There was good news from Jets practice on Wednesday afternoon, as two defensive starters - Marcus Maye and Josh Martin - returned to practice. While most of the attention was on Maye’s return, are we perhaps overlooking the fact that Martin will also provide the team with a boost?
The Jets announced on Thursday that Martin has been cleared from concussion protocol now, so it’s looking like he will make his season debut on Sunday in Jacksonville.
The first thing that jumps to mind when Martin is mentioned is often his special teams abilities and he will of course provide reinforcements there. However, as the 2017 season progressed, Martin started earning more and more defensive reps ahead of Kony Ealy and was listed as a starter at outside linebacker by the end of the year.
Martin did his best work against the run, as he was among the team leaders in tackles for loss. However, outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene raised eyebrows last month, when he described Martin as “my best pass rusher right now” in an interview on the Jets’ official team site.
So, are the Jets getting back someone who is going to outperform the players who have been filling it at outside linebacker over the first three games? Let’s consider what Martin brings to the table as a pass rusher and whether that will translate to better production than we’ve seen from him in the past.
Like most NFL edge defenders, Martin played as a defensive lineman in college so is no stranger to putting his hand in the dirt. This is something he’s done from time to time since entering the league, but he hardly ever did it last season. Listed at 245 pounds, Martin is evidently more comfortable rushing from a standing position off the edge.
He played over 80 percent of his snaps on the right in 2017, so he was primarily tasked with going up against left tackles. Jordan Jenkins is tasked with playing on the left, so should remain in the lineup once Martin is ready to return.
Being in the starting line-up might not always mean an edge defender is the best pass rushing option available. Martin’s versatility made him ideal for that role last year, since he can handle assignments against the run and drop into coverage as well.
On passing downs, he would often leave the field for a more specialized pass rusher. However, if Greene sees him as the best available option to rush the passer, then perhaps Martin will see more reps on passing downs going forwards and could even develop into a three-down player.
Greene’s comments were surprising because Martin has not shown many signs of being a productive pass rusher since entering the league. However, they perhaps indicate that Martin has continue to build upon the improvements he showed over the course of last season.
Martin’s numbers prior to entering the NFL were hardly spectacular, as he had 17 sacks in three seasons playing at the FCS level at Columbia. He had recorded 12 sacks as a high school senior.
Over the first four years of his career, Martin was basically just a special teamer that hardly saw any action on defense. He was credited with just two half-sacks in regular season action and only had one sack in preseason action.
Last season was more promising, as he recorded two sacks in preseason and another 1.5 sacks in his first five games of the regular season. However, he didn’t register any sacks after that.
According to the Jets’ own statistics, Martin was second on the team with 20 quarterback hits in 2017, but that seems dubious given that he was only credited with eight all year according to the official NFL numbers. However, six of those were in the second half of the season, so that does show some improvement in terms of being able to generate pressure as his role increased.
Over the course of his career, he’s generated pressure at a modest rate in regular season and preseason action, apart from in 2017’s preseason where he was more productive than usual and led the team in total pressures.
Martin was knocked out of the third preseason game early on, so didn’t get many opportunities to rush the passer in preseason. Where he did, he was disruptive a handful of times, enjoying the most success by converting speed-to-power off the edge and driving his man back into the quarterback.
On one play, he leveraged his way into the pocket and flushed the quarterback out, leading to a Jenkins sack.
He also had a pressure coming up the middle on a stunt. However, he didn’t get many chances to display his pass rushing moves and beat a one-on-one block.
Driving his man back on the bull rush is something Martin has done well in the past and he’s surprisingly adept at it for someone who is listed at less than 250 pounds. However, he’s perhaps not getting to the quarterback cleanly and merely having to disrupt the passer in any way he can.
There were some good signs of his pass rushing technique towards the end of last season, though. One thing Jets edge rushers haven’t done well enough over the past few years is to counter when their blocker engages with them. However, on this play, Martin uses his outside hand to get the blocker’s inside hand off him and then tosses him aside to get a hit on the quarterback.
Later on in the same game, he sets his man up by bluffing an inside move and gets around the edge for another clean hit on the quarterback, having used a rip move to gain an outside leverage advantage.
The Jets ideally need someone who can create pressure by getting around the edge and, with his 4.57 40-yard dash and a sub-7.1 three cone drill, he has the athletic profile to do that. However, mastering moves like these is essential and it looks like he is starting to get the basics down.
The other pass rushers
Assuming Greene was only talking about his charges in the outside linebacker group, Martin’s competition for “best pass rusher” is made up of Jenkins, Brandon Copeland, Frankie Luvu and Jeremiah Attaochu.
Jenkins, who had a strip sack on Thursday night, has been a consistent performer but more of a volume shooter when it comes to racking up pressure. Copeland, despite spending more of his career as an off-ball linebacker, has so far shown to be surprisingly adept at being disruptive off the edge. The rookie Luvu has also had some moments where he’s shown promise. Between them, they’ve all contributed about equally to a committee-based approach towards generating modest levels of pressure.
Much like Ealy, David Bass and Corey Lemonier in recent years, the new arrival Attaochu’s arrival shone a beacon on the lack of talent at the position because he immediately seemed to be more dynamic and disruptive than the players the Jets already had rushing off the edge.
However, despite the fact Attaochu probably has the best body of work in terms of producing as a pass rusher during regular season action, the Jets haven’t used him much yet. The likes of Bass, Ealy and Lemonier seemed to be gradually phased out rather than introduced more and more into the mix too, so it will be interesting to see how Martin’s arrival impacts upon Attaochu.
It seems like Martin’s improvements in his pass rushing have been somewhat overlooked by Jets fans over the past few years, perhaps due to his lack of sacks. However, while he’s previously been a player who might only get into the backfield via a stunt or if the offense leaves him unblocked, Greene’s enthusiasm about Martin’s performance in camp is hopefully a sign he’s continued to improve upon his pass rushing moves.
Greene has said that Martin has “power, finesse and spin” and has implied that he’s becoming a good technician. There’s early evidence of this in some of the plays highlighted above.
Nobody is expecting Martin to step in and suddenly develop into a perennial double-digit sack monster. However, he’s still only 26 and does so many other things well that adding a more refined pass rushing approach to his toolbox would seem like a logical next step.
The Jets need results, though, not unrealized potential; especially from a player who is out of contract at the end of the season. It would be a nice bonus if Martin could provide some.