For over a decade, the New York Jets ran a 3-4 defensive scheme, meaning they would play three defensive linemen across the line. But with Head Coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich now running the show, Gang Green will move to a 4-3 scheme. With that, drastic changes were made all over the defense, including the defensive line.
Here is how the Jets interior defensive line shapes up for the 2021 season…
2021 New York Jets Preview: Interior Defensive Line
The Starters: Quinnen Williams (DT), Sheldon Rankins (NT)
Coming out of Alabama, Quinnen Williams was viewed as an athletic freak and immediate difference-maker. However, some believed that his best role would come as a 4-3 defensive tackle, where he can wreak havoc from the interior.
Well, with the New York Jets hire of Robert Saleh as their head coach, Williams will be playing that exact role. In the new 4-3 scheme, Williams is going to still be utilized as a versatile chess piece, but one who with find his niche as a defensive tackle. Coming off a year where he played at a Pro Bowl-caliber level, the sky is the limit for “Q” in year three.
As for Sheldon Rankins, he comes to the Jets on a two-year deal to join forces with Williams along the interior. The 27-year-old former first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints will look to stay healthy in order to regain form, having missed eight games over the last two seasons. When he last stayed healthy in 2018, Rankins had eight sacks and 12 tackles for a loss across 16 starts. If the Jets can get that production from Rankins, this duo will be an absolute force.
At the end of the day, it comes down to staying on the field. Both have missed time over the past two seasons and the Jets cannot afford to lose either. Saleh wants to have guys who can do it all – rush the passer, stop the run, and so on. Simply put, as long as these two can stay healthy, both are capable of having career years.
As for Fatukasi, he profiles as a typical run-stuffing 3-4 defensive tackle. Now moving to the 4-3, Fatukasi lines up at nose tackle for Gang Green.
The Backups: Folorunso Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers, Jonathan Marshall
With the addition of Rankins, Folorunso Fatukasi falls into a rotational role, being their go-to run-stuffer up the middle. One of the most underrated defensive tackles in the game, Fatukasi is the rare late-round success story of the Mike Maccagnan era. Expect him to be rotated in and out constantly, but he will provide a rock along the inside.
Like Fatukasi, John Franklin-Myers will be one of the go-to situational players. Capable of playing on the edge and interior, Franklin-Myers flashed his potential as a pass rusher last season and will only grow under Saleh. Meanwhile, sixth-round pick Jonathan Marshall will be another athlete the Jets can incorporate into the rotation. Chances are he will not make a huge impact as a rookie, but Marshall has the upside to become a regular along the Jets interior defensive line sooner than later.
The Bubble: Nathan Shepherd, Tanzel Smart
Unlike Fatukasi, Nathan Shepherd has not been a success story from the Maccagnan era. A former third-round pick in 2018, Shepherd never became the starter New York hoped he would. In three years, Shepherd has 4.5 sacks to his name and 43 tackles. His inability to string together strong performances may be his downfall, as he is firmly on the roster bubble.
The same goes for Tanzel Smart, who after playing in three games last season finds himself on the outside looking in. Given the scheme fit and potential of the others previously mentioned, both face an uphill climb to make the final 53-man roster.
Final Interior Defensive Line Analysis
In Robert Saleh’s defense, having a versatile and deep rotation is extremely important. General Manager Joe Douglas has assembled an excellent group of young and hungry interior defensive lineman, all of who have something to prove in 2021. Expect big things to come from the Jets interior defensive line this season.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2021 New York Jets Preview series with edge rushers!
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images