There is an understandably high amount of anticipation for the 2015 New York Jets defense. Is this unit, under Todd Bowles and Kacy Rodgers, capable of being one of the league’s best?
Darrelle Revis, Cornerback – The best CB in the NFL, who will allow the Jets to handle match-ups against Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr, DeSean Jackson, TY Hilton and Sammy Watkins with more ease than most teams. Revis gives Todd Bowles the opportunity to run plenty of man heavy schemes and should prevent hesitancy to sending extra blitzers after the quarterback.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Defensive End – Contract situation or not, Wilkerson remains a top five 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. If healthy, he is capable of pushing for double digit sacks while being a terror against the run. He has frequently drawn double teams throughout his career but with the surplus of talent on the Jets defensive line, he should see more one on ones than ever before.
Sheldon Richardson, Defense End – Dominated in 2013 en route to his Defensive Rookie of the Year Award and then only got better in 2014. Richardson has an even higher ceiling than Wilkerson and should be on track for his first double digit sack season, while remaining a near impossibility to block in the run game. The Jets need both Richardson and Wilkerson to find their way into forcing more turnovers but regardless both remain two of the best young defensive players in the NFL.
The Plus Starters
Damon Harrison, Nose Tackle – Often overlooked, Harrison remains one of the top pure nose tackles in the NFL. He will be a two down player for the Jets, likely coming off the field in many passing situations while remaining a key run stuffer. This could be his last year in New York, pending how money is allocated this off-season but Snacks has developed into an unappreciated stud for this defense.
Antonio Cromartie, Cornerback – I hesitate to put him here after how he finished 2014 and remembering how he struggled in 2013. However, if Cromartie can be the player he was for the first half of last season or be 90% of the player he was in 2012, the Jets have the right corner to play opposite Revis. There is no shortage of depth at corner if Cromartie struggles but if he is on his game, the Jets have another plus starter in their back end.
Buster Skrine, Slot Corner – Specifically in this role, which should be a starting one in Todd Bowles’ defense, Skrine should shine as an aggressive ball-hawk against most team’s second and third options in the passing game. He must cut back on the penalties but will overall provide a substantial upgrade over Kyle Wilson.
David Harris, Inside Linebacker – Rock solid as a two down linebacker but a lack of foot-speed hurts him in the passing game. Harris is a key leader on this unit and still brings the wood against the run and in the screen game. There are going to be weeks when smart offenses are able to exploit him in certain situations but on the whole he should be a plus for this unit.
Demario Davis, Inside Linebacker – There has been more sizzle than substance so far with Davis, who has won fans over with his vocal leadership and monster training camps. In the regular season, Davis has been an average starter who struggles in the passing game and hasn’t been involved in enough turnovers. He has all the physical tools to be an above average starter and if he can get after the quarterback a little more and improve when asked to be in coverage, could be part of the reason this defense goes from good to great.
Calvin Pryor, Safety – Pryor was given limited opportunities to play to his strengths last season. For the most part, he should be in the box or coming downhill in the running game or after the quarterback as a blitzer. Todd Bowles did nice work with Deone Bucannon last season who is a somewhat similar player. The Jets need Pryor to be the enforcer and turnover creator they drafted him to be in 2014.
Quinton Coples, Edge – Everyone keeps waiting for him to take the next step and harness his unique athleticism into being a double digit sack guy. Coples will be moved around the formation but hopefully be primarily used to get after the quarterback (not play press corner). The Jets have valid questions at the edge position but a good, full season from Coples could go a long way towards answering those questions.
Leonard Williams, Defensive End – The number six overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, who will allow Wilkerson and Richardson to stay fresh and contribute in the many four man fronts the Jets will use. Williams was arguably the best player in the draft and should make an immediate impact on this unit before hopefully developing into a Wilkerson or Richardson level player long term.
Lorenzo Mauldin, Edge – The heir apparent for Calvin Pace as the strong side edge, who gets after the quarterback a little bit but mostly sets the edge against the run. Mauldin can work himself into a few packages with a strong summer and may be able to overtake Pace before the 2016 season gets here.
The Blue Collars
Calvin Pace, Edge – It feels like Pace has been here 100 years but he remains competent against the run and finds his way to quarterback enough for his role on the defense. He should play less than he did last season before eventually giving way to Mauldin but don’t write him off as a bubble player, he’ll be here when the season starts.
