One of the most exciting parts of the 2017 New York Jets season should be watching their new starting duo at safety develop. In a somewhat surprising and unconventional move, the Jets used their first two draft picks on the position, selecting LSU’s Jamal Adams and Florida’s Marcus Maye. What are reasonable expectations for the duo both in the short and long term?
Adams enters New York with the expectation of being a transformational player on their defense and an eventual All-Pro caliber safety. Widely considered one of the best prospects at his position of the past decade, it was surprising to many he was on the board at #6. The Jets did not hesitate to pull the trigger and will be counting on him to immediately become the face of their defense alongside Leonard Williams. You would be hard pressed to find a scouting report out there that does not describe Adams as an “Alpha-Dog” or laud his leadership skills and this was unquestionably part of the Jets attraction to him. Yet, while intangibles are important, they don’t mean anything if you don’t have the game to back it up.
Fortunately for the Jets, Adams has a versatile and athletic enough game to live up to his lofty draft status. He did not play the part of a “box safety” at LSU and is closer to being a cornerback than a linebacker. Adams played over 250 snaps in the slot last season and over 40% of his snaps at free safety.
The ability to move around the formation and make plays against a variety of offensive schemes is what makes Adams a potential superstar, along with a tremendous natural feel for tracking both the ball carrier and a wide receiver. Adams’ efficiency in the passing game, nearly mirrored his efficiency in the running game. This pick is a disappointment if Adams only becomes a good starter. The Jets didn’t use the #6 pick to get Tony Jefferson. They used it to get a lighter, more athletic version of 2016 Landon Collins or Eric Weddle 2.0. If everything really breaks right, they used it to get Darren Woodson.
Part of the reason the Jets selected Marcus Maye in the second was to increase Adams’ chance of success. When you make a premium investment like that, you don’t throw a Calvin Pryor or Marcus Gilchrist next to it. Similar to Adams, Maye can bounce around the formation, although is probably at his best when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. The Jets are going to want both of their young safeties to be interchangeable between free safety, strong safety and have the ability to either move into the slot or even to outside linebacker in certain packages. It will likely be inaccurate to pigeonhole either one to a specific safety role, as their usage should vary week to week.
In 2017, both enter a challenging situation because the Jets are weak at the cornerback and pass rush positions. This means making up for the mistakes of the players in front of them, on top of worrying about their own responsibilities. There is going to be growing pains, particularly for Maye as a day one starter. If the Jets isolate him regularly on receivers with deep speed, they are not playing to his strengths and will pay the price. With Adams, you may not see the playmaking ability right out of the gate at a high volume but you hope he is immediately sound fundamentally and properly directing the back end of the defense.
The expectations for their rookie year should be incremental improvement as the season progresses, with any miscommunications declining with each passing week and Adams showing signs of being a consistent playmaker. The Jets are likely not going to be a playoff team but one way this season becomes a “success” is if it becomes clear by year’s end both Adams and Maye were the right choice at their respective spots in the draft. Adams has enough talent to prospectively be in the DROY discussion and could potentially be a huge green check mark on Mike Maccagnan’s less than stellar resume.
For Todd Bowles, he came to New York with a reputation for defensive creativity, particularly when it comes to how he uses his defensive backs. These two selections should be right up his alley. One way for Bowles to make a strong claim to stick around in 2018? Find a way to get the most out of these two in their rookie year and show he is the best coach to maximize their long term development.
Ultimately, the goal should be to leave 2017 believing that Adams has the potential to be an All-Pro caliber safety within 2 years and that Maye is going to be the type of player who gets a second contract from the Jets (a huge accomplishment for a Jets second round pick these days). This new safety duo has the potential to be a foundational piece for what is hopefully an ascending defense in the coming years.
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