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The tradeoff of well rested and underplayed: Bryce Huff and the New York Jets

How can the New York Jets best utilize the talents of pass rusher Bryce Huff?

NFL: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Through four weeks of the season, one could argue the New York Jets best player has been edge rusher Bryce Huff. In support, PFF ranks three New York Jets defenders as having grades over 80: defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, linebacker Quincy Williams, and Bryce Huff.

While all three players have been outstanding, their time spent on the field is not equal. Specifically, Bryce Huff plays nearly 14 the reps of Quincy Williams and nearly 13 the reps of Quinnen Williams, begging the question of whether Bryce Huff should be playing more snaps.

Part of the explanation for why Huff spends so little time on the field is because the Jets utilize a rotation for their defensive front four. Per Head Coach Robert Saleh, this is to keep his front four well rested so that they are at their best for the snaps that matter most. Through that lens, it makes sense that Huff would see fewer snaps than Quincy Williams, who plays linebacker. However, he still sees significantly less snaps than fellow rotational lineman Quinnen Williams, as well as less reps than other edge rushers such as Jermaine Johnson, Micheal Clemons, and John Franklin-Myers who all have PF grades below 70.

The other part of the explanation for why Huff spends so little time on the field is because he has traditionally excelled in a pass rushing role while being less productive in the run game. While Huff has been limited to 14 run defense snaps through he first 4 weeks of the 2023 season, he has generally held his own with a PFF grade of 64.9 that is approximately on par with all of his fellow edge rushers.

With that said, I think it’s easy for some to say that Huff should play more, and I don’t disagree with the logic behind that argument. However, I think that argument is a bit simplistic.

Specifically, the intent of Saleh’s defense is to allow his best players to be at their best when it matters most. For Huff, he is by far their best pass rushing edge rusher. Huff has more than double the amount of hurries and hits as any of his fellow edge rushers except for John Franklin-Myers, whose stats he is on par with despite playing ~33% less pass rushing snaps. While playing Huff more may allow him to accumulate more counting stats, it may also lessen his performance on the snaps that mean the most, such as third or fourth and long plays late in the game, via him exerting more energy throughout the game.

Really, I think the question of what to do with Huff amounts to a tradeoff. Huff should probably play more given how strong his performance has been. However, Huff probably shouldn’t play so many more run defense snaps that it harms his pass rushing productivity, especially when he’s on par with his edge rushing peers against the run but significantly better than them against the pass.

Finding that “happy middle” point is what they pay Saleh and his staff the big bucks for. As fans, we just have to hope they find it... and given that 1-3 start, they may need to find it sooner rather than later if they still want to chase a playoff spot.