He quite simply wasn’t worth it.

What Idzik did decide to do for 2014 was sign Dimitri Patterson, use a 3rd round pick on Dex McDougle, and a 6th rounder on Brandon Dixon and have them battle it out with Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls, Ras-I Dowling, and Johnny Patrick for playing time. Patterson was very impressive with Miami when he was healthy, McDougle has a ton of ability, and I’ve long been a fan of Darrin Walls. Quite honestly, whoever wins the #2 CB job can’t be worse than Cromartie was last year. This is a group of young, hungry, and talented players and I’m excited to see who steps up.

Last year’s #9 overall pick Dee Milliner is stepping into the top spot, and after being mostly awful as a rookie, he was absolutely awesome down the stretch of the season and showed why he was a top-10 pick. There’s no reason to think he won’t be majorly improved this year and play like that guy we saw in those final few games. People joke about John Idzik preaching “competition” so much with his roster, but when it comes to cornerback, it truly will be a competition for playing time and the best players will play. For now, I’m going to give this position a “0 Tebows”, but I truly believe there’s potential for it to be majorly improved over last year. I’m going to revisit this during the preseason when we see who wins the job opposite Milliner and how McDougle is looking as a rookie, but for now… Grade: 0 Tebows.

Safeties – Much like cornerback, the safety position was mostly bad last year. Dawan Landry was average, Josh Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett were not particularly impressive when given a chance, and while Ed Reed had a few interceptions after his midseason signing, he proved to be a shell of his former self. The only bright spot was Antonio Allen, the 2012 7th round pick, who stepped up and showed a lot of promise. 

The Jets brass clearly agreed that the safety position needed some work, because they spent the 18th overall pick on Calvin Pryor, who brings the speed and athleticism to the position that we haven’t had on the team in quite some time. He is also a heavy hitter and will be the enforcer over the middle of the field that Rex Ryan loves. Antonio Allen will likely start next to him with Dawan Landry splitting time and also playing in three safety sets. Bush and Jarrett will be competing for roster spots with players such as Brandon Hardin and Rontez Miles. The addition of Pryor alone, however, makes this unit much more dangerous than it was a year ago. GRADE: +1 Tebow.

Defensive Grade: +2.5 

Offensive Grade: +4 

Total Team Grade: +6.5 Tebows

Overall, it’s nearly impossible to say that the Jets aren’t greatly improved over the 2013 version. Unlike a year ago, Idzik had money to spend in free agency, and he brought in offensive help in the form of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. He had 12 draft picks and used them to build depth across the roster and get faster and more aggressive. With Rex Ryan running the defense, Geno Smith entering his second season as a starter, and the new weapons to work with on offense, the Jets should absolutely be a playoff contender in 2014.

Author: Mike Donnelly

Mike Donnelly is a Staff Writer and life-long Jets fan, who was previously a featured columnist at multiple other New York Jets and fantasy football websites. He lives and works in finance in the NYC area and will help lead our Jets and NFL coverage in 2013.

  • Big Al

    if they did so great why is everyone giving them a B for the draft??

  • A-Unless it’s Bill Polian (who has such an impeccable draft record), who cares what anyone grades them.
    B-I think ‘B’ is a decent grade. When you look at it, only Pryor and Amaro were ‘well known’ players. I think it’s fair to call McDougle a bit of a sleeper. After that, there were 9 picks from round 4 to round 7. They have holes that caused them to be there. I don’t think you can give a team an ‘A’ because of their late round picks…too much unknown.

  • Mike Donnelly

    Here are the only draft grades you need:

    Really though, it doesn’t matter what any of these “experts” say about the draft. We’ll see after 2-3 years, but its hard not to be excited about the talent Idzik brought in this year.

  • Hope Springs eternal….

  • Joe Caporoso

    No A++?

  • Mark

    Questions for this year:

    Geno, Coples, and Miliner – were the final games an indication of what we will see this year?

    Can we do anything about stopping receivers at line to thwart early release passing and give our DL & outside LBs a chance for a sack?

