A rundown of the New York Jets defensive line heading into the 2016 regular season. How confident are you feeling about the position? Let us know in the comment section below and check out our breakdown earlier this week about the secondary…
The New York Jets were faced with a couple questions on the defensive line heading into the 2016 season. The team saw Pro Bowl defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson fall in the last game of the season with a broken leg and defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison fall to the New York Giants in free agency.
Wilkerson was up and walking around right as free agency hit. The Jets franchise tagged him. Come mid-July, he stated he will be ready for Week 1 against the Bengals. After a few years of going back and forth with the Jets’ front office, Wilkerson was able to agree to a long-term contract with the Jets at the deadline. Finally, the deal is done. Wilkerson can focus on rehabbing his leg, football and getting ready for 2016.
“I give my all every Sunday on the field and play with so much love and passion for the game,” he said in a Twitter post. “I’m thankful for everything that comes my way and proud to say I’m back on the green and white for a few more years.”
Coming off a career year and first-ever Pro Bowl season where he led a second-best run-stopping Jets front, Wilkerson is focused and ready to get to work. In 2015, he recorded 64 total tackles, a team-high 12 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, 45 hurries (80 total pressures), two forced fumbles, and seven defended passes. His marks in sacks, quarterback pressures, and passes defended were all career highs and he is poised for another huge season in green and white. We should expect such from him.
Sheldon Richardson, like last year, will sit to start the regular season, though this year for just one game as opposed to four. Richardson saw time at outside linebacker last year, but head coach Todd Bowles has stated Richardson will strictly play on the defensive line in 2016. With more playing time coming at his natural position, we should look forward to a career year, possibly with double-digit totals in sacks.
The Jets’ sixth overall pick Leonard Williams did not disappoint. With the Jets needing him to step up early due to Richardson’s suspension, he quickly proved his ability to fight off blocks and disrupt the backfield, totaling 63 tackles, three sacks, 30 quarterback hurries and 19 quarterback hits in his rookie season. I expect Williams to have a significant role again this season with an uptick in sacks and other stat categories.
On the interior of the line, the Jets needed to make a move for a guy who can plug up the middle after losing Harrison. They signed former Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon, who in 2015 recorded 14 tackles, one sack, one quarterback hit, five hurries and defended one pass while playing roughly 33% of the Steelers’ defensive snaps. McLendon is a reliable run-stopper who describes himself as a “defensive tackle,” not a traditional nose tackle. He is more of a rotational defender but can still plug up the middle and force the rush outside. Certainly he lacks in size as compared to Harrison, but he makes up for it with quickness and strength in his own right.
Also signed is former Chicago Bears lineman Jarvis Jenkins. Last season in Chicago, Jenkins was one of a couple guys opposing offenses could key in on which limited his production despite playing a higher percentage of snaps. He is versatile, strong, familiar with the 3-4 defense, and should be able to make solid production in a rotational role with the talent around him.
Finally, Deon Simon – a kid to keep an eye on for the future. While spending majority of 2015 on the Jets’ practice squad, never appearing in an NFL game, Simon learned and followed closely in the footsteps of Harrison; a guy whom he shares a similar path with and looks up to. He is physically imposing, great against the run and in 2016, he looks to compete for the nose tackle job.
Also on the current roster are Claude Pelon, Lawrence Thomas, and Tarow Barney who are unlikely to land a spot on the 53-man roster given the depth at the position.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com