The New York Jets defense regressed from last year in a big way. What was the 4th best defense in the NFL last season, fell to the 18th ranked defense and displayed performances that were downright awful at times. Here we’ll look at potential solutions to all the problematic areas of the Jets defense as they begin to rebuild in 2017…
Key Players: Leonard Williams, Mo Wilkerson, Deon Simon
Problem: The Jets drafted 3 first round picks at the same position and never traded one when they should have.
Solution: Trade Sheldon Richardson
The defensive line has certainly been the most talented position group on the Jets for a while. Despite an underwhelming 2016 season statistically, they don’t need a major signing along the defensive line. At this point, this group actually needs addition by subtraction .The Jets can’t go into next season still trying to figure out ways to make the trio of Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Mo Wilkerson work. The Jets should trade Sheldon Richardson. With Wilkerson’s contract and Leonard Williams being the best player on the team, Richardson is the only player that it makes sense to move. Williams and a hopefully healthier Wilkerson certainly won’t mind the extra snaps next season if the Jets get it done. Its important to note, however, that the success of this defensive line might be more dependent on the improvement of other groups on defense. We’ll dive into that as we go.
Key Players: David Harris, Darron Lee
Problem: David Harris isn’t getting any younger. The Jets need to find a young player to groom and develop to eventually take his place alongside Darron Lee.
Solution: Mid to late round draft pick
Players to watch: Ben Boulware (Clemson), Kendall Beckwith (LSU)
The Jets inside linebacker group did an okay job while dealing with injuries for most of the season. Even though he was really thrown into the fire against some good teams, Darron Lee did show some bright spots this season. The Jets will hope the 22-year-old can continue his growth next season. However, the Jets need to think about getting David Harris another understudy. Harris is 32 years old with one more year left on his contract. The Jets would do well to look to the draft, in the later rounds, to find a player that can eventually start next to Darron Lee long term. Boulware and Beckwith were two outstanding 4-year players and leaders for their respective colleges. Either one would be a nice addition to this group. Both will likely be available around rounds 4-6.
Key Player: Jordan Jenkins
Problem: The Jets don’t have nearly enough talent at this position. They need a pass rusher to pair with Jenkins. Significantly improving this position group can take pressure off of the interior defensive line in pass rush situations, increase team sack totals, and hide their weaknesses in the secondary.
Solution #1: 1st round or 2nd round draft pick
Players to watch: Tim Williams (Alabama), Takkarist McKinley (UCLA), Ryan Anderson (Alabama), T.J Watt (Wisconsin)
The Jets need to add legitimate talent to this position group. In a rebuilding season, it would be better for them to add young, fresh talent through the draft. They should have a few options in the first and second round of the draft. Tim Williams is said to be the best outside linebacker in the coming draft but taking him at 6 might not be worth it. It might serve the Jets better to either trade down (acquiring more picks like a rebuilding team should), or wait until the second round where players like Takkarist McKinley, Ryan Anderson, and T.J Watt would likely still be available.
McKinley, who has had some lofty NFL comparisons, finished the 2016 season with 10 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 18 tackles for loss, and may lift himself into the first round at the combine. Anderson was without a doubt the best defensive player in the two weeks of the college football playoffs finishing with a sack, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception returned for touchdown in the two most important games of the season. Watt has the last name but also has the production, racking up 11.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception in 2016.
Solution #2: Free Agency
Players to watch: Melvin Ingram (LA Chargers), Nick Perry (Green Bay)
Solving needs in free agency is more certain but its also more expensive. Fortunately, for the Jets, there is some relatively young talent available at outside linebacker. Melvin Ingram will demand one of the highest prices in free agency. He’s a great three-down outside linebacker and has overcome the injury issues that plagued him early in his career. He has played a full 16 games the last two season, totaling 18.5 sacks and 8 forced fumbles. Nick Perry might be a better option for the Jets, though. He’ll likely come at a lower price because he’s just recently began to come into his own. Perry had 11 sacks in 14 games this season (12 as a starter), after having 12 sacks the previous 4 seasons combined.
