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An early look at the candidates for the 2019 Jets opening day 53 man roster (defense)

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The defense looks better already

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

To say the Jets defense struggled in 2018 would be a huge understatement. The team gave up the second most points in their history (441), second only to the woeful 1996 1-15 team (454 points) that was coached by Richie Kotite. (He was also the GM.) Kotite was fired right after the season and replaced by Bill Parcells (who took over GM duties as well). History repeated itself as Todd Bowles was shown the door, and Adam Gase was hired as coach (and eventually Joe Douglas took over as GM).

Gregg Williams took over as defensive coordinator, and he is one man who does not lack in confidence and conviction. Williams is not a fence straddler. He tells you what he thinks whether you like it or not He has his work cut out for him, but he did get a few players added to his side of the ball to aid in his quest.

Let’s take a look at what he has to work with.

Interior Defenders

There is some good talent here, and this group should be a strength for the defense. Another player could be added, but it isn’t clear whether the Jets are actively looking for another player when other more blatant holes on the roster exist.

6 spots

Quinnen Williams- 99.99% Unless abducted by aliens, Quinnen Williams (once he signs) will be the penetrating 1 tech in Gregg Williams scheme. Williams combines power with quick feet, solid technique, and innate abilities to be a tremendous force on defense. The top rated player on many boards in the 2019 Draft, Williams should be the catalyst for an improved Jet defense.

Leonard Williams- 90% Williams is a force on the defensive line, and the addition of Quinnen Williams should only help him become a better all around defender. Since his rookie year there are 98 interior defensive players who have played at least 500 defensive snaps. Williams ranks 3rd in run stops (116) and 3rd in tackles for a loss or no gain (53). His pass rushing is getting better. Last year he had a pass rushing grade of 71.4 which ranked 19th out of 129 interior defenders.

Williams is now entering his prime playing years. The Jets must decide whether they want to keep him or move on. This will be a hotly debated topic of discussion for Joe Douglas and his brain trust. The Jets have the cap space. If the team wants to keep Leonard, now is the time to seek an extension. If not, he should be traded before the season to get the best deal in return. If you wait until the season starts you lose all leverage and trade value. Williams may not be elite but he is still a high quality player; so stay tuned.

Henry Anderson- 98% Henry Anderson has seemed to find a home with the Jets. It feels like he has been around for years. This offseason he was re-signed to a hefty 3 year contract with $25.2 million and the first two years fully guaranteed. He had a good year in 2018 with 7 sacks and 48 total pressures which was 12th in the NFL. Anderson is also coming into his prime years for production and the Gregg Williams defense may help him reach his ceiling as a player.

Steve McLendon- 90% McLendon was re-signed to a $2.5 million contract with $2.25 of it fully guaranteed. At age 33 McLendon is still an above average defender. He is also a positive voice in the locker room and a team captain.

Folorunso Fatukasi- 40% Fatukasi took a NFL redshirt last year and begins 2019 with his job on the line. The current coaching staff has no connection to him, and “Foley” will have to earn his keep or be left behind. It will be interesting to see how he does in camp. He wasn’t a shining star in OTAs so he has a lot of work to do.

Nathan Shepherd- 45% Shepherd was a surprise pick out of Fort Hays State as a 3rd round pick in 2018. Although it was a huge jump in competition, he actually graded out as a slightly above average defender as a rookie. Again though, this coaching staff has no connection to Shepherd so he will have to earn his way on the team like anyone else. He is off to a bad start as he was singled out a one of the players who struggled during OTAs. He will need to do much better in camp to maintain his spot on the team.

Myquon Stout- 5% Stout is an undersized UDFA prospect from Appalachian State. He had meager stats in college with just 4 sacks and 9 TFL in 3 years while playing at NT and a 3 tech. He will need to show good strength and penetrating ability if he wishes to glean enough staying power to be offered a spot on the practice squad.

Trevon Sanders- 10% Sanders is another UDFA prospect who played NT at Troy. He has decent size but will need to impress right away to have a chance to stick around. It would probably take an injury to Steve McLendon for him to have a shot to make the team.

Fred Jones- 3% Jones is kind of a legacy player. His uncle was Jet LB Marvin Jones. Fred only started 10 games his entire college career and seems to be more of a camp body than an actual prospect. He would have to do an incredible job to make the team.

Someone not on the Roster- 50% The chances that some player comes free at the final cuts that interests the Jets is about even money right now. A lot has to do on how well the 2nd tier players show during camp against the ceiling of a player who comes on the market.

