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New York Jets: Trying to Figure Out Where Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, and Sheldon Richardson All Fit


After last night the Jets have now taken a similar player in the first round three straight years. Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, and Sheldon Richardson all profile as players who will be at their most disruptive as defensive ends in a 3-4 set and tackles in a 4-3 set. With these three all together, it is difficult to see how the Jets will be able to maximize all of their ability. Let's take a look at a few possibilities along with the problems each of these scenarios creates.

Rotational players:

The benefit: It's possible we could see these three primarily used to spell each other on the defensive line out of the 3-4 base defense the Jets run. The idea would be using three players instead of two could keep everybody fresh.

The problem: Muhammad Wilkerson has already shown he can play at a top level while playing the bulk of the snaps. If there was a complaint about the way Quinton Coples was used last year, it's that he wasn't playing enough. This creates a scenario where somebody is either getting more rest than he needs or somebody is playing sparingly.

Wade Phillips style defense:

The benefit: Through the years, Wade Phillips has put his own stamp on the 3-4 defense at his various stops. While many 3-4 defenses give at least one player the responsibility of simply tying up two blockers to keep the linebackers unblocked, Phillips' defense asks all three linemen to penetrate, shoot gaps, get into the backfield, and be disruptive. Maybe we will see a three man line of Richardson-Wilkerson-Coples with Wilkerson in the middle trying to win assignments.

The problem: You're taking Wilkerson out of a role where he was one of the best in the league last year and putting him into a position where he might not make as much of an impact. He'll become the focal point of opponents' blocking schemes at a more physically demanding, tougher to play position. The Richardson selection made me think back to the Jets drafting Bryan Thomas in 2002 even though there was no spot for him to play with young Shaun Ellis and John Abraham already in place. They tried to move Shaun Ellis to tackle and in the process almost wrecked his career. You're risking taking a known great thing by taking this approach.

More 4-3 looks:

The benefit: With so much invested on the defensive line and the linebacker corps so thin, it would stand the reason the Jets could benefit from a front that puts one more defensive lineman on the field and takes one off.

The problem: The crew the Jets have isn't really the optimal way to build a defensive line for a 4-3. Look at the key defensive linemen the Jets have. The five best are probably Coples, Wilkerson, Antonio Garay, Kenrick Ellis, and Richardson. They don't really compliment each other. All five of them feel best suited to play inside in a 4-3. If you have a four man line with any combination of them, you probably push Coples and Wilkerson out to end. Maybe Coples could thrive there, but on passing downs he's seemed at his best on the interior using his initial burst and strength to push blockers back and collapse the pocket. With Wilkerson, I don't see the fit at all. He doesn't really seem like he can cover the ground to get to the quarterback rushing all the way from end. He's again a guy who collapses the pocket. Maybe do Wilkerson and Richardson both line up inside without a conventional nose tackle? Maybe Antwan Barnes and Calvin Pace see time at end in this setup?

More 46 defense:

The benefit: Rex Ryan's father created the 46 defense. One of the key parts of that defense is having a lot of big linemen on the field together. This is the one defense which allows you to fit Coples, Richardson, and Wilkerson on the field all at the same time.

The problem: The 46 defense also needs great safety play, which the Jets don't have to say the least. Even beyond that, the 46 went out of style over a decade ago in the NFL. One of the biggest factors is that it is a defense that is stronger against the run than the past. Over this timeframe, the passing game has become exponentially more important in the league. The 46 is really a defense you use to throw a fresh look at the opponent, not something you lean on in today's NFL.

The Jets are very multiple on defense so I reckon you will see all of the approaches mentioned above used at some point. You can also see how Richardson opens up some possibilities and has some benefits. You also see the problems, which lead back to the key problem with the pick. Richardson isn't a great compliment to the two players the Jets were trying to build their defense around. To at least some extent, the value he provides will come at the expense of the value provided by Coples and Wilkerson. Those two will either lose playing time or be put into spots that don't play to their biggest strengths.

I favor drafting for impact. In many cases, that means best player available. There are limits, though. The goal is to build parts that fit well together and compliment each other. You want the players you pick to make the final product better. There's a big difference between just stockpiling players and putting together a coherent roster where everything fits. I see a defensive line with the Jets with a lot of talent but one that doesn't really have pieces that fit. Usually I'm not against drafting a specific position, but you can't take things to such extremes. When you already have two young stars taking the bulk of the playing time at a given position and gaping holes almost everywhere else, it's not hard to see there might have been a pick that made more sense elsewhere. There were other players who on paper compliment and fit what the Jets have a lot better. For this to have made sense, Richardson would have needed to be far and away the best player available. It seems like a tough sell.

It's like going to a restaurant. You can have a chicken Caesar salad as an appetizer. You can have a chicken Caesar salad as an entree. You wouldn't have it as both, though. That would be ridiculous. It would hurt your dining experience, and you wouldn't enjoy either chicken Caesar salad as much as you would if you just had one along with something else. They wouldn't compliment each other at all. Same idea here.