Our series grading each position group on the Jets in 2015 goes on. Today we address the edge rushers. As a refresher, here is the John B Grading System.
A - An enormous success by any definition
B - Happy with the production
C - Not terribly thrilled; not terribly upset
D - A disappointment
F - A total catastrophe
2015 in review
Yesterday we discussed how good the Jets were on the defensive line. It was one of the best defensive lines in the league. As with most defenses, though, the primary pass rush usually comes from the edge rushers. Despite their defensive line success, the Jets only ranked 12th in sacks. It is a credit to the defensive line that they could drag the Jets into the top half of the league, but the fact the team could not finish higher with this kind of defensive line talent is also an indication of the lack of production of the edge.
What more can I tell you than the fact the guy who had been the team's primary edge rusher over since 2013, Quinton Coples, was waived before the season ended. Coples played 74% of the snaps against the Browns in the opener. Calvin Pace has been around the Jets since 2008, but his age has really shown in the last few years. He doesn't get to the passer on a consistent basis, and his lack of range limits the defense both against the run and the pass. In any event, Pace only played around half the snaps this season. Things were so shaky that the Jets tried an ill-fated gambit by using Sheldon Richardson as a stand up linebacker. It wasn't terribly effective.
After getting some early season work, 2014 seventh round pick Trevor Reilly saw his playing time disappear. Reilly is a high motor guy. He is good on special teams. He doesn't seem to have much upside as a pass rusher, though.
If there was one bright spot it was how rookie third round pick Lorenzo Mauldin looked in limited snaps. He registered 4 sacks and 12 hits in just 253 snaps.
Looking to 2016
The Jets have to get better off the edge. It is essential to the defense. Encouragingly, Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles have both acknowledged this in public to some extent.
Mauldin is likely to take on an increased role. Can he be the primary edge rusher on a good defense? Is he more of a versatile guy who will frequently drop into coverage and be the number two edge guy? Is he more of a situational guy? It is frankly too early to say. I do think he can be part of the solution in some form.
The Jets have already gotten to work trying to unmine pass rushing help off the edge by signing CFL star Freddie Bishop. It is unclear how productive Bishop will be, but it is good to see the team actively looking for solutions after years of, "Let's stick with Calvin Pace," was the default company line.
The biggest upgrades will likely have to come in the Draft. Other than quarterback and possibly left tackle, good edge rushers are the scarcest commodity in the NFL. Teams don't let the really good ones hit free agency. Even if they did, the Jets probably could not afford one. You have to draft and develop these guys. The Jets went five years without drafting one from 2009 through 2013. That probably has a lot to do with why the team has struggled off the edge.
I think only Mauldin's flashes of promise pull this group from out of the F range.