With the top 4 guys on the list getting most of the snaps there isn’t a lot of meat left on the bone for other players. So the backup guys should be players who have high ceilings but are just not technically sound enough right now.

Edge Defenders

This is an area the Jets have had poor production for a long time. Great edge rushers don’t become available often so I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for one. If one does shake out on the wire I expect the Jets to actively pursue him.

4 spots

Jordan Jenkins- 55% Jenkins had an up and down year in 2018. He had 7 sacks which more than doubled his career total and had 15 total QB hits. He lacked much in other areas and made only 24 solo tackles and 11 assisted tackles and 6 TFL in 660 snaps on defense which is mediocre at best. Jenkins is in the final year of his contract with only $191,000 in dead money if he is cut. Even free spending Mike Maccagnan didn’t have a desire to extend him. A defense that was very poor will usually have a lot of turnover. Joe Douglas may seek outside help at this position.

Jachai Polite- 95% Polite has elite first step quickness and can be a force when he is motivated. We will have to see how well he responds to coach Gregg Williams defense, but his spot on the team is all but assured. He would leave $1.1 million in dead money if cut without a chance to see what he can do on the field. With the Jets in dire need of a pass rush he will be given many chances to succeed.

Frankie Luvu- 50% Luvu was a fan favorite in Gotham in 2018. He actually was about average for a Jet team that was horrific on defense. Luvu had 3 sacks, 5 TFL, 11 total QB hits along with 17 solo tackles and 5 assisted tackles in 443 defensive snaps. Luvu is not really fast or quick but does play with a lot of passion. It will be Gregg Williams’ choice and it could go either way depending on how well he takes to the new defensive scheme.

Bronson Kaufusi- 35% Kaufusi has real good size (6’6 275 lbs) but came into the league a little older than most. He is now 28 and played very sparingly his first two years in the league. He is a decent athlete, though, and was praised for his work in OTAs. He will need to continue that good work to make this team.

Brandon Copeland- 60% He played fairly well for the Jets. In 611 defensive snaps he had 5 sacks 8 TFL, 2 Passes defended, 24 solo tackles 11 assisted tackles and 14 total QB hits. He also played 328 special teams snaps which was 2nd highest on the team. The Jets signed him in March of 2018. He missed the entire 2017 season when he tore a pec muscle in the preseason while in Detroit. The Lions then released him. The Jets re-signed him to a 1 year $1.75 million contract with a $500,000 guarantee.

Tarell Basham- 30% Basham is starting his 3rd year in the league and has yet to get much of a chance to show what he can do. He has really good size, very good strength and great length (34 1/4” arms) along with big hands (10 1/4”). He played for a year and a game in Indy (he was a 3rd round pick in 2017). The Colts gave up on him rather quickly which is not a good omen. He came to the Jets in 2018 but played only 89 defensive snaps and another 95 on special teams. This is a new coaching staff so Basham has a clean slate. He needs to prove he can contribute, or he will be looking for work again in the near future.

Kyle Phillips- 5% Phillips is a UDFA developmental prospect who lacks the power and technique to make even a rotational player in the NFL right now. His best shot is to show enough talent in camp (if he makes it to camp) to convince the Jets to pick him for the practice squad.

Justin Alexandre- 3% Alexandre (like Phillips) is a UDFA developmental prospect with good length but poor athleticism and came from a lower level of football. He figures to be a camp body who might not make it to camp if the Jets need a roster spot for another CB or offensive lineman.

Jamey Mosley- 2% Mosley was signed as a favor to his brother so they could go to camp together (is my guess). Jamey Mosley’s college stats in three years combined (didn’t play in 2016) are 6 solo tackles, 12 assisted tackles 3.5 TFL and 1 sack. That is not an impressive resume for anyone.

Someone not currently on the roster- 50% You would think that someone will have to shake loose from another team who might interest the Jets. The profile might be a former starter who is well paid but cut after a younger player took his spot.

Inside Linebackers

The inside LB position may be the true strength of the defense and will have to play a huge role to make up for shortcomings in other areas. They along with Jamal Adams will be the leaders on this squad.

4 Spots

C. J. Mosley- 99.9% Mosley is going to be a leader on this defense for the next two or three years at least. It will be interesting to see how Gregg Williams uses Mosley. I know he wanted him on this team. and is why the Jets paid dearly to sign him.

