Will Parkinson talks about the strength of the Jets’ DL.
The Jets finally have a position group that other teams will have nightmares to scheme against. This is Saleh’s bread and butter. The DL has the potential to be scary and one of the most elite in the NFL. In this article, I will dive into this topic in more depth.
If you told a Jets fan in 2005 that it would be 15 years until they had an edge rusher like John Abraham on the roster, they would’ve called you crazy. This offseason, the Jets hope that they have solved their glaring EDGE hole by adding Carl Lawson. Lawson joins an already talented group of young defensive linemen. While the Jets struggled heavily in 2020, the defensive line was one of the lone bright spots. Going into 2021 this group is the strength of the team and features exciting players like Quinnen Williams, Sheldon Rankins, John Franklin Meyers, in addition to Carl Lawson, and a bunch of other depth pieces. Between the talent on this unit and the 4-3 scheme change, under Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich. This unit should be one of the best in the NFL if they can live up to their potential.
When the Jets drafted Quinnen Williams back in 2019, most evaluators thought they were getting the best overall player in the draft. Williams is supremely physically gifted for an interior defensive lineman. He showed some flashes in 2019 but took a huge leap in 2020, becoming one of the best young defensive players in the NFL. Williams produced 7.0 sacks, 10 TFL, and 14 QB hits in his second year, playing somewhat out of position in a 3-4 defense. Williams was a stud at Alabama playing in the 4-3 under front at the defensive tackle role, which he will be playing in 2021 and beyond. The scheme change and addition of talent will allow Williams to pin his ears back and create havoc in the backfield. This scheme will create more one on one matchups and allow him to use his size and speed versus smaller and slower IOL. He can get to the double-digit sack mark in his third year and compete for a pro bowl, maybe even an all-pro bid. On the TOJ Pod, Marcus Spears said, “I think for Quinnen Williams he can turn into that guy, where defense say we got to make sure we take care of that guy!” For the Jets, if Williams takes another leap in 2021, it should not only allow him to gain more recognition but the defense as a whole.
The Jets long search for the next John Abraham is hopefully over. In the offseason, the Jets signed talented pass rusher Carl Lawson to a 3-year 45-million-dollar deal. Lawson ranked sixth in pass-rush win rate over the past two seasons, ranking only behind superstars like TJ Watt, Myles Garrett, and Joey Bosa according to PFF. Austin Gayle of PFF is very high on Lawson, saying, “injuries remain a concern, but Lawson is easily one of the league’s premier pass-rushing talents when healthy.” Lawson had 64 QB pressures and 32 QB hits in 2020. His sack numbers (5.5) in 2020 weren’t as high, but he projects to have a large jump this year based on those pressures and hits, combined with playing with talented guys like Williams, Rankins, Franklin-Meyers, and others. Injuries have been a concern for the talented pass rusher from Auburn, as he missed major chunks of 2018 and 2019 in addition to injuries in college, which caused him to fall in the draft. With Lawson screaming off of one edge, the Jets defense will have a dimension that they have been sorely missing, as well as one that will help protect their incredibly young and unproven cornerback room.
One of the most underrated signings of the offseason around the NFL was the Jets bringing in Sheldon Rankins on a 2 year 18.5 million dollar deal. Rankins will be another talented interior defensive lineman to play alongside Williams and Lawson. Rankins was a dominant force in 2018 with the Saints, racking up 8.5 Sacks before tearing his Achilles in 2019. Rankins will look to return to his past form in 2021 and help provide stability and another dominant presence in the new 4-3 scheme. While durability this year and beyond is a concern for the Jets with guys like Lawson, Williams, and Rankins all who have missed time the past two years, if these guys can stay on the field at the same time, should provide a great force in the AFC and NFL as a whole.
The defensive line’s ability to create pressure and get to the quarterback without having to blitz is a massive key in today’s NFL. It’s why Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh put such an emphasis on it this offseason. Part of what made the 49ers so successful in 2019 was being able to get pressure with the front 4 and being able to provide protection their secondary, something the Jets will be relying on heavily in 2021. If Lawson, Williams, Rankins as well John Franklin-Meyers, who was a breakout player for the Jets in 2020, perform the way they are capable, this defense should be a top 12-15 defense. This is a must-watch group in 2021 and should produce at least one, if not two pro bowlers.