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Are we seeing the beginning of a defensive revolution?

Is Bill Belichick ushering in a new era of NFL defenses featuring lots of defensive back/linebacker hybrids?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, the New York Jets announced the signing of safety Adrian Amos. Given the Jets already had both Jordan Whitehead and Chuck Clark on the roster as assumed starting safeties, immediate reactions from several were that the Jets may feature more three safety sets. Those reactions were very quickly realized as premature as only hours later news broke that Chuck Clark’s season was likely over.

Of note, I have been quite staunch in my belief that the next wave of NFL defenses will feature more ‘hybrid’ defenders who can play the run while also covering the pass as the game becomes more pass heavy. From a feasibility perspective, I always believed these ‘hybrids’ would likely be players who were traditionally played as safeties due to their size and athleticism that allow them to contribute in both pass and run protection.

For this reason (among others), I was excited when Amos was added because of the potential for this scheme to be tested. I was also then somewhat deflated when news broke that ended my hope the next wave of defense may be in the early testing stages and happen on the team I care the most about. However, to my simultaneous delight and concern, that next wave may still soon be upon us with its emergence potentially spawning with Jets’ in-division rivals Bill Belichick and New England Patriots leading the charge according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, who wrote:

Nearly a decade ago, the coach loaded up on hybrid linebacker-edge guys, who could play both as a rusher, and off the ball (Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, etc.), in order to allow for more disguise in their rush as offenses became more aggressive in getting the ball out quickly. And those guys were a big part of the second phase of the New England dynasty.

Now, they seem to be loading up on safety-linebacker hybrids, with Kyle Dugger, Jabrill Peppers, Adrian Phillips and third-round rookie Marte Mapu (who’s getting a lot of first-team opportunities already) all roughly fitting into that box.

So what gives? Well, drafting Mapu did protect the team in the case it loses Dugger, who’s going into a contract year. But there’s also a schematic benefit to having all these guys—it makes it easier to deal with teams such as Kansas City that run the ball out of lighter personnel. The idea of running out of 10 or 11 personnel—for the offense—is to put defensive backs in a position where they have to shed blocks and tackle. The Patriots, to answer that, now have a lot of defensive backs who are big and sturdy enough to do those things.

Whether this scheme works remains to be seen... but Belichick has long succeeded by finding the “next” trendy scheme before anyone else does. For the Jets sake (and, relatedly, for my own personal enjoyment of the 2023 NFL season), I now hope this scheme fails. Regardless, the potential testing of a new “base” defense should make for some fascinating analysis this season.


Do you think increased usage of "hybrid" defenders is a viable strategy in the context of the modern NFL offense?

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  • 14%
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  • 77%
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    I boo the mere idea of change
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