With the 180th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi. At 6’4″ and 318-pounds, Fatukasi fit the bill of an athletic interior defensive lineman depth they needed. As a rookie, Fatukasi only saw three snaps. After that, Fatukasi quickly developed into arguably former General Manager Mike Maccagnan’s best draft pick on day three. Over the past three seasons, Fatukasi has played in 44 games, making 23 starts, becoming a defensive staple. Now, as Fatukasi’s rookie contract is up, the soon-to-be 27-year-old is getting ready for a raise. As Fatukasi is an unrestricted free agent, the Jets must decide whether or not to retain him.
Should the New York Jets Re-Sign Folorunso Fatukasi?
Fatukasi has Grown with Jets
Again, as a rookie, Fatukasi didn’t play much. That changed in year two, as he played 14 games during 2019, making 27 tackles with seven for a loss. By his third year, Fatukasi entered the starting lineup, posting an 86.2 run defense grade according to PFF. His numbers have never jumped out when looking at a box score, but at the end of the day, Fatukasi was among the league’s best interior run defenders coming into 2021.
This past season though, Fatukasi posted career-highs in starts (15 in 15 games), tackles (46), and quarterback hits (6). His missed tackle percentage also decreased, as Fatukasi has always made the most of his limited playing time. New York runs a heavy rotation along their front, meaning Fatukasi has never played more than 558 snaps in a single season. With three career sacks and 22 pressures to his name, he hasn’t pieced his game as a pass rusher together yet. Therefore the question becomes do the Jets view him as a two-down run stopper or believe they can unlock his talent as a pass rusher?
Evaluating Fatukasi’s Value
This off-season the Jets are focused on revamping their roster in the draft and free agency. With all their needs, they must be careful who they give blank checks to. Overpaying for a one-dimensional defensive tackle when they have needs at corner, safety, and on the edge would not be ideal. Even so, Fatukasi is among the team’s most reliable players, and the Jets defense may not be able to afford to lose him. Gang Green was amongst the league’s worst teams at stopping the run and letting Fatukasi walk would be detrimental. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Fatukasi could be asking for about $8 million a year. A price tag that might be out of the Jets range given the money tied to Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers, and Quinnen Williams.
Additionally, the Jets could look elsewhere for a run-stopper this off-season. The team is equipped with four picks between rounds four and five in which could be invested at defensive tackle. Or maybe New York looks to the free agent market. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones is one name to watch out for given his ties to Head Coach Robert Saleh.
Let’s recap – Folorunso Fatukasi has developed into a stout run defender but one with an incomplete pass rushing arsenal. As he will be 27 years old next season, his upside will draw plenty of attention from other teams. As great as Fatukasi has been in New York, there are cheaper alternatives available in the draft or free agency. Thus, when considering the money the Jets must distribute elsewhere, paying a pretty price for a rising defensive tackle may not be on the checklist this off-season?
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