Coming into the 2021 NFL season, New York Jets fans had every right to be concerned about their defense. Big free agent acquisition, defensive end Carl Lawson, was already out the season, as well as Vinny Curry. Veteran Ronald Blair has yet to play a snap, and Kyle Phillips has vanished. Simply put, by Week 1, the defensive line was half of what it was expected to be.
Nevertheless, Head Coach Robert Saleh and Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have worked their magic. As they enter their Week 5 bye, the Jets pass rush has essentially been as good as their own pass blocking has been bad. The team has 59 pressures on the year and 13 sacks, compared to the 57 pressures and 18 sacks rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has taken. Numbers that recent Jets defensive fronts have struggled to reach.
New York Jets Defensive Line Deserves More Credit
It goes without saying that the defensive line’s success directly correlates with the success of the defensive unit. Without their ability to generate pressure, the team’s young cornerbacks would not have the Jets defense ranked 15th in opponent passing yards per game. Not to mention the so-so play at linebacker, which if not for the Jets front, surely would be worse than 21st in opponent rushing yards per game.
Simply put, the Jets defensive linemen deserve more credit. As a unit, they give Saleh the Jets best defensive line since 2015 – Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, and Leonard Williams. But when one is learning how to read odds, the Jets defensive line must be taken into account.
Defensive End John Franklin-Myers
In 2019, General Manager Joe Douglas took a chance on waivers by claiming former Los Angeles Rams fourth-round pick John Franklin-Myers. The defensive end had struggled to stay healthy, but Douglas saw the potential. And now, Franklin-Myers is set to be a Jet for the foreseeable future having just signed a contract extension.
At 25-years-old, Franklin-Myers is having a breakout season. In five games, he has tied his career-high from 2020 in sacks with three, has a forced fumble, and 18 tackles to his name. With a 78.1 overall grade from PFF, he ranks 13th amongst qualifying edge rushers, ahead of guys like Cameron Jordan, Chase Young, Khalil Mack, and more. With Lawson down, Franklin-Myers has stepped up into the role of the Jets top pass rusher – and he is flourishing.
Defensive End Bryce Huff
Similarly, Bryce Huff was also not supposed to be a starter. That was until the injuries to Lawson, Curry, and Blair forced the second-year Memphis product into the lineup. At 6’3” and 255-pounds, Huff may not be the biggest defensive end, but he surely is amongst the quickest. Across five games, Huff has 10 pressures and 10 tackles to his name, with two sacks too. His 76.9 pass rush grade ranks 23rd, also ahead of Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, and Jadeveon Clowney. Simply put, in 19 career games, Bryce Huff has gone from an undrafted free agent to quality starting defensive end.
Defensive Tackle Quinnen Williams
2021 marks year three for Alabama product Quinnen Williams, and he is just getting started. After finishing his sophomore year breakout on injured reserve, Williams is hungry to prove it wasn’t a fluke. Having started every game this season, Williams has registered 3.5 sacks to go with 18 total tackles, including three for a loss. In other words, Williams is looking good so far in his third year in the pros.
Defensive Tackle Folorunso Fatukasi
Thankfully for the New York Jets, their run defense features Folorunso Fatukasi. One of the league’s elite run stuffers, Fatukasi is having yet another fantastic season, yet still gets no respect. He ranks 11th out of 116 qualifying interior defensive linemen with a 77.3 grade, in large part because of his ability to move the line. Having not missed a tackle this year, Fatukasi is well on his way to receiving a well-deserved payday this off-season.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images