Jets Position Review: Defensive Line

The Jets D-Line has been the strength of the team the past 6 years and this offseason we added some premium talent. We all expect the D-Line to be improved but I think it will break into the top 10 fueled by the emergence of Quinnen Williams and Carl Lawson. Quinnen was truly dominant in the 2nd half of 2020 meanwhile Lawson has consistently gotten after the QB at a high level. They’re joined by the best run stuffing DT in the NFL, Foley Fatukasi and pass rushers John Frankin-Myers, Sheldon Rankins, and Vinny Curry. These 4 alone would still be a respectable defensive line. Add in some young talent in Bryce Huff, Jonathan Marshall, Hamilcar Rashed Jr, and Jabari Zuniga and the Jets have on the deepest and most versatile defensive lines in the NFL. Quinnen and Fatukasi formed the best run stopping duo in the NFL and with JFM, Q formed one of the best IDL duos. Now we’ve added true edge threats in Lawson and Curry, and a potential star DT in Rankins. With Saleh leading this group, opposing teams will dread having the ball on Sundays.

The defensive line was a strength last year but lacked the pass rush needed to jump into elite territory. After a middling rookie campaign Q took a huge leap in his 2nd year becoming the best young DT dominating both phases of the game ranking 1st in run stop % and 4th in pass rush win rate. In fact from week 7 on, Quinnen was THE best DT in the NFL. He ranked 2nd in run stops with 2.1/game, 3rd in pressures with 4.4/game and was 2nd combined behind only Aaron Donald and on a per play basis Quinnen led all IDL with a pressure rate of 14.2%. An injury ended his season early but it’s safe to say that he’s fulfilling the potential the Jets saw when we drafted him at 3rd overall.

Foley Fatukasi has developed into the premier run stuffer in the NFL grading behind only Aaron Donald in run defense. After being taken in the 6th round in 2018 he’s been an absolute steal with one of the highest run defense grades over the past 2 years. John Franklin Myers on the other hand has become an elite pass rusher posting a ridiculous 14.4% pressure rate over the season. I was intrigued when the Jets claimed him off waivers but he’s been far better than I expected. The 1-2 combo they provide next to Quinnen created a 3 headed monster that excelled against the run and pass. While they’ve lacked sack totals, the Jets DL has been the best and most consistent unit on the team.

This offseason Douglas worked to fix the low sack total by adding 3 high level pass rushers in Carl Lawson, Vinny Curry and Sheldon Rankins. Carl Lawson is the headliner signing a $45M 3yr contract after posting a career high in pressures with 64 which ranked 6th among edge defenders. Add in one of the fastest 1st steps in the NFL and 4 yrs of a consistent pressure and this looks like a home run. Lawson and Quinnen will be unstoppable next to each other. Sheldon Rankins looked like a star in the making as a sophomore before injuries caused him to miss time. The 13th overall pick in 2016, he brings athleticism and pass rush ability ranking 18th in pressure rate over the past 3 years at 9.5%. Vinny Curry at 32 years old isn’t a long term answer but he can still get after the QB with ridiculous efficiency in Philly. While his pass rush savvy is valuable, the mentorship he’ll provide to Huff and the rest of our young guys is more important to me.

To fill out the remainder of the roster the Jets have Bryce Huff, Jonathan Marshall, Hamilcar Rashed Jr, Kyle Philips, Jabari Zuniga, and Nathan Shepard. Bryce Huff has the potential to be the long term answer opposite of Lawson. He thrived in a situational role posting a 13.2% pressure rate when he rushed less than 15 times but struggled when the volume increased. A scheme change could help him develop into a full time starter. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. was a rising star in 2019 recording 14 sacks and 22.5 TFL before failing to record a single sack in 2020. Lingering injuries held him back last year but he’s shown the explosiveness needed to succeed in the NFL. I was a fan of his before the draft and I’m thrilled the Jets were able to get him as a free agent. Jonathan Marshall was an intriguing prospect in the 6th round with ridiculous speed running a 4.8s 40 at 310. After being played primarily as a nose tackle, Marshall should excel in a 4-3 where he can use his athleticism more. Jabari Zuniga and Shepard were both drafted to help the Jets pass rush but have disappointed so far. Shepard has become a respectable situational rusher but Zuniga failed to make any positive impact in his 1st yr with only 1 pressure. Both are cut candidates this summer.

I have very high expectations for our D line this year. Quinnen is becoming a game wrecker and will soon be the premier DT in the NFL. We already had a strong core in place and now we’ve added several good pass rushers in free agency and possible long term answers in the draft. I can’t wait to see Lawson, Quinnen, Fatukasi/Rankins, and Curry/JFM/Huff dominate the line of scrimmage. This line will be top 10 and if Lawson can get back to his rookie year form (15.2% pressure rate and 8.5 sacks), Q maintains his dominant play in the 2nd half of the yr (5 sacks in 7 games, 14.2% pressure rate and 2nd in combined run stops+pressures), and Rankins stays healthy (9.5% pressure rate past 3 yrs, 8 sacks in 2017), they will be the best in the NFL.

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