Key Players: Juston Burris, Buster Skrine
Problem: The Jets did not expect this group to take the turn that it did in 2016. Revis had a sharp decline in his play and is now asking to play another position. Skrine’s play seemed to worsen after assuming more responsibility in 2016 with the departure of Antonio Cromartie and Marcus Williams becoming human again. Jets once again have a huge problem at cornerback.
Solution #1: Free Agency
Players to watch: A.J Bouye (Houston), Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo), Trumaine Johnson (Los Angeles)
The Jets are almost at rock bottom at cornerback. It will almost definitely take more than one offseason to fix this position group but a good place to start would be in free agency. A.J Bouye and Stephon Gilmore are two good options for the Jets. Bouye is valued pretty highly valued by current head coach Bill O’Brien so there’s a higher chance he could be re-signed before free agency officially begins. The Bills just hired a new head coach, Sean McDermott, who is unfamiliar with Gilmore. So, unless Gilmore is franchise tagged, there’s a better chance he could test the market. Either Bouye or Gilmore, if signed, would likely play corner opposite Juston Burris on the outside, with Buster Skrine playing the slot/nickel (a role he’s much more effective in). Either of them would be an upgrade in comparison to what we saw from Revis last season. Trumaine Johnson could also be considered with the Jets hiring his position coach from the Rams, Dennard Wilson.
Solution #2: 1st or 2nd round draft pick
Players to watch: Teez Tabor (Florida), Sidney Jones (Washington), Quincy Wilson (Florida), Tre’Davious White (LSU)
If the Jets fail to make a cornerback signing in free agency before the draft, they could consider trying to pick up a talented player in the first or second round. Taking a cornerback at 6, in this draft, would be somewhat of a reach. If the Jets decide they want a cornerback in the first round, it would make more sense for them to trade down to a spot where talent like Teez Tabor, Sidney Jones, or Quincy Wilson would still be on the board. If they stay put at 6, they could address cornerback in round 2 with a player like Tre’Davious White likely to be available.
Key Player: Calvin Pryor
Problem: Marcus Gilchrist was a shell of what he was in 2015. The Jets gave up way too many big plays in the passing game. Much of that miscommunication and failure to execute is not expected from veteran players like Gilchrist. While miscommunication will be harder to fix, better talent often helps with execution.
Solution #1: 1st round draft pick + Cut or trade Marcus Gilchrist
Players to watch: Jamal Adams (LSU), Malik Hooker (OSU)
The Jets need a major upgrade at safety. The Gilchrist/Pryor pairing that worked fairly well in 2015, looked awful in 2016. While Pryor will probably be given one more season to show he can be a consistent starter going into his third season in the NFL. Gilchrist is a veteran going into the third year of a 22 million dollar contract. If the Jets make changes at safety, it will likely be either trading or cutting Gilchrist. His contract would make it hard to find trade suitors, so releasing him might be more likely.
The Jets will have a real shot at getting starter NFL talent at safety with the 6th pick. Both Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams are very highly rated safeties. Adams is seen more as a strong safety, which could maybe conflict with Calvin Pryor, but, he’s good enough to both support against the run and not be a liability in coverage. Hooker is a textbook free safety with incredible range in coverage and fearlessness against the run. Adams might be the better overall prospect, but Hooker might actually be the better fit with the Jets if they do keep Pryor and let Gilchrist go.
Solution #2: Free Agency
Player to watch: Tony Jefferson (Arizona)
The Jets should be the first on the phone with Tony Jefferson if the Cardinals allow him to enter free agency. Bowles is familiar with Jefferson from his two years as defensive coordinator for the Cardinals. He helped develop Jefferson from an undrafted free agent, into the playmaking safety he is today. The Jets could definitely use Bowles’ familiarity with utilizing Jefferson on defense, and getting the best out of him, as a recruiting tool in free agency. Signing Jefferson, who is only 24 years old, along with drafting Adams or Hooker in the first round, would go a long way in improving the Jets struggling secondary.
The Jets defense used to be their calling card so its hard to see them struggle like they did last season. But, they will be retaining some talent that they can build around for the next few years. The key for the Jets is adding more young talented players to that equation and building a defense that won’t fall apart after a year but can sustain its success for multiple seasons. Try to put yourself in Mike Maccagnan’s shoes. Which of these problem/solution would you prioritize?
Photo Credit: OSU.com