It’s widely accepted that the Jets (a) need to upgrade their edge rushers and (b) don’t really need to upgrade their interior line on defense. However, within these discussions, there’s a group of players that are often overlooked.
Most analysis of the edge position will center on whether the Jets would seek to upgrade the current group in the draft, bring in a veteran like Markus Golden to solidify that unit or maybe even jump into the mix to make a big splash by signing Jadeveon Clowney. All they’ve done so far is bring back Jordan Jenkins to a thin-looking group that otherwise features the likes of Tarell Basham, Jordan Willis and Frankie Luvu.
As for the interior line, the Jets seem set there with Steve McLendon, Quinnen Williams, Nathan Shepherd and Folorunso Fatukasi more than equipped to handle the workload between them.
However, the likes of Henry Anderson, Kyle Phillips and Bronson Kaufusi are often lumped in with the interior linemen or omitted from consideration at all.
This doesn’t reflect reality though, because - between them - these players took on a much bigger share of the edge workload last season than you might think; just shy of 600 combined defensive snaps.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that the team isn’t still looking for someone to provide them with an upgrade and replace some or all of these edge snaps. Each of them can play inside as well, although that might primarily be in sub-packages where at least one other interior lineman comes off the field.
It’s surprising, especially in the case of Anderson, to see him having been discussed so little this season, whether in terms of what his role might be in 2020 or for more people to be complaining that he hasn’t lived up to his contract extension after a big drop-off in production.
Anderson is actually the Jets’ seventh highest-paid player and his entire 2020 salary of $7 million is guaranteed. The Jets therefore can’t really afford to cut him, although trading him would get them off the hook for that $7 million if he’s not in their plans. Alternatively, they might eat some of it in a pre-trade bonus to get him off the books. Could they have bigger plans for the 28-year old former third round pick, though?
As for Phillips, he led all rookies in snaps last season, as he saw more playing time than Anderson, McLendon and Williams. Many assume the Jets are going to seek to replace him already although they might be keen see if he can build on a rookie season where he impressed as a run defender and showed some flashes as a pass rusher down the stretch.
Kaufusi is less likely to be part of the Jets’ immediate plans. He was in the rotation at the start of the year, even starting one game, but didn’t play after week three once Brandon Copeland had returned from his suspension.
In fact, with Kaufusi set to turn 29 before the season, the Jets might have a better option for a developmental project in John Franklin-Myers. Despite spending the entire year on the injured list, Franklin-Myers could be someone the Jets are high on with the September waiver claim having been a rotational contributor with the Rams during his first season. Like Anderson, Phillips and Kaufusi, he’s a player who can play inside but would likely see the majority of his work as an edge defender on running downs.
When considering the edge positions, there’s always a fixation on sacks and pressure, and with good reason. Most NFL defenses spend more time in their sub-packages than they do in base these days. However, if the Jets were to bring in two edges with a view to having them in a full-time role, then this could render a number of the players discussed above surplus to requirements.
Having these players on the roster ultimately gives Gregg Williams plenty of flexibility with his front seven and the ability to employ players situationally to optimize their success levels. While nobody’s going to build a defense around them, they should not be overlooked when considering the amount of depth the Jets have at the edge defender positions.
Ideally, in 2020, the Jets would see Anderson remain healthy so he can return to the kind of production he brought them in 2018. Then, if the likes of Phillips or Franklin-Myers could continue to develop that might give the team a couple of longer-term options. How these players will fit into the rotation, though, is anyone’s guess.