    Will Special Teams coverage and returns improve?

  • Joe Caporoso

    All good questions Mark. Here is an interesting watch I found from today related to Jets special teams:

  • bonebreaker

    I think this draft helped our ST unit a lot hopefully. Our D was heading in the right direction at the end last year. If it improves more this year and we do not turn the ball over as much than it might come down to field position in order for us to win some games possibly?

  • John Hunter

    Big Al, the B grade is coming from the unknown of 3rd round pick McDougle, whom IMO will be the reason why this draft will ultimately manifest itself to be an A+. Also, my guess is 1 of the 3 amigos at WR will turn out to be impactful, which will be huge for this offense and Geno’s development. Last but not least, Dozier is the gem we’ve been looking for on the O-line, helping maximize the time we’ll have with Chris & Chris on the roster (hopefully 2 – 3 years).

    It’s clear I’m optimistic about the entire offseason, and looking forward to the finished product.

  • Jeremiah Johnson

    Coples & the D-lineman should continue to improve individually & as a unit.

    A healthy Barnes definitely improves the LB corps & it’ll be interesting to see what we get from Davis, Harris, & Pace.

    It’ll be VERY interesting to see how the secondary plays.

    Improved play from special teams & the offense may actually lead to improved defensive play more than anything else. Improved field position & getting an early lead is a definite advantage for the defense, & I don’t recall the Jets defense getting that advantage much the last couple years.

  • Mike Donnelly

    Good point Jeremiah… not only has the Jets O turned the ball over a ton and put the D in bad spots, but their lack of scoring has put unnecessary pressure on the D as well. Hopefully they can score points, get some leads, and let the front 7 attack opposing QB’s.

  • Joe Caporoso

    Definitely agree that McDougle could be a swing player/x-factor in this draft class and I also agree with the line of thinking that at least 1 of the 3 WRs should hit as an impact player.

    As for the D, I see Coples as the single biggest x-factor on it but also hope we could see Barnes find a way to stay healthy. He brings nice speed off the edge.

  • KAsh

    Rex has already stated that Harris and Davis had all the starter snaps because they were afraid to play Bellore, who was their sole backup. With that in mind, I think the MLBs improved with the addition of George because Bellore and him should be featured in some packages, while Harris and Davis get more rest and stay fresh for longer.

    But the cornerbacks did take a step back. There is a lot of hope involved at the position: we hope Milliner continues his December performance. We hope McDougle is a legit pickup. We hope Patterson can stay healthy. We hope whoever wins the starting job opposite Milliner can play better than Cromartie (because if they play at the same level, then we would still be giving up way too many points). Just remember that, at this time last year, everybody said that a quarterback could not play worse than Mark Sanchez. As of right now, the cornerbacks are a bit worse and the MLBs a bit better, so the overall grade is still the same.

  • John Hunter

    100%. Joe, if the D had a healthy Barnes last season, the secondary wouldn’t have been that exposed (shy of 4,000 yards exposed). It’s a must we get a rush from the edge, and Barnes fits the bill. Plus, you’re spot on with Coples being the X factor, and being 100% & 1 year experienced at OLB, we should see a leap of progression.

  • John Hunter

    KAsh, it won’t take much to be an improvement over last year’s Cro (he was horrible). And like I just mentioned, if Barnes remains healthy, it will take an abundance of pressure off the young Secondary to hold their coverage. Plus, I’m confident we’ll get more QB pressure from Richardson with the a threat of an edge rusher like Barnes. Last, the presence of a slugger like Pryor will vastly improve the play from our new comers at CB.

  • joeydefiant

    Since when did a B become a bad grade? If you look at the grades where the Jets were given a B only a few teams received a higher score which puts them in the top ten anyway. Grading a draft a few days afterwards is ridiculous anyway and is just something for writers to do while listing the results of the draft for those who dont follow closely.

    All hail king idzik. death to those who oppose him. may this blog be a black arrow of death sent straight to the heart of those who oppose idzik like john x/freddie mac

  • Now now joey, no need to bait people into fights.

