The Jets entire defensive unit, and in particular, their defensive line, was a strongpoint of the team in the 2019 season. With heavy investments made both in the draft and free agency in recent years, the defensive line should be a strength. Let’s take a closer look at how the unit performed this past season.
The AssessmentThe defensive line had an impressive year under coordinator Gregg Williams. The unit ranked second in the NFL in run defense, allowing only 87 yards per game and 3.3 yards per rush. They were stout against the run all year, and saw surprisingly solid seasons from unfamiliar names. The Jets dealt the King of the Invisible Statline, Leonard Williams, before the trade deadline, and the unit managed to continue to improve with overachieving contributions from Kyle Phillips, Foley Fatukasi, and Nathan Shepherd (upon returning from suspension). While those players managed to surprise, a few others disappointed, namely Henry Anderson and #3 overall pick Quinnen Williams. Anderson, coming off a very strong 2018 season, received a (questionably) lucrative deal in the offseason and followed it up with a dud, accumulating 1.5 sacks and making very little impact. Quinnen Williams, while dealing with a few nagging injuries, struggled to make his presence felt as well. While arguments can be made that he was eating blocks because that is what the coaches asked of him, I would argue that being the third overall pick in the draft and deemed by many as the “best player overall” should warrant your defensive coaches to allow you to rush the passer – exactly what you were drafted for.
The Grade: B
Prior to the season, it was obvious that the Jets defense was going to be short in certain areas, particularly at cornerback and pass rusher. Therefore, we knew that Gregg Williams would have to rely on the aforementioned investments in the interior defensive line to generate pressure to cover up for deficiencies elsewhere. They were extremely efficient against the run, but still struggled getting after the quarterback. The Jets ranked 23rd in overall sacks with 35, with 6.5 of those coming from Safety Jamal Adams. They also ranked 25th in pressure rate at 21.7%, while also being 4th in the league in blitz rate at over 39%. Overall, the Jets defensive line was impressive against the run, and still needed some help applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. It is to be expected with the lack of a true edge rusher, yet still impacts the overall grade.
The FutureThis is one position group that the Jets front office should feel comfortable leaving alone this offseason. While they need to continue to search for a true edge (maybe they make a run at Yannick Ngakoue), they can leave the defensive line alone. Steve McLendon will continue his steady play and is an invaluable leader. Fatukasi and Shepherd will continue to develop, Quinnen Williams should build upon what he did towards the end of the season and have a more impressive 2020, and Henry Anderson is still under contract. Joe Douglas should stand pat with this unit, and use every dime in free agency and every draft pick improving the offense and other areas of this roster. He should learn the lessons of his predecessor and invest in impactful areas, and not interior defensive linemen.