The New York Jets defense is going to look incredibly different in 2021 and beyond. For starters, Robert Saleh as a head coach will be bringing very different principles and discipline to the team, especially the defense. Along with Jeff Ulbrich, they will look to change multiple things starting with the Jets horrible penalty record. The 2020 Jets defense was flagged for 14 roughing the passer penalties (league average is below 4) and 10 defense holding penalties (league average is 5). Secondly and most importantly, the defense with be changing from a base 3-4 defensive scheme to a 4-3 under scheme primarily playing cover 3 but will be able to adapt based on the opponent. This, in its simplest terms, means that the Jets go from playing with 3 defensive lineman and 4 linebackers to playing with 4 defensive lineman and 3 linebackers. Ulbrich and Saleh’s system, which they learned and became experts at while working together in Seattle, will affect a few guys on the Jets most.
For starters, playing a 4-3 under will most affect Quinnen Williams. Williams played in this 4-3 scheme in college playing mostly Defensive tackle but because of his athleticism and strength can now be moved around the defensive line to get the best matchup to maximize his ability in both the pass and run game. In an under-front, Quinnen would most likely play 3 technique to the weak side, lining up in between the guard and tackle (think Aaron Donald). In this scheme, a big need is an elite-level edge rusher at the defensive end position, where people like Nick Bosa, Michael Bennet, and Deforest Buckner have thrived in recent years in Seattle and San Francisco. This is going to be a big need for the Jets to address in Free Agency or the Draft. A name already on the roster that could make a big leap is Jabari Zuniga who played in a 4-3 in college at Florida.
To move back a level to the linebacker position this is again where you will see the biggest difference in the defense going forward. The Jets for the better part of a decade-plus have played with two middle linebackers and two edge rushers on either side. Now the Jets will be moving to a defense with one middle linebacker and two outside linebackers who must play in run support as well as the pass-game. This will most affect CJ Mosley who will be the biggest X-Factor for the Jets in Ulbrich and Saleh’s defense. He is an all-pro level player in a 4-3 system but has not played more than 80 snaps since the end of the 2018 season. If Mosley can return to his peak form the Jets will be able to play multiple coverages and schemes to bring the most out of their defense. For a comparison think of Bobby Wagner and Fred Warner when you think of how CJ will be used. The biggest need for the Jets will be acquiring a strong-side outside linebacker in the draft or free agency to help fill out this defense. A name to watch out for on the Jets defense is Patrick Onwuasor, who played next to Mosley in Baltimore and, if healthy, could make a big impact.
Lastly, to preview this system, let’s move to the secondary. This is somewhere in the defense that could change week to week and will need to have lots of depth at both corner and safety. If Marcus Maye is re-signed, he will be able to benefit, but because he is a borderline pro bowl level player he could succeed anywhere. Bryce Hall is someone to look out for because he is set to make a big jump from year 1 to year 2, but also because Saleh has been able to get the best out of guys like Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, as well as Brandon Browner, and Byron Maxwell. The Jets will need to add at least 2-3 corners to the roster in addition to another safety to add depth behind Maye and Davis. Someone to look out for already on the roster who can make a leap would be Bless Austin. Austin struggled mightily this year with injury and penalties but flashed as a late-round rookie, and with the proper coaching and injury luck, he could develop nicely into a 3rd or 4th corner on this roster.
While Ulbrich will be calling the plays and taking the responsibility as defensive coordinator, this will no doubt be a collaboration together with Saleh. It is important that Ulbrich call the plays and lets Saleh manage the team but expect to see fire, passion, and excellent communication from the 2021 Jets defense.