As the Jets weigh up how best to bolster their young depth in the upcoming draft, it’s fairly widely accepted that they’re going to use a high pick on an edge rusher.
However, a quick look at their depth chart and cap situation seems to indicate that two of their four highest-paid players are defensive ends - namely Carl Lawson and John Franklin-Myers. So, how is that going to work? Are they going to pick someone at four who starts off on the bench ... or bench one of their highest paid players?
Of course, in practice, it’s not that simple. First of all, Lawson’s status is up in the air after he missed the entire 2021 season after suffering a torn Achilles in the middle of a dominant training camp. However, indications are that the Jets hope to have him back and are optimistic he can reclaim his role.
Next you have the nature of the Jets’ defensive line rotation, which creates opportunities for more than just the starters to get a lot of reps. The Jets will generally have four, and sometimes five, defensive ends active and each player gets plenty of reps to try and ensure everyone is fresh heading into the fourth quarter. So, within that structure, there’s plenty of scope for more than two defensive ends to play a significant role, whether they operate in a rotation or someone gets extra situational work.
Finally, there’s Franklin-Myers whose place on the team seems to have been either overlooked or misinterpreted by some analysts. There’s a suggestion that the Jets could draft the best available defensive end with the fourth (or maybe the 10th) pick and that he’s going to go straight into the starting line-up. If Lawson is healthy, though, what happens to Franklin-Myers?
Some have suggested he’ll simply kick inside on passing downs and that this is the easiest way to get the best pass rushers on the field together. There’s some logic to that, and it would probably work on Madden - but is it that simple in practice?
Despite his performance in 2021, some Jets fans or media members still view him as an interior pass rusher who can play on the edge. However, it’s interesting to note that he hardly played inside at all in the 2021 season. Despite this, the 25-year old put together his most complete season and was one of the most consistent defenders on the team. So would they really be keen to move him?
When the Jets announced that they had signed Franklin-Myers to a long-term extension worth a reported $13.75 million a year ahead of the Falcons game, Robert Saleh confessed that he hadn’t known a lot about the youngster when he took the Jets’ job. However, in just four games, Saleh had come to learn how hard he worked and what a tremendous fit he was for their system.
On this basis, despite Franklin-Myers having played inside in the past - both for the Rams and in Gregg Williams’ defense with the Jets - that wouldn’t have been taken into account by Saleh in his assessment of him. Instead, he earned his extension based on a role where he exclusively played outside and was described as a perfect fit within that role. So, it doesn’t necessarily sound like he’d be someone they’d replace with a rookie and then move into a different role, especially while paying him such a high salary.
SNY analyst Leger Douzable, a former Jets’ defensive lineman who is similar to Franklin-Myers insofar as he also played both on the inside and on the edge has suggested several times during the offseason that Franklin-Myers could rush from the inside to create room for a rookie pass rusher to get plenty of action. He has extra insight into this too, because his final NFL stop was with the 49ers in Saleh’s first season as their defensive coordinator and he was used in that fashion himself.
So, we definitely shouldn’t rule this out - especially given Saleh’s proclivity for “positionless football” and we do know from some of his previous seasons that if the Jets line Franklin-Myers up on the inside, he has the burst and technique to give interior linemen plenty of trouble, much as he does whenever he stunts inside.
Nevertheless, it was something they did not look to do with Franklin-Myers last year. Even when they did do it, it wasn’t, as you might think, to get two edge rushers on the field. Instead, they generally took one of the defensive tackles and put them on the edge - so although the alignment changed, the personnel did not.
For example, the Jets ran some packages against the Colts where Shaq Lawson was on the outside with Franklin-Myers alongside him, aligned across from the tackle. Then the Jets had Folorunso Fatukasi on the interior and Quinnen Williams on the opposite edge. Also, the Jets did this more as a counter to the fact that the Colts put multiple tight ends on the edge of the line rather than as a pressure package.
So, ultimately, the Jets never really took the option of running a pass rush package with Franklin-Myers rushing from inside and edges either side of him - something they did do semi-regularly in 2021. Part of the reason for this was perhaps that by taking himself out of the equation and with Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry already lost for the year, the available edges wouldn’t exactly be fearsome. Bryce Huff had a nice first half of the year, sure, but Shaq Lawson, Tim Ward and Jabari Zuniga weren’t striking fear into anyone.
Give Saleh more dangerous edges to work with and working Franklin-Myers in on the interior becomes a more attractive option. However, he is not a player who should be overlooked, treated as an afterthought or moved into a role that will limit his production.
The Jets are lucky to have Franklin-Myers and he should play a key role for the team in 2022. The fact he’s shown in the past that he has some positional versatility is a blessing but not something the Jets are going to build their entire defense around.
Whatever they opt to do, it sounds like Saleh is going to get some useful talent injections on the defensive line between now and training camp and he’ll have fun figuring out how best to use everyone. Expect Franklin-Myers to be a key part of that planning.