Marcus Gilchrist, Safety – Up and down in San Diego but a versatile player who the Jets will be counting on in the back end to help stabilize Calvin Pryor and to provide improved coverage.
The Intriguing Depth
Dee Milliner, Cornerback – The former first round pick and Defensive Rookie of the Month in December of 2013 who has not been able to stay healthy. Milliner provides the Jets with Cromartie insurance, if he struggles or can’t stay healthy. The talent is there for Milliner, hopefully he rehabs properly and learns behind the veterans now in front of him.
Dexter McDougle, Cornerback – 2014 3rd round pick who had a strong summer last year prior to his season ending injury and is already turning heads this spring. He will be pushing to get himself in the mix for personnel packages that have four corners and likely provide depth behind Buster Skrine.
Marcus Williams, Cornerback – Another corner! Williams was impressive down the stretch last year as a UDFA and is versatile enough to play both inside and outside off the bench, while contributing on special teams. This team is going to carry at least six corners and Williams may still find his way into a specialized role for certain game plans or playing a bigger role than expected if there are injuries.
IK Enemkpali, Edge – Flashed as a pass rusher in limited opportunities in 2014 and will be battling veteran Jason Babin for a third down role. IK’s value on special teams may give him the upper hand, along with his long term development potential.
Erin Henderson, Inside Linebacker – He has battled off the field demons and been away from the game for a year but has been very productive in the past. Henderson isn’t far removed from a 112 tackle and 4 sack season in 2013 and with a strong summer, could be a key depth and situational player.
Antonio Allen, Safety – A pleasant surprise in 2013 and a nightmare in 2014. Could Allen rediscover himself as a versatile chess piece on the back end or will he get knocked off the roster by a player like Rontez Miles or Durrell Eskridge?
The Lunch Pail Depth
Leger Douzable, Defensive Line – The definition of a perfect rotational defensive lineman. Douzable is versatile, can get after the quarterback and hold up against the run. The Williams selection is going to cut into his already limited reps but he has a place on this roster.
Joe Mays, Inside Linebacker – He will have to battle Henderson, Lattimore and rookie UDFA Taiwan Jones for a roster spot but Mays has been a competent starter in the past and is a more than capable option behind Harris and Davis at inside linebacker.
Kevin Vickerson, Defensive Line – Capable of giving the team 5-10 reps per game off the bench in a multitude of defensive line spots and contributing on specials. He will have to battle Stephen Bowen and maybe youngsters TJ Barnes and Deon Simon for a roster spot.
Jason Babin, Edge – Does he have one season left as an effective situational pass rusher or he will get beat out by a younger prospect?
Jamari Lattimore, Inside Linebacker – Primarily a special teamer but has a little starting experience. He will bring athleticism to a backup role at inside linebacker and may work himself into some passing down packages.
The Bubble Depth
Jaiquawn Jarrett, Safety – A primarily in the box option who has had a quiet few years for the Jets outside of a huge game against Pittsburgh last season. He will need a strong summer to stick with a new regime.
Rontez Miles, Safety – A fan favorite who has generated plenty of chatter in recent years but never been able to stay healthy or do enough to grab a role in the summer. If he can’t stick this year, it will probably be the last we hear of him. Miles has the skill set to be a special teams demon and a rangy backup at safety.
Trevor Reilly, Linebacker – Flashed as a special teamer and a player versatile enough to play inside and outside in 2014. Reilly is the victim of a crowded position group and could have a tough time sticking here.
Stephen Bowen, Defensive Lineman – This is a tough place to be a veteran defensive lineman. Bowen will need a big summer to show he has value for emergency depth, minimal rotation play and special teams use.
TJ Barnes, Nose Tackle – Will the Jets keep a nose tackle to groom behind Harrison? If they do, Barnes has to beat out rookie 7th round pick Deon Simon.
Deon Simon, Nose Tackle – See above, although Simon feels more like a practice squad player this season.
Darrin Walls, Cornerback – If the Jets keep seven corners, he should be in good shape. If not, he will have a tough time sticking after an up and down 2014.
The UDFAs To Watch
Taiwan Jones, Inside Linebacker – He will need to beat out multiple established NFL veterans to avoid the practice squad.
Durrell Eskridge, Safety – A free safety on a roster short with them.
Deion Barnes, Edge – A tough road to climb this season. Similar to the two players above, Barnes feels like a practice squad candidate.