With the Jets first pre-season game fast approaching we’re going to dive into one of the more interesting positional battles on the New York Jets roster: Interior Defensive Line.
This past offseason the Jets front office managed to address a lot of the holes from 2021. They got stronger are almost every position, adding blue-chip quality starters at Corner, Edge, Running Back and Wide Receiver in the draft; as well as bringing in key free agents on the Offensive Line and in the Tight End room.
But what about on the interior of the defence? In 2021 the Jets defence was statistically one of the worst outfits in the league against the run. 138.3 rushing yards per game (29th), 28 rushing touchdowns allowed per game (32nd), and 26th overall in DVOA according to football outsiders.
Now, rushing defense isn’t all about the DL. The Jets linebacking unit and safeties didn’t help matters, but let’s face it, run defense all starts up front, and with the additions the team made to the others spots there should be no excuse for the D-line not to perform.
The Jets released their first depth chart this week. But the final picture is far from painted given that Breece Hall is listed as RB3 right now. So let’s dive into who we can expect to see stuffing the run in 2022.
New York Jets Interior Defensive Line
Quinnen Williams: There’s no question that Q is a starter for the Jets. Despite some complaining that he’s never quite lived up the billing of his third overall selection in 2019, Williams has been solid since he came into the league, and although he could do with a breakout year in 2022 to ensure he gets that big contract his floor is so much higher than at lot of players at his position.
Sheldon Rankins: Rankins came to the Jets in the 2021 offseason on a not so cheap deal worth just shy of $11 million dollar over 2 years. The performance didn’t match up the value. Ending the season with a PPF grade of 46.1 which is the worst of his career, Rankins also posted a run defense grade of 34.4. If he doesn’t get cut for cap reasons, I’d expect to see Rankins share snaps with Solomon Thomas in the rotation and see the field primarily rushing the passer given his numbers against the run.
Solomon Thomas: Taken in the same spoke as Q two years earlier in 2017 by the 49ers Thomas never lived up to that selection playing mostly on the Edge during his time there. After 3 underwhelming years he wasn’t kept on in San Francisco and was picked up on a 1 year contract by the Raiders who moved Thomas a primarily interior role where things improved somewhat on the pass rush front. He put together a season with 3.5 sacks, 17 QB pressures, and an impressive missed tackle rate of 5.6%. But against the run he posted a woeful 28 PFF score which means that like Rankins we’ll likely see him primarily on pash rush downs.
John Franklin-Myers: One of the best pick ups of Joe Douglas’s time as GM of the New York Jets. JFM was picked up off waivers back in 2019 and has since played his way into a contract that guarantees him $30 million over 4 years. 2021 was a productive year for JFM with 6 sacks and 25 pressures attributed to him. What makes JFM really special in this defence is his ability to play both inside and outside on the line. As a run defender, he is able to start inside on early downs, and then he can slide outside as a solid pass rusher off the edge.
Jonathan Marshall: Much like with Clemons, Marshall is all potential. Picked up in the 6th round of the 2021 draft, Marshall boasted a ridiculous RAS of 9.99 so it isn’t hard to see why the Jets thought he was worth taking a flier on in the later rounds. We’ve not seen enough of Marshall to say if he can contribute longer term. He saw the field in 4 games of 2021 for less than 76 snaps and I expect him to remain as a depth piece going into 2022. Pre-season will be big for Marshall as he’ll be battling with other fringe roster players for those last few spots.
Nathan Shepherd: Along with Trevon Wesco, one of the few remaining survivors of the Maccagnan era. To be honest I’m not sure why Shepherd is still around. There’s always the ‘locker room guy’ element that we don’t see as fans, but from football standpoint Shepherd is nothing special. PFF have rated him around 50 the last two seasons and 2021 was the first time he’s been over 20 tackles (solo and assisted combined.) We’ll probably see him stick on the roster but I wouldn’t expect anything beyond borderline serviceable depth in the rotation.
Micheal Clemons: One to consider. It might be strange to see Clemons’s name here given that he’s listed as a DE on the current depth chart, and played off the edge through most of his college career at Texas A&M. But coming out of the draft the Jets’ coaching staff made the surprising comments they Clemons would work both inside and outside this year which Saleh as since repeated during training camp. Similar to how they plan to use JFM. It’ll be interesting to see how much we see Clemons on the inside.
Overall, I’d expect to see the final depth chart and overall snap count come out with Quinnen Williams and JFM take the majority of snaps at IDL, with a combination of Sheldon Rankins/Solomon Thomas as on pash rush downs when JFM will slide outside. Shepherd/Marshall taking 3rd string duties on the depth chart to give the main starters a rest. Given the shaky status of both Thomas and Rankins though there’s plenty of opportunity for them if they can show out in pre-season.
3rd string is no small role though in this Saleh defence. We already know there’s going to be a heavy rotation on the entire D-Line this year with even key starters like Q only likely to see around 60% of the snaps.
Depth is going to be crucial to the success of this scheme if it’s going to succeed so I’d fully expect everyone mentioned in this article to make the final roster. How the team plan to use Clemons will be genuinely fascinating to see and we’ll likely get our first taste of that in the pre-season game against the Eagles this week.