Avery Williamson- 95% Williamson’s salary this year is fully guaranteed so unless the Jets trade him he will be on the roster. I would love to know what Gregg Williams thinks of the linebacker. He is very stout against the run but is too slow for a quality coverage LB. He played 1,115 defensive snaps last year (all but 6) which was 2nd on the team to Jamal Adams. He is a smart player, and the law firm of Williams, Williamson, McLendon and Mosley will make it very difficult for teams to get yards through the middle of the defense.

Blake Cashman- 90% Cashman would have to show near zero talent to not make the roster. He is a rookie with a tiny salary ($495,000) and would leave $302,252 in dead money if cut. Cashman played as an ILB at Minnesota but is really more of a WILL LB for the NFL. He has speed to cover TEs ans RBs and is a solid tackler. Let’s see how Gregg Williams chooses to use him.

James Burgess- 60% Burgess comes to the Jets after two years in Cleveland with Gregg Williams who should know him well. Burgess is an enigma to me. As a rookie he had a fantastic year playing in 14 games and starting 9. He had 70 tackles, 4 sacks, 12 TFLs, and 7 QB hits. The next season he started 2 games. Then he pulled a hammy (supposedly week to week), and the Browns cut him. He went on IR when no one claimed him. Burgess is a wild card who can be a difference maker if he plays like his rookie year. You don’t know why the Browns cut him. There could be things about Burgess we don’t know. But why would the Jets sign him if he wasn’t a possible player they could use?

Neville Hewitt- 40% Hewitt is a 26 year old former UDFA out of Marshall and played 3 years in Miami for Coach Gase. He started only 7 games during that time and has been more of a sub player and special teamer than a true starter. Playing for the Jets last year Hewitt had 267 snaps on defense with 39 tackles and 1 12 sacks so he made good use of his opportunity. He also played another 283 snaps on special teams. So he is a quality backup, of course we have no idea how the new regime thinks about Hewitt.

Anthony Wint- 15% Wint played in only 2 games for the Jets in 2018 as a UDFA out of FIU. Like all these fringe players he will need to be more than average to give him a shot at a roster spot. He might be a practice squad type guy who can be pulled up if there is an injury to a starter.

Jeff Allison- 5% Allison is a UDFA out of Fresno State who is a in the box kind of ILB and can tackle well but he has problems getting off blocks. He is slow in coverage with tight hips so he doesn’t really fit into today’s NFL. If he can show something on special teams, that would be his only hope.

Someone not on the roster now- 10% The Jets are pretty set on the inside and the only way I could see an upgrade being sought is if someone with a bright future comes available.

Cornerbacks

7 spots

The cornerback position is probably the weakest part of this team and in dire need of help and someone to step up and lead the way. The Jets cannot be successful in 2019 without highly improved play by this entire squad. Joe Douglas has already started making minor moves at the position.

Trumaine Johnson- 85% The only reason that Johnson’s percentage is that high is because of the idiotic contract given him by our now departed GM Mike Maccagnan. The only way the Jets could get out of this is for Joe Douglas to hypnotize another GM into trading for Johnson. That would still leave $16 million in dead money ($4 million each of the next 4 years) and leave the Jets even thinner at the position.

The real truth is that Johnson has to man up and play to his highest level. He is not without talent. He needs to become the lockdown boundary corner he is being paid to be. He needs to realize what he is looking like to his peers, getting toasted by UDFA players who just came in off the street is not good at all.

An old adage from a coach of mine, “Just shut up and play,” rings true in this. If you play well and do your job no one is going to mention your contract. You have to ask yourself whether you want to be considered one of the biggest free agent busts that everyone points to when talking about the foibles of free agency. Or do you want to be considered the player who got rich, helped lead his team to untold greatness and was worth every penny? The Jets as a team need Johnson at his best this year. Unfortunately he was one of the players singled out as having an awful OTA. It’s simple. He just needs to pick it up. No excuses.

Darryl Roberts- 95% Roberts will be 29 years old this year which means Mike Maccagnan signed him up for 3 years and $18 million with $4 million guaranteed this year and $6.5 million in injury guarantees through 2020. Roberts played fairly well last year as a corner (and horribly as a safety) so the Jets need him to be solid once again this year.

