Which Jet is the best pass defender this season? Morris Claiborne? Marcus Maye? Darryl Roberts? Jamal Adams? All possibilities. But no. No, the best Jets pass defender this year is Kony Ealy.
Morris Claiborne has six passes defended and one interception. Ditto for Darryl Roberts. Marcus Maye has two passes defended and two interceptions. Jamal Adams has three passes defended and zero interceptions.
6’ 4”, 275 pound Kony Ealy? All he’s done is intercept one pass and bat down a ridiculous nine passes. Nine passes defended, in nine games played for Ealy. That number is 50% more than any Jet player had in a full season in 2016. And how about this: Kony’s nine passes defended this year are more than the total number the entire Jets team registered in the first four games last year. What’s that you say? No big deal you say, the Jets defensive backfield stunk in 2016? Fair enough. Maybe you’ll like this one better. Kony Ealy currently ranks 16th in the NFL in passes defended. That’s not 16th among front seven guys. That’s 16th among every player in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars have two players with more passes defended, as do the Philadelphia Eagles. That means there are 19 NFL teams without a single player who has more passes defended than Kony Ealy.
Kony Ealy is on a historic pace of getting his hands on the football. At his current pace (which of course may not be maintained) Ealy will finish with 15 passes defended. In 1991 Reggie White, the Eagles’ Hall of Famer, set the then NFL record for passes defended by a defensive lineman with 13. That record stood for more than 20 years, until J.J. Watt broke it with a ridiculous 16 passes defended in 2012. The Cincinnati Bengals’ Carlos Dunlap had 15 in 2016. Those are the only defensive linemen ever to come close to doing what Kony Ealy is on pace to do with the 2017 New York Jets.
Kony Ealy’s work batting down passes in the trenches may very well not be sustained the rest of this season. Even if Ealy manages to sustain this level of play in 2017, the chances of a repeat performance in coming years are virtually nil. Ealy has never done anything like this in the past, nor has almost any defensive lineman who ever played the game. Even the great J.J. Watt never came close to replicating his 2012 pass defending legerdemain; he never had more than 10 in any other season. So it might be a good idea to pay attention as this season plays out; we may never pass (or more accurately, defend the pass) this way again. But as long as this continues, maybe we need to give Ealy a new nickname. Just call him Kony Island.