The NFL Draft is approaching fast with the New York Jets in serious need of a talent infusion. With a new coaching staff the Jets need to find players who fit their new offensive and defensive schemes. Many fans have their favorites, and there are a lot of high quality players to choose from. Yet many of those players would not fit the offensive/defensive principals that the Jets will employ.
Many fans have staked their claim to certain players that the Jets should take while erecting a figurative stone wall against any player besides those few choices. We will not argue the pros and cons of various players. Rather we will highlight some players who fit the general schemes yet could be unknown to some fans. First let’s define what the offensive and defensive systems to be used are and the skill sets needed by the players for that system.
The Jets new offensive system
The Jets will be using a form of the Mike Shanahan outside zone or stretch zone offensive system. It is a different type of attack from the normal power/gap system used by NFL teams for years. The key components are how the blockers actually block their opponents. With a power/gap approach you have some big offensive linemen who will try and push their defensive linemen back off the line. This is a vertical blocking style that pushes the opponents back from the line usually wedging out a hole in the A or B gap for the running back to run through.
The running backs have to be rugged enough to handle contact but fast enough to get though the hole. Then if they make it though the first line of defense they can use some power or elusiveness to get though the safety or cornerbacks they face. This is called a power running attack that forces defenses to stack the box in order to stop the run. The passing game is run mainly off play action passes that cause the linebackers to step up in a run fit on the fake handoff which leaves huge windows for the passing game behind them.
The stretch zone system the Jets will be running is a horizontal approach where the linemen move to the stretch side blocking while moving laterally. They will usually pull the center or the backside guard (depending on the defensive alignment) to aid in blocking. The QB will stretch the ball out to the running back who is looking not for a specific hole but any crease that forms towards the edge. The play is designed to be cut back into a hole that forms with the running back moving at an angle away from the pursuing linebackers.
You need a RB with patience, vision and explosive speed to make it though the hole when it forms and then to run away from the defenders. Kyle Shanahan ran this same system in San Francisco and surmised that their were maybe 10 RBs with that skill set in the NFL. He said they had 4 of them. You need speed, vision, and the quick hips that allow you to stick your foot in the ground and be a “one cut runner.” It is harder to find than you may think.
A lot of the passing game is comes off the running game (not all but some of it). When you get the running game going you can force the LBs to cheat, moving in one direction quickly to cover the edge. By doing so you have the backside TE + WR block then release out into the patterns with the QB keeping the ball (fake handoff) and finding receivers wide open. This can result in some huge passing plays for the offense.
The Jets new defensive system
The new defensive system is not quite as drastic a change as the offense, but is a new configuration. Gone is the old 3-4 system that Gregg Williams would morph into different structures. The Jets played a lot of 4 man lines along with a variety of setups.
The new system is a 4-3 type alignment (that I like much better) which has penetrators on the inside with speed and length on the outside. This is a collapsing defensive system with speed, length, and power on the edges. Of course there will be times the Jets use a variety of alignments, but as a base set it should be more like an even front set.
The secondary will be a zone based system that has Cover 3 principles implanted in them. You want players on the back end who are aware and with the speed to make a difference while having matchup coverage abilities.
Kendrick Green, G/C, Illinois
Green was a highly recruited player who decided to stay in Illinois and play when he could have gone to some bigger programs. He came to Illinois as a defensive tackle but added 30-40 lbs then switched to the offensive side of the ball. He has started 33 games in his career, 29 as a guard and his last 4 as a center. He projects best as a center with great mobility skills to make long pulls plus is able to make it to the second level of the defense with ease to make a cut off block. He is still a work in progress as a player considering he has only 3 years experience as an offensive lineman. NFL coaching should do wonders for him over time. He has a great attitude with a team oriented can-do spirit.
Here he is as a the left guard on a simple off tackle play to start the game. He is #53. He gets a cursory block on the defensive tackle before he heads out to hunt the inside linebacker who he drives down the line then buries into the turf.
You can see the great movement skills, under control with good footwork and enough power to make a difference. This is the type of inside offensive linemen the Jets will be looking for with the ability to move up and down the line with good speed.
Here he is as a center against a quality Penn State defensive line on a play that is run straight up the A gap or right off his backside. This play doesn’t show the great movement skills, but it does show his very good snap to step quickness plus his good power at the point of attack. There is no nuance moves here just get to your man quickly then move him out of the way. The gap opened was a huge lane for the running back as he cruises into the end zone from 12 yards out. Green makes short work of #97 P. J. Mustipher a 305 lbs junior defensive tackle on the play.
Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Gainwell is a speedy back who is also a great receiver out of the backfield. He would give the Jets a loose hipped speed back who can be effective in the stretch zone system they are looking to employ. For that system you need a back who can move quickly down the line then stick his foot in the ground when he sees a crease and explode through the hole then out the other side.
The running back has to be very quick through the hole to outrace the linebackers trying to fill the run fits. Even a single extra step though the hole could be the difference between a big gain and a tackle for loss. This is why the Jets signed Tevin Coleman who still has enough speed to be effective in the stretch running game. You need multiple backs with the same skill set (San Francisco had 4) to keep players fresh and offset injuries. Gainwell has 4.40/40 speed and 5’ 11” 190 lbs. He has also been durable and averaged over 100 yards a game last year with 13 TDs.
This isn’t a stretch play, but it is similar as Gainwell starts right then sees the lane form. He is a single cut runner as he blasts through the hole before the defenders can close in on him. This is the type of runner the Jets will need to be successful in their new scheme. Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, or LaMichael Perine (who ran 4.62/40) are too slow to be effective in the wide zone scheme.
Gainwell is also a very good receiver out of the backfield with the ability to actually run routes not just a safety valve route in the flat. He has good hands and had 51 receptions last year for over 600 yards and 3 TDs. He is also good in pass protection so he is a true 3 down back.
Payton Turner, DE, Houston
Turner is in the mold of base 4-3 defensive ends that Robert Saleh likes. He is a tall player with great length (35” arms) and a great motor. He started off as a defensive tackle so he is just starting to understand the end position and is sort of growing into his own body. He has a quick get off at the snap and surprises some tackles with his quickness. He has power to go along with his speed, and his size makes him tough to get around for RBs.
Here his great speed off the snap gets to the RB before the pulling guard and trap block him at the hole. He has the type of size and movement skills that cannot be taught, and the Jets might have to move up to get him late in the 2nd round if they want him. He only played in 5 games this year due to the pandemic but had 5 sacks and 11 TFL in those games. A player who was once a quiet secret is now a household name with every team looking to get him as he has a skill set to play in and odd or even front.
Here speed and a simple arm chop is enough to get Turner around the edge as he nearly takes the QBs head off in the process. He may need to learn how to break down into better tackling technique as I watched him over run more than one tackling attempt. He is definitely a Robert Saleh type of end and I will look for the Jets to pounce in the 2nd round.
Nate Hobbs, CB, Illinois
Hobbs is a raw player with exceptional athletic abilities who played a lot of off coverages and Cover 3 schemes for Lovie Smith. Hobbs has great speed (4.38/40) with great agility and explosiveness. He tested through the roof at his pro day, and he has a competitive spirit that you want for a defensive back. He is confident with great mental toughness.
Here he is playing in press coverage but gets picked off by another receiver. Still he is Johnny on the spot with the fumble return for a TD.
This is more fortunate than a great play, but he still stuck with the play and made the most of his opportunity. On the next play he is making a play in zone coverage.
While matching up with the receiver in his shallow zone he sees the play in from of him then comes off his man to step in front of the pass of a nice INT against Northwestern. He even had the right idea as he moved his man out of bounds before he came off his coverage for the INT and return.
On the next play Hobbs is in off coverage then sliding back into zone coverage. When the throw is tipped he is able to make a play on the ball.
Hobbs is a late round type prospect with superior athletic ability and upside. He is also an experienced return man and special teams player who adds value to his cause while he learns the nuances of the Saleh defense. These are the type of players you look for in the 3rd day of the draft; a solid athlete with moldable skills.
Tyler Coyle, FS/SS, Purdue
Coyle is another superior athlete who is a hard hitter from the secondary. Coyle received few recruiting offers while in high school despite the fact he was an outstanding player and a track star who won the state of Connecticut track titles in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 4x100 meters, and the long jump. He started 3 years for the Huskies then graduated with an economics degree and transferred to Purdue to play in the Big Ten. However, Covid and the birth of his daughter limited him to 3 games played. He is a smart kid with over 260 tackles in 34 games his first 3 years in college and a great positive attitude.
Here he reads the play and is able to jump inside to make an easy pick 6 on a throw to the slant. Coyle had a tremendous pro day running 4.36/40 with 24 reps on the bench and fantastic agility numbers and vert numbers as well.
Here he is again following a receiver into the flat then picking off an awful throw for an easy TD. Coyle also is a great special teams player who can play there while he learns the nuances of his new defense. He is super competitive and comes in with a chip on his shoulder to show the world he has what it takes to succeed.
Here are 5 guys at various points in the Draft that have the type of skills the Jets are looking for to fit their schemes. Some of these players are more developmental in nature but have the skills to succeed in the future.
Let me know what you think.