For the better part of twenty years, the Jets defense has outpaced the offense. For too long, defensive minded coaches with antiquated styles of game management strolled the sidelines. If you think hard enough, you can hear them saying “Any drive that ends in a kick is a successful one…” Well the tide could finally turn this year, as new Head Coach Adam Gase roams the Jets sidelines with a litany of offensive experience to bring to the table. While the Jets’ offense is shaping up to be an exciting one with Sam Darnold and a myriad of new weapons, what can we expect from a defensive unit that underperformed in 2018? Let’s take a closer look at the defensive unit and their grades as we look ahead to this 2019 season.
Notables: Leonard Williams, Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson, Steve McLendon
Leonard Williams headlines this unit and is predicted by many to have a big year with the addition of Quinnen Williams. To this point, Williams hasn’t lived up to his draft position and has failed to make impact plays with the Jets, often coming close but never actually making it. Henry Anderson, coming off of a career year with seven sacks, was re-signed to a big contract, but questions loom as to whether he will continue on that path or regress to the mean, especially with new Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams figuring to mix in more 4-3. McLendon is a solid starter and undoubtedly a leader of the defense, yet he is 33 years old and figures to lose time to rookie Quinnen Williams. Quinnen Williams is the x-factor on this unit. If he lives up to the hype of the best overall player in the draft, this unit could be vastly improved and assist in covering for a lackluster secondary (more on that later). If Quinnen can start fast, prove he can get pressure up the middle, and take double teams away from Leo (something Leo has clearly struggled with in his first four seasons), it could really open things up.
Notables: CJ Mosley, Avery Williamson, Jordan Jenkins, Jachai Polite
The addition of CJ Mosley is a big one. The Jets spent huge money to bring him here from Baltimore, not only for his on-field play but for his leadership. Avery Williamson, with the addition of Mosley, will slide over and relinquish play calling duties, but the duo figures to be formidable. On the outside, Jordan Jenkins returns and will remain a “hold the fort” type of player but will most likely not reach double digit sack numbers. Brandon Copeland and rookie Jachai Polite will battle it out for time on the edge opposite Jenkins. Copeland showed promise in 2018 with five sacks, and Polite, the big swing draft pick the Jets have been missing, could prove to be the answer at edge the Jets have been looking for since John Abraham.
Overall, Mosley and Williamson will carry this unit and strengthen the entire defense up the middle. But the lack of a true, proven edge prevents this group from being elite.
Notables: Trumaine Johnson, Daryl Roberts, Brian Poole
This unit is, and will be, the weakness of this defense. Trumaine Johnson is being relied on to be a true number one corner and return to his form under Gregg Williams. This is a tall task for a 29-year-old cornerback who struggled mightily in 2018. Daryl Roberts is slated as the starting cornerback opposite Johnson, and is a career backup who was inexplicably moved to safety late in 2018. Brian Poole, signed from Atlanta this offseason, was brought in to replace Buster Skrine. Poole is a solid slot corner, tackler, and blitzer, and will provide a slight upgrade from Skrine.
Relying on a question mark and a career backup to be your top two cornerbacks is a risky move. Look for the Jets to make a free agent addition or two during camp, but if the team decides to roll the dice with this unit at the start of the season, it could be a disaster.
Notables: Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Doug Middleton
Jamal Adams is a star and will be a perennial Pro Bowl player and All-Pro. He may be the best, and most talented, player on the Jets and rarely makes a bad play. Marcus Maye is a talented player who has shown flashes in his first two years, but struggles to stay healthy, and is starting camp on the PUP list. This is not a deep unit, and the Jets have done a poor job of adding depth despite knowing Maye’s injury history.
The bottom line is that Jamal Adams is an A+ player, but Maye’s health concerns and overall lack of depth drag this unit down.
Overall, this defense has talented pieces. Its strength will be up the middle, with both Williams’ on the defensive line, along with the addition of Mosley and Adams at safety. In order for this unit to perform, they will need players like Polite to contribute immediately and their cornerbacks to exceed expectations. The recipe for success will be for the defensive line to get pressure up the middle and hide the weakness in the secondary.
For once, maybe it wont matter and the offense can carry this team for the first time in a long time.