Well, the time has come for the New York Jets to revamp their safety unit again. Their last attempt – drafting Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye – might be over. Maye, who will be an unrestricted free agent, does not sound to be a priority to retain this off-season. That being said, here are the different avenues the Jets may take to retool their safeties group…
New York Jets Safety Outlook Entering 2022 Off-Season
Current Safeties on the Roster
Under contract for 2022 are Ashtyn Davis, Jason Pinnock, Kai Nacua, and Jovante Moffatt. Under contract is also JAmien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen, two college safeties. Except, both transitioned to linebacker with the Jets this past season. Of those four, nobody has strung together games worthy of making them a lock to be a starter next season.
Ashtyn Davis has the most experience by far, with 16 starts in 23 career games. Despite having all the athleticism a coach could want, Davis has struggled mightily against the run and has had harmful lapses when angling for a tackle. On the year, Davis made 62 tackles, forced three fumbles, and had three interceptions to his name. In the end, the potential is still there for Davis to develop into a starter, yet based on his 2021 play, there could be better options out there to start.
As for the remaining Pinnock, Nacua, and Moffatt, none of them have the experience to be deemed a shoo-in to start. Pinnock, a 5th round pick in 2021, only moved to safety over the final games of the season. He performed well, being stout against the run, but at most provides a backup option going into next season. Nacua came to the Jets from the San Francisco 49ers towards the end of the year, only appearing in three games. As for Moffatt, he was added post-season to compete for a roster spot.
Upcoming In-House Free Agents at Safety
As previously mentioned, Marcus Maye is a free agent, and chances are he will not be back. The Jets intended for 2021 signing LaMarcus Joyner to start alongside Maye this past season, but a torn triceps injury in Week 1 ended his year. Joyner will be 32 this upcoming season, and while he may not demand a hefty contract, it remains to be seen if he returns. There is also Elijah Riley, who is an exclusive rights-free agent. The 23-year-old safety started all seven games he played in during 2021, providing a solid run defender.
Notable Safeties in Free Agency
At safety, some of the biggest names at the position are set to be unrestricted free agents. Tyrann Mathieu, Devin McCourty, Marcus Williams, Quandre Diggs, and Jessie Bates III might all be searching for new homes. However, all are likely to demand a price tag that Joe Douglas hasn’t expressed interest in paying in the past. Better yet, the Jets are more suited to scour the second and third tiers of the safety market.
Two names to watch for are Jaquiski Tartt and Keanu Neal. Tartt, who just turned 30 years old, is an experienced veteran who has played for Saleh in the past. At 6’1” and 215-pounds, Tartt is a versatile player who can play either safety position or line up in the box, though does come with an injury history. The same goes for Neal, who has missed five games over the past two seasons. Last off-season, the Jets were a potential landing spot for Neal to play linebacker for, but he ultimately went to Dallas. When taking into consideration his ties to Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich from their time in Atlanta during 2020, once again Neal could be a potential target.
Lastly, should Douglas want to spend a little extra for a safety, a younger target is Terrell Edmunds. The 25-year-old safety is the former 28th overall pick in 2018 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, he has been a staple in their secondary. At free safety, Edmunds is at his best in coverage, whereas against the run there is room to grow. Perhaps joining Saleh and Ulbrich is all he needs to reach that next level.
Notable Safeties in 2022 NFL Draft
One of the most naturally gifted players in the draft is Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton stands at 6’4” and 220-pounds, with the athleticism and football IQ to line up at either safety spot, linebacker, or just about anywhere he is needed. Arguably the most talented player in the draft, drafting Hamilton fourth overall would be a surprise, but at 10 he would be an absolute steal. Hamilton is the type of player a team builds its secondary around.
Outside of Hamilton, there is a handful of day two safeties worth looking into as starters. Equipped with the 35th, 38th, and 69th overall pick on day two, the Jets will have plenty of options. In the second round, Daxton Hill from Michigan is the exact type of free safety Saleh and Ulbrich need in coverage over the top. Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker offers another freak athlete like Ashtyn Davis, though with better play strength and aggressiveness against the run.
On day three, either Jalen Pitre (Baylor), Lewis Cine (Georgia), or Verone McKinley III (Oregon) might be available come the 69th overall pick. Having coached Pitre at the Senior Bowl, the Jets saw firsthand how he shot up draft boards. Like Hamilton, Pitre offers versatility that Ulbrich desires at safety. Cine is a physical safety who controls the box and would fit well at strong safety. Lastly, McKinley III is a smaller safety at 5’11” and under 200-pounds with the coverage skills needed at free safety. Who knows how Joe Douglas and the Jets attack the safety position this off-season, but chances are it will be with a combination of a free agent signing and a player drafted.
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