When the Jets traded Jamal Adams last year, nobody knew what to expect out of the safety room. Adams was an all-pro player, and while Marcus Maye is talented, the room had a gaping hole from a leadership and talent perspective. However, through the 2020 season, the Jets learned just how good of a player and leader Marcus Maye is and also saw serious flashes from Ashtyn Davis during his up and down rookie campaign. As the Jets go into 2021, the safety room looks like it could be a bright spot on a feisty defense. The group is deep and should produce, whether it’s another dominant year for Marcus Maye, a year two improvement from Ashtyn Davis, or a return to consistent play from LaMarcus Joyner, who is moving back to his natural position.
For Marcus Maye, 2020 was a career year, as he emerged as one of the League’s better safeties even without his tag team partner, Jamal Adams. Maye posted an 82.9 grade according to PFF in 2020, the highest of his career while playing both the center field free safety role and the box strong safety role. Sam Monson of PFF mentioned on the TOJ Pod that Maye’s ability to play in the slot and in the box makes him even more valuable than Adams going into 2021. This further supported his ranking of Maye as the seventh-best safety in the NFL, while putting Adams at 10th. Erik Coleman, who is a former Jets safety, also mentioned the importance of Maye getting extended, noting his “great leadership, both vocally and doing things the right way, to earn that next contract” on the TOJ Pod on Friday. The bottom line for the Jets is that Maye has been one of the lone bright spots over the past four years and certainly warrants getting a new contract. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted that Maye and the Jets will likely not be coming to an extension agreement before the July 15th deadline, so it will be interesting to see how it affects the locker room. Maye is deserving of an extension, but Jets GM Joe Douglas has not shown a willingness to pay non-premium positions big money. That, in tandem with Maye being 28 years old, means that it’s likely that he will play on the franchise tag in 2021 and have his contract situation revisited after the season.
One of the biggest keys to the Jets defense taking a big step in 2021 is the development of Ashytn Davis. The second-year safety from Cal Berkley flashed in 2020. On the other hand, he did struggle a bit, specifically against the Chiefs and teams who attacked him vertically. Jamal Adams previously mentioned that the biggest adjustment from college, and growing from year one to two, was developing his eyes. The speed of the game in the NFL is so much faster than the speed of the college game. As a result, if you catch yourself peaking into the backfield or watching guys’ eyes instead of their hips, and only play off your instincts, then you risk getting torched. Coleman mentioned his struggles in rookie-camp, watching Wayne Chrebet’s eyes and having to learn to just “play football” and not overthink. Davis is a top-tier athlete who makes plays on the football. If he is deployed in more “cover 1” and “cover 3” in this new scheme, he could grow into the Jets’ long-term answer at safety.
Lastly, a key to the Jets safety group playing better in 2021, is Lamarcus Joyner. Joyner is a low-risk, high-reward signing for the Jets, especially if he can return to 2017 form. Safety is his natural position and had a career-best PFF grade of 91.0. Joyner is a talented football player but struggled out of position as a slot corner with the Raiders in 2019 and 2020. The Jets are hoping that, with a return to his natural position and change of scenery, they can get Joyner’s 2017 play
With Joyner hoping to return to his old form and Davis looking to take a leap in year two, the Jets are set up with strong depth and flexibility at the free safety position, while Marcus Maye dominates the strong safety position. Having built a top-tier defensive line and a returning star LB in CJ Mosley, the Jets should be able to cover up their question marks at corner, given their strength at safety. If they can do that, the Jets will be in a position almost every week to compete and give their young talented quarterback a chance to win a bunch of ball games.