  • Joey… Agree on the lunacy of grading…what team doesn’t think that had a good draft?

  • Frank Antonelli

    I think joeydefiant could be worldboy90. He sound eerily similar to that clown. Nothing but negative posts. Hey buddy this is Turn ON the Jets NOT Turn OFF the Jets.

  • Freddie Mac

    More insults from our boy.
    This site is clearly 2nd rate.

    As for the front 3, it’s totally unchanged so I don’t see how one could give them a grade for improvement. Re-signing Douzable was good but where’s the depth at DE? With 12 picks, this position wasn’t addressed. I guess they expect Richardson and Wilkerson to play nearly every snap again. Hopefully the UDFA Hyder shows well.

    The LB’s are not greatly improved. You have a 5th and 7th rounder added to the mix. I don’t see how you grade them for bigger improvement. Virtually the same.

    And CB is obviously set back. I don’t need to go into that.
    Safety was given a shot in the arm obviously but what about addressing more depth there? Again, with 12 picks, this was ignored with returning mediocre safeties in Bush, Jarrett and Landry. Maybe untested Hardin and Miles will come through along with Allen’s progress. Instead of selecting 3 WR’s, I thought another safety could’ve been added – Ahmad Dixon was available in the 7th.

  • KAsh


    And here I was happy thinking you evolved from a flamer to a troll. But here you are again trying to get a fire going. You remind me of a bard song called “The Land of the Stupid.” “We spend days with fire and evenings without a candle/We warm in the heat and dry in the water.” That is the worldview in which Douzable and a bunch of rookies equal no depth at DE, depth at linebacker makes the position “virtually the same,” and you need to add another player for depth to a field of seven at safety, with three-four of them either with starting experience, with first-round expectations, or capable of starting. Thankfully, the song also recommends a cure: “A bracing breath/knock back a shot”

  • John Hunter

    Mac, the D line is so solid, there really wasn’t a need to address it. Especially considering the versatility of Coples, who IMO is more impactful in the dirt. Therefore, if Mo or S-Rich goes down, Coples will replace, while Rielly steps up (for example). Bottom line, we already have depth at DE.

    If there is no injuries, the progression & experience as an unit will define improvement.

    BTW, I Love This Site!

  • Keith D

    “I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it”-jesse spano

    I think Mike summed things up quite well.I’m really hoping Barnes comes back from the injury and can produce the way he was earlier he got me truly excited early on by getting some pressure from the outside. I like Milliner a lot and really hope those last few games weren’t a mirage. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert but I’m really looking forward to seeing our front 7. From what I remember of the giants last super bowl run their success was in large part due to that d-line and they seemed to have glaring other issue’s. This team seems to me anyway on the precipice of a great season.I have not drunk enough koolaid to think they’ll wipe the floor with every opponent and the schedule is by no means an easy one but I think from top to bottom you have to acknowledge that regardless of what your take on idzik personally he’s fielded a more solid looking team on paper than any of the 53 guy’s that stepped out on the field the past three seasons.My biggest concern like most fan’s I know is geno but I’m a bit more optimistic than the chicken little the sky is falling fan I’ve encountered.

  • John Hunter

    Pardon me “Reilly”

  • Steve Windeler

    I’m really having a tough time understanding the 0 Tebows for the CBs. Just replacing Cromartie with a Jag should improve us 1 Tebow.
    Replacing Miliner, with improved Miliner(He actually was among the best CBs the last 4 games, so I’m counting on him to be at least average) is another Tebow.
    We had the worst starting 2 CBs in the league last year, and now should be at least average.

    Coples actually had 9 QB pressures his last 2 games. I’m expecting big things from him as well.
    He had 11 QB hits over the second half. That actually makes him 2nd among OLBs with 15 for the year. It’s hard to get sacks when receivers are open instantly.

    Can’t wait to see how much the CBs, and the line improves with great safety play. It’s hard to quantify the safety position since basically what they do is make the CBs better which in turn gives the line an extra step to get to the QB.