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Recapping Jets Defense at Detroit - Are They For Real?

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The young Jets defense showed up again in Detroit. How high is their ceiling?

NFL: New York Jets at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

While the offense continues to sputter, the young Jets defense has really showed up for two games in a row. There were ups and downs early against the starting Detroit offense, but the unit held up in the red zone and showcased some really solid depth. Altogether, they’ve only given 19 points through two games, as each level of the unit has showed off upside. Here’s a look at who stood out most both positively and negatively.

THE GOOD

Sheldon Richardson

Sheldon is approaching a contract year, and his play has been reflective of it. He was very active while in this game, generating pressure with ease and stuffing gaps in the run game. His box score numbers were unimpressive (1 tackle, 1 quarterback hit), but his presence was clear play after play. Pro Football Focus had him as the team’s highest graded player.

Darron Lee

Lee seems to be making some legitimate strides in year two. The athleticism has always been there, but his technique seems refined and improved. He looked far more natural in coverage, and it showed up in his production as he held his matchups to only 23 yards on 4 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. He made six tackles to tie for the team lead, looking improved and more sure as a tackler. He still gets eaten up by blockers and his instincts, while improved, aren’t all the way there yet, but Lee has made some positive strides.

Dexter McDougle

McDougle continues to show up. Playing mostly in the slot, he was making play after play while in the game. Graded as the best Jets corner by PFF once again, he had a pass breakup, tackle for loss, and forced an intentional grounding on a blitz. Juston Burris and Marcus Williams have struggled a bit, and McDougle is climbing up the cornerback depth chart fast.

Corey Lemonier

Leominer flashed in Week 17 as an edge rusher last year and looked capable against the Lions. He had an interception, sack, and tackle for loss, showcasing some versatility and burst on the edge. It’s a wide open competition out there and Lemonier is in good position.

Here’s a look at his interception.

Josh Martin

Martin is better known for his special teams, where he is among the league leaders in tackles, but he might be the leading candidate to start opposite Jordan Jenkins outside, especially with Lorenzo Mauldin’s injury. He contributed a sack and two tackles for a loss after bringing one of each last game as well. He’s a strong tackler and has good anticipation off the edge. If Mauldin doesn’t come back soon, Martin is on pace to be a Week 1 starter with his current play.

THE BAD

Jamal Adams

After a quiet, but solid Week 1, Adams stood out in the wrong ways at Ford Field. He missed quite a few tackles, many times being in the perfect position but whiffing as he often went for weak leg tackles. Adams’ versatility, speed, and instincts are very apparent, and that’s exciting, but in this game he stood out with his poor tackling. This was not an issue for him in college, and hopefully it doesn’t become a theme in the NFL.

Here’s a look at one example. He’s right there, doing everything right except bringing the guy to the ground. Claiborne also contributes a whiff of his own.

Dylan Donahue

It wasn’t necessarily a bad game for the rookie, but he wasn’t very active in his debut. Donahue got quite a bit of playing time on the edge in the second half and only made one tackle. His most notable play was a somewhat dubious roughing the kicker on a Lions punt. Again, not a bad game, but not up to the training camp hype.

Morris Claiborne

Maybe Claiborne doesn’t want to hurt himself in preseason, and that’s totally fine, but he was a major source of Lions yards in this game. Marvin Jones beat him a couple times, including the game’s only touchdown. It looks like he’s actually in pretty good position on this play, but he doesn’t make any attempt to jam at the snap and doesn’t play the ball at all. Hopefully this is just preseason vibes for Claiborne.

Overall, unlike the offense, this young defense playing lots of inexperienced players is gelling fast and showcasing legit potential even when they struggle. Plays are being made at every level of the unit and the depth has been promising. This side of the ball has some actual potential to be excited about, but as young as they are, can it come together this season?