As the New York Jets gear up for the 2023 off-season, it is time to preview where each position stands. Whether there is talent already under contract, or New York acquires players through free agency or the draft, General Manager Joe Douglas looks to build a contender out of the franchise. That being said, let’s take a look at the Jets defensive line preview for the 2023 off-season.
New York Jets 2023 Off-Season Previews: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Tackle, Interior Offensive Lineman, Edge Rusher
New York Jets 2023 Off-Season Preview: Defensive Line
Jets Under Contract for 2023
For starters – let’s give credit to where credit is due. Quinnen Williams has more than earned a contract extension following a breakout 12-sack campaign that earned him a first-team All-Pro and pro bowl bid. Under contract through 2023 thanks to his rookie contract’s fifth-year option, New York cannot afford to lose him in free agency a year from now. The former third overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft has developed into an elite playmaker, and he should command a four-to-five-year deal worth over $20 million per year.
With Williams a rock along the interior, building around him is a must. A year ago, the Jets interior run defense left a lot to be desired. However, fourth-round selection Micheal Clemons proved to be their best run stuffer. He rarely misses tackles, is explosive off of the line with a plethora of block-shedding tools, and at 6’5” and 270 pounds offers tons of versatility. While he is not a nose tackle once so ever, Clemons can play inside or out along the defensive line. In his second season, expect Clemons to earn an even more prominent role in 2023.
Lastly, it is about time that the Jets give Tanzel Smart a legitimate shot to earn snaps on the 53-man roster. Since October 2020, Smart has been with the franchise, spending time on and off the roster and practice squad. The Tulane product has been around the league since 2017 with the Los Angeles Rams, though has played just 598 snaps in 47 career games. At 6’1” and 295 pounds, Smart does not offer ridiculous size or power. He offers a stout interior lineman capable of holding the line of scrimmage and a quality run defender. For Gang Green, these are the three defensive linemen on the books for 2023.
2023 NFL Free Agency Defensive Line Options
The Jets have four defensive tackles set to be unrestricted free agents. The first is Sheldon Rankins, who had an excellent bounce-back 2022 season. In his second year with the team, Rankins started all 15 games played, totaling 43 tackles, three sacks, and 26 run stops. Expect Rankins to earn another multi-year deal worth about seven-to-nine million per. With that in mind and more pressing team needs, it is up in the air if retaining Rankins is on the table.
Whether or not they replace Rankins, the team will desperately need to bulk up their interior depth chart with Solomon Thomas and Nathan Shepherd also free agents. The two played a significant role off of the bench, playing well over 700 snaps in the defensive line rotation. At the same time, neither was great against the run and was too inconsistent in getting after the quarterback. With late-wire pickup Isaiah Mack also without a deal, the Jets need to restock the defensive line.
With bigger needs elsewhere, the Jets should not be searching for a top-flight defensive tackle on the market. Rather, the Jets should aim to do what they did with Rankins. Find a young, promising defensive tackle who will not be expensive, has flashed upside and deserves a bigger role. That being said, players such as Taven Bryan, Shy Tuttle, and Andrew Billings come to mind. Bryan emerged as a starter in Cleveland this past season and could thrive alongside an already dominant Jets front. Tuttle has been a starter the past two years for the New Orleans Saints as a two-down run stuffer. As for Billings, he enjoyed a bounce-back season in Las Vegas, and will only be 28 this upcoming season.
Lastly, look out for former Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley. Despite an underwhelming 2022 campaign, as a full-time starter in 2021, he thrived in a versatile role playing off the edge. At 6’5″ and 300 pounds, Wormely is a perfect target to add versatility across the line.
2023 NFL Draft Defensive Line Options
Should the Jets make a large investment in the position, it very well may be with a late day two, or early day three draft selection. The defensive lineman in the draft class offers the Jets exactly what they need – immediate rotation contributors against the run. In the middle rounds, New York can land a true nose tackle in Siaki Ika (Baylor), Keondre Coburn (Texas), or Gervon Dexter Sr. (Florida). Whereas on day three, the versatility lost with Thomas and Shepherd being free agents can be replenished with the selection of Zacch Pickens (South Carolina), Jaquelin Roy (LSU), and D.J. Dale (Alabama). In other words – the Jets have plenty of options along the defensive interior to restock their rotation.
Jets Defensive Line Construction Prediction
When it comes time for training camp, Quinnen Williams must have a new contract. Locking Williams up as Joe Douglas’ first true long-term deal will prevent any holdout storylines come this summer. Clemons will earn the opportunity for more snaps along the interior, though, his ability to play inside and out makes him their top-moving chess piece along the defensive line. Smart deserves a legitimate shot to make the team… though, with likely two free agent signings and a rookie coming in, he’ll need to fight for the job.
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