Jets Positional Preview: Defensive Line

Dan Essien previews the Jets’ defensive line ahead of this week’s season opener.

The Jets defensive line is the strongest position group on the team. Even after the season-ending injuries to Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry they remain the most likely to succeed. Let’s preview the Jets defensive line and project their performance this season.

Current Depth Chart

(Excluding injuries)

Shaq Lawson, DE
Sheldon Rankins, DT
Quinnen Williams, DT
Bryce Huff, DE
John Franklin-Myers, DE/DT
Kyle Phillips, DT
Foley Fatukasi, DT
Jonathan Marshall, DT
Nathan Shepherd, DT
Tim Ward, DT

Bryce Huff (starting DE): After a strong training camp and preseason, Huff has definitely earned a starting spot in my eyes. He showed plenty of juice in pass rush but it’s holding his own against the run that could lead to an extended starting spot. It will be interesting to see just how high his ceiling goes this season.

Sheldon Rankins (starting DT): One of the Jets’ most intriguing pickups in the offseason, Rankins health will be the main focus for this season. When healthy, Rankins consistently wreaks havoc on the interior. His health and effectiveness is even more important now after the loss of Lawson.

Quinnen Williams (starting DT): Every year can be considered a “big year” for any player but for Quinnen Williams entering his 3rd season surrounded by a vaunted group, he’s expected by almost everyone to make a monster leap. I would definitely back that. He had spurts last season where he looked like a Fletcher Cox regen. This season he can establish himself on that tier.

Shaq Lawson (starting DE): The Jets acquired Shaq Lawson to address the injury to Carl Lawson.  I have him penciled in as the starter but I believe he’ll be splitting time with John Franklin-Myers. Lawson is a late-blooming player that has developed into a decent edge defender. Saleh will be hoping to perhaps squeeze out a 2020 Kerry Hyder type of season from Lawson but that shouldn’t be the default expectation.

John Franklin-Myers (rotational DL): John Franklin-Myers will have heightened responsibilities now with the injury to Vinny Curry. He will be their main rotational piece along the defensive line, with his ability to play inside and outside. If he can access the potential many believe he has, he could work his way into a solidified starting role.

Upgrade/Downgrade

The Jets upgraded this defensive line tremendously in the offseason. Unfortunately, the injuries bring it back closer to what it was last year. However, do not underestimate what Robert Saleh also brings to the table. He’s a force multiplier for what was an already good unit.

Best Case Scenario: Maxed out potential & Full-Go Rankins

Best case scenario is that we see the young talent on this defensive line max out their potential. Quinnen Williams becomes a 10+ sack, dominant force on the side. Bryce Huff pieces together starting quality performances and consistent pass rush pressure. John Franklin-Myers pushes himself into a starting role. Also, Sheldon Rankins plays a full season and looks himself again. With all of that, the Jets could still be a top 8-10 defensive line in the NFL despite all they’ve lost.

Worst Case Scenario: Injuries

The worst scenario is exactly what Robert Saleh experienced last season with the 49ers: injuries. Any more injuries to key players along the defensive line could completely derail this position group. They’re fortunate to have great depth to make up for the injuries that have happened but they can’t really afford more players getting hurt for this group to be a bright spot.

Prediction: Saleh Does It Again

My prediction is that the Jets defensive line shines through once again. I think there’s too much evidence to support just how great Saleh and his staff are with developing defensive linemen and putting them in position to succeed. I think the Jets defensive line talent stays healthy enough and effective enough to finish as a top 5 run defensive, top 10 overall, and finish with 40+ sacks.