New York Jets – Breaking Down The Edge Rusher Battle

Clayton Smarslok breaks down the battle for playing time at edge rusher for the New York Jets…

In my last piece, I went over how the Jets have lacked any serious talent at tight end for quite a while. As long as it has been at that position, it’s been even longer at the edge rusher position. John Abraham was the last one the Jets had that gave opposing coaches any kind of worry. To put that into perspective, Brooks Bollinger was still starting games for the Jets. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold weren’t even drafted yet and their Ring of Honor careers are already over. Get the point yet? 

Outside of Jordan Jenkins, the other edge rusher position is up for grabs. While Jenkins is great against the run, he hasn’t shown much as a pass rusher. With this being said the Jets will need someone to help fill that role, especially after being in the bottom five of the league in sacks the last two seasons. With practically the same group of players returning at the position, which one could take the next step and provide a pass rush the defense so desperately needs?  

David Bass 6’4, 267 pounds, 6th Season

Coming back to New York for his second season, Bass will look to build off his best statistical season recording 3.5 sacks in 2017. When he joined the Jets, he was joining his fourth team in five seasons. So it was a bit of a surprise that after joining the team in week 3 he was still able to play in over 35% of the snaps.

Mainly watching his plays against the pass, there were a couple things that stood out to me. First was that he has a good frame and arm length and does a solid job creating separation against opposing offensive lineman with it. Has a nice first step but would get stood up at times when trying to convert speed to power. His strength in general is lackluster, often losing at the point of attack and will struggle against double teams.

There is nothing too special about his game but he was able to show enough flashes last season to generate some rush. Going into the training camp he will be one of the first guys to get snaps across from Jenkins.

Dylan Donahue, 6’2, 248 pounds, 2nd Season

Donahue has made some headlines this off-season with his two DUI arrests in the last calendar year. In the 2017 draft, by surprise, he was drafted in the fifth round even though he came with some questions. Not only was Donahue a small school prospect from West Georgia but he was an older prospect as well, turning 26 in August.

Last season he played 53 snaps on defense before going down with a season ending elbow injury in week 4. While he only played a few snaps, I was still able to gather some thoughts on him on the field. As a pass rusher, Donahue has a nice get off to go along with a nonstop motor that may get him some sacks, however he doesn’t possess any other great traits. He struggled with a lack of strength to take on these lineman and is also undersized with shorter arms than you would want coming off the edge.

After how his first full year went in the NFL, it seems that Donahue could easily be on the hot seat. He wasn’t able to provide much on the field and has struggled staying out of trouble off of it, although he did check into rehab in March. He can potentially find some snaps in certain packages as a third down specialist but as of now if does make the team, special teams is where he can shine.

Josh Martin, 6’3, 245 pounds, 6th Season

Likely entering training camp as the leading man opposite Jenkins, he still has much to prove as a pass rusher. In 2016 Martin was on the field for only a handful of plays but last season he played in 489 defensive snaps, roughly 44% despite missing 2+ games. He got more playing time than any other player on this list last year, so it hurts to see him only get 1.5 sacks at a position where it’s required to do it at a much higher rate than he has posted.

Against the pass I have noticed he drops into coverage more than the others, however that’s not to say he doesn’t rush the passer. When he does, nothing stands out, whether it’s his strength, quickness or moves I was unimpressed. Martin doesn’t have elite speed to get around the edge and when he tries to he can’t get low to get beyond the the arms of the offensive tackle allowing himself to get cut off.

With no new additions to the roster it could look to be another similar season in terms of playing time for Martin, although it’s hard to see what he does that warrants it, especially in passing situations. Hopefully another season working with Kevin Greene will allow him to work more on his craft but we all need to see more in 2018.

Lorenzo Mauldin, 6’4, 259 pounds, 4th season

Mauldin was one of the first picks of the Maccagnan/Bowles era, being selected in the third round during the 2015 draft. Coming out of Louisville we all heard about the energy he provides and could be a spark against the pass for the defense. After only being used as a specialist as a rookie, we expected him to take that next step heading into year 2. After failing to meet expectations in 2016 and missing all of 2017 with a back injury, he’s not only entering a make or break offseason but a contract year.

Mauldin is confident he can get back to what he was before his injury. Via the New York Daily News, Mauldin said, “All I can do is show them that I can still pass rush. They say a lot of players aren’t the same when they come off the injury. They lose step. But I feel like I gained a step… Because what was hindering me before is now gone.”

If this is true and he can show that he can provide the defense with speed off the edge, it would allow Bowles to do what he wants. As I mentioned, this is a very big upcoming Summer for Mauldin to prove what he is worth. After the last two years we can’t be expecting much, but maybe he can wind up being the main guy across Jenkins or just a third down rusher. Either way I think Jets fans would be happy not having another mid round pick wasted.

The defense is expected to take some big steps in 2018, but if they want to be held in higher regard around the league someone on this list needs to come up big. Bowles finally has his corners to play physical at the line, which will allow him to be more aggressive with blitzing just like in 2015. With all of training camp and preseason ahead of us we can only speculate, but I expect it’ll be a battle that is completely up for grabs in me even last through beginning of the season. When all is said and done I believe if Mauldin can get back to what he showed his rookie season he should get the chance. He has the highest upside of them all and the most to prove in a contract year. It will be an interesting battle to keep an eye on during the Summer, but hopefully we get to the Fall with answers instead of more questions.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com