Parry Nickerson- 60% Nickerson played only 212 defensive snaps last year, and he wasn’t that effective. He also played 110 snaps on special teams where his speed was a huge asset. He had 18 solo tackles, 3 assisted tackles, 1 TFL and a pass defended. Last year was a learning year. Hopefully what he learned was how to play better. Unfortunately he was another one of the players singled out as having a poor OTA. He has talent but will need to pick it up to remain on the team.

Brian Poole- 90% Poole was signed to a 1 year $3 million contract (with a $500,000 incentive) with a $2 million signing bonus. At the time it seemed like a “yawn” signing because many felt that more free agent CBs would follow; none did.

For what it is worth, this was an excellent signing, in a huge position of need. Poole is small (5’ 9”), but he is stocky (210 lbs) and plays a rough style of football. He usually plays in the slot. He has quickness and 4.49/40 speed. He can cover and tackle. In his last two seasons at Florida he had 24 passes broken up, 4 INTs, 85 tackles and 7 forced fumbles.

In Atlanta the last 3 years he has played in 47 games, starting 21 with 4 INTs, 195 tackles, 5 sacks, 11 TFL and 11 QB hits. He is at home near the line of scrimmage and plays like a LB against the run. With Poole, Adams, Williams and the ILBs, the Jets should have a solid run defense in 2019.

Kyron Brown- 50% Brown is a UDFA player from Akron who has good size (6’ 1” 195 lbs) and played in 43 college games with 6 INTs and 21 passes defended. He is well-versed in the step-kick technique (I have described this method before.) of man coverage which allows him to use his size and eyes to his advantage. If you can excel in step-kick it makes it easier to learn other techniques. He is said to have done well in the OTA practices but will need to continue that if he expects to make the team. Even as a UDFA, with the depth of viable corners so low it allow a kid like this to grab a position. He is one to watch coming into training camp.

Derrick Jones- 10% Jones is a tall (6’ 2”) converted WR from Ole Miss who has been with the Jets for 2 years, has played in 4 games and made 3 tackles. He was said to be having a stellar training camp in 2018 but that developed in being active for 1 game and playing 38 snaps on defense. He will need to do better this year, or his stay with the Jets may come to an end.

Arthur Maulet- 15% This is the type of player who you hope doesn’t make the Jets roster because he lacks a lot of the skill to be a difference maker. He is smallish (5’ 10” 190 lbs) and ran 4.62/40 with poor agility. He is a strong kid, and he is a gamer who will give it all he has. You still would hope that the Jets secure enough talent at the CB position to leave Maulet to the practice squad. If Maulet makes the team it is because there wasn’t enough talent in the room to begin with.

Montrel Meander- 20% Meander will be known as the first player brought to the Jets by GM Joe Douglas. Meander is a 6’ 2” 215 S/CB prospect with excellent physical tools. He is fast 4.44/40, had a 37” vert (which he felt was a poor effort) and a 124” broad jump. He is a former UDFA from Grambling State and was on the Browns practice squad in 2018. He needs to learn better technique and how to read offensive routes better. He has an advantage as a S/CB hybrid as he can help out in two positions. He will need to show growth in training camp and since Gregg Williams knows him from Cleveland. He knows last year’s effort was not good enough.

Tevaughn Campbell- 10% Campbell is a 25 year old 6’ 0” 200 lbs CB who has played the last 4 seasons in the CFL. He went to college in Canada (Regina) and had elite speed 4.35/40. He has attempted an NFL career in the past but was unsuccessful in tryout camps in Washington, Browns, Packers and the Giants. He is considered a longshot to make the team and would need a great showing to even get a practice squad invitation.

Jeremy Clark- 5% Clark was a 2017 6th round pick (a Maccagnan special) who was recovering from a torn ACL. He has been active for 1 game in each of the last two years with no stats. He will have to be amazing in training camp to (if he makes it there) to have a shot with the Jets.

Mark Myers- 5% Myers was the second player signed by the Jets in the Joe Douglas era. The 5’ 10” 185 lbs CB played his college ball at tiny NAIA Southeastern University. He was recruited to play in 2013. The problem was they didn’t have a team yet. Southeastern was a startup program that didn’t have a game until 2014. They didn’t even have a stadium. The first year 100 players practiced on an unlined grass field or at a nearby middle school in Lakeland, Florida. I have no tape on him whatsoever. To say he is a longshot is an understatement. Safety John Battle was waived in order to sign Myers. If I was battle I would be very depressed about my chances in the NFL after being cut for Myers.

I have to say that Joe Douglas will leave no stone unturned to find talent for the Jets.

