Despite signing Jordan Whitehead in the offseason, the safety position isn’t seen as one of the Jets’ strengths. There is, however, some optimism that at least one of their youngsters will step up and earn a starting role alongside him.
With multiple candidates for a role, it seems likely the Jets will give opportunities to multiple players and we may even see some kind of a rotation alongside Whitehead.
Last season, the Jets had no choice but to keep chopping and changing because there were so many injuries. In the end, nine different players started at least one game at safety with another two seeing rotational reps off the bench.
If they can have better luck with injuries this year, the Jets could get a chance to employ players situationally to optimize their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. However, could they also operate some three-safety sets to get more safeties on the field?
A three-safety set can often be employed out of necessity. For example, if you lack depth at linebacker you’ll bring a strong safety up into the box so that you can operate out of a base package with five defensive backs on the field. Alternatively, in some sub-packages you might need three safeties on the field if your depth at cornerback is inadequate.
However, if everyone is healthy, you might still choose to operate with three safeties on the field. Possible reasons for this might be because you want more versatile defensive backs on the field on passing downs or because you want to find a way to get your best personnel out there for a given situation.
With the Jets having multiple unproven options at the safety position, using three safety sets might not be something they opt to do very often. In fact, they might even opt to only have two safeties on the field in a situation where a three-safety set might otherwise ordinarily be appropriate. However, it’s something they have the flexibility to do it if they absolutely have to.
Last season, it was rare for the Jets to run any packages with three safeties, although that’s perhaps not surprising given how often they were shorthanded at the position. Other than in a Hail Mary situation or perhaps some goal line packages, the only time they were likely to do this was when they operated out of their seldom-used dime package.
However, when they initially did start running packages with six defensive backs last year, they actually only had ONE safety on the field as Ashtyn Davis came out of the game. Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols were on the outside with Michael Carter II, Javelin Guidry and Jason Pinnock (who, at the time was still listed as a cornerback) sharing the slot/box/rover roles based on the offensive personnel.
Pinnock ultimately became a full-time safety and hopes to remain as one in 2022. If he wins the starting role, it makes sense that he would stay on the field for such packages and if he doesn’t, this could be a part-time role he returns to.
It’s possible the Jets could run some six-DB packages this year where there are three safeties on the field. However, if everyone is healthy, it could be another situation where the Jets will simply use extra cornerbacks in an effort to get their best personnel onto the field. With DJ Reed’s ability to move into the slot, this could enable the Jets to bring Hall into the game with Sauce Gardner on the outside. It might then make as much sense to have Carter and Guidry in the game rather than two safeties - although if Pinnock is in the rotation, he will at least be comfortable in these formations.
One final possibility could be that the Jets run some base packages on non-passing downs with three safeties on the field instead of ther being a third linebacker. In order to maximize flexibility in such packages, they could opt to bring in a safety as the third linebacker rather than bringing in a reserve linebacker off the bench.
We know the team likes to convert safeties into linebackers, but this would be slightly different with the team merely employing a safety in a temporary linebacker role. For example, you could bring Whitehead up into the box and put Pinnock and Lamarcus Joyner deep. An alternative might be to put Elijah Riley into the box with Whitehead as one of the deeper guys but ready to come up in run support.
Other teams, like New England for example, employ three-safety sets regularly. However, the current configuration of the Jets’ depth chart probably ensures this won’t be a primary option for the Jets in 2022. Nevertheless, it’s something they could experiment with and, if things change so this becomes essential or desirable, there are multiple ways for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich to make it work.