Blessuan Austin- (incomplete) Austin is another Maccagnan special draft pick. The man has played 5 games the last two years because of serious knee injuries. The Jets picked him in the 6th round in 2019, signed him a month later, and the very next day placed him on the PUP list where he will stay until healed. I have no idea what he has left after two devastating injuries, and neither does anyone else. We will wait and see.

Someone who is not on the roster now- 90% I am sure there will be many more moves made between now and opening day. What Joe can do is wait and see what falls out in the wash. Something out there has to be better than what we got.

Joe Douglas is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his .... hat to find enough quality players to compete in a passing league. If he can find enough talent to make a good defense we will have to start calling Joe a magician.

Safety

The safety position is a strong spot for the Jets mainly because of 2nd year All-Pro Jamal Adams. The Jets have a number of other decent players, but Adams is the glue that holds them together. There are also a number of high quality safeties still on the market in free agency that Joe can bring in to make the position even stronger. It just depends on how much he believes in the other players in the room aside from Adams and what priority he places on the safety position as a whole.

5 Spots

Jamal Adams- 99.99% Adams is a All Pro player who is a building block for the Jets future. He played 1,120 defensive snaps last year which was every snap but 1 (slacker). When he came to the Jets he was an outspoken leader on the team. Some said he should not be so vocal because he hasn’t done anything yet. Well now he has, and his All Pro status will give him the mandate he needs to be a better leader. Players have to respect what he has done and will be forced to listen to his wisdom. He will be the unquestioned leader of the secondary bar none. Adams doesn’t mince words, and the players in the third level of the field will be held accountable for their coverages and tackling. It is needed.

Marcus Maye- 80% Maye has played well when he has been on the field. His first year he played with an injured ankle that needed surgery after the season, and in 2018 he played only 6 games when he needed shoulder surgery. He was held out of OTAs because of precautionary reason (what the team reported) so training camp is going to be the first look at him in a while. While there is no reason to believe any of his injuries will linger, you have to give pause to the fact he has had two surgeries in two years. The Jets could move on from Maye if they felt so inclined, but the move would lead to almost $1.5 million in dead money.

Doug Middleton- 60% Middleton is a backup who has appeared in 11 games, starting 2 in the last 2 years after being placed on Injured reserve in 2017 and 2018. He is an average player and well suited for a backup role. He is 26 years old and plays for the NFL minimum salary for a 3rd year player of $570,000. He is a cheap backup who is used to playing with Adams and others in the secondary. The Jets could move on if they wish with no dead money.

Brandon Bryant- 60% Bryant was a UDFA signed by the Jets following the 2018 supplemental draft. He was ruled ineligible to play for Miss State in 2018 and was too late to enter the regular NFL Draft. Bryant didn’t make it to the active roster until the he was signed for the last game of the year off the practice squad. He didn’t accrue any stats in that game. He is 6’ 0” 215 lbs, and was reportedly clocked by coaches in the 40 at 4.24 seconds which would make him the fastest safety in history. (I don’t believe the time.) He was said to be having a stellar OTA so he has a chance. We will have to wait for training camp to see him in action.

Rontez Miles- 20% (at his current salary) Miles is a 31 year old 6’ 0” 203 lbs 6 year (all with the Jets) veteran of the NFL. In 2018 Miles was on the PUP list until he was activated in November and appeared in 8 games. He played only 87 defensive snaps and 201 special teams snaps for the year. Miles is known as a special teams maven, but the new regime has no ties to him. His contract (another Maccagnan overpay) is for $1,907,000 in 2019 which is far too much for a special teams and occasional safety. He will definitely have to take a pay cut if he wishes to have a chance to stay with the Jets.

Santos Ramirez- 40% Ramirez is a 2018 UDFA from Arkansas who is 6’ 2” and 2014 lbs. He pulled a hamstring in his 40 attempt so his speed is anyone’s guess. He played 45 games for the Razorbacks and accumulated 228 tackles and 3 INTs with 15 passes defended and 5 forced fumbles. If he fails to make the team he has enough talent to be invited to the practice squad. Like most of these players he will need to impress in camp and do so early.

So there you have it, the players Joe Douglas has to work with as GM. The camp battles will determine a lot, but there are sure to be additions and subtractions along the way. I believe this defense is better than the defense in 2018, but since it was the 2nd worst in franchise history that is not a high bar to clear. With some fancy Joe Douglas maneuvers in key areas the Jets could be better than average.

So what do you think?