New York Jets Breakdown: Pass-Rush

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The date is April 25th, 2019. The time is about 8.30 pm ET and the Jets have just drafted a powerhouse of a defensive end in Quinnen Williams, out of Alabama, with the third overall pick. In addition, Henry Anderson and Jordan Jenkins are both coming off career-best seasons with seven sacks each. Surely, the Jets pass-rush has to be poised for a strong season.

The NFL, very often, brings players and teams back to reality in a vicious way. That was exactly what happened with the Jet’s front defensive line. The team recorded just 35 sacks and posted a 23rd-place league-wide finish in that category. While Jenkins actually improved with eight sacks, Anderson was unrecognizable with just one. Williams, in his rookie season, started just nine games and had only two and a half sacks. Long-tenured lineman Leonard Williams was also traded to the Giants for a third-round pick (Ashtyn Davis). To say that the display was disappointing would be an enormous understatement.

On the other hand, the defense as a unit was able to become one of the best run-stopping “walls” in the NFL, mainly due to Gregg Williams’s scheme. Nevertheless, having one of the worst pass-rushes in the whole league is dragging down any progress Joe Douglas had to make this offseason.

What also doesn’t help is that Douglas and his staff didn’t address these needs via the free-agent market. Virtually, the only new addition to the group of players was Jabari Zuniga, a third-round pick from Florida. Another positive move was re-signing 2019 sack leader Jenkins.

The feelings around the New York Jets pass-rush are very contradicting. On one hand, there’s a confident sense of improvement being on the way. On the other hand, no real difference-making upgrades have been made and Jadaveon Clowney is seemingly off the table.

Here’s everything you need to know on the Jets pass-rush entering the 2020 NFL season.

New Additions

Credits: USA Today

Jabari Zuniga

From 2020 New York Jets Draft Profile: Jabari Zuniga:

Pick Grade

From New York Jets: Day Two Draft Grades:

‘Grade: C+

The most important thing here is how he compares to players like Darrel Taylor and Jonathan Greenard. Meanwhile, the problems in the pass-rush have, at least, been finally addresses.

That likely won’t be enough, though. It’s a mystery as to why Douglas would choose Zuniga over Greenard and Anfernee Jennings, who both had more sacks last year than Zuniga’s career-high of 6.5 in 2018. All three pass-rushers were seniors last year.

It’s also a tough comparison with Greenard, who led not only the team but all of SEC in sacks with 10. In comparison with a player in the same defensive system, he had 6.5 sacks less.’

What He Brings to the Team

There aren’t any particular weaknesses in his film. He looks like he could be a dominant pass-rusher off the edges. His numbers don’t really support such a statement but one could only wonder what a fully healthy 2019 campaign would have brought to his statistical value.

His film also proves he’s a risky pick. Zuniga is very powerful and difficult to stop one-on-one but lack of mobility sometimes holds him back. Certainly, he was quiet in 2019 due to that reason – the 4-3 defense favors faster and more flexible edge-rushers.

Still, he was able to stay prolific during his last two seasons, also due to his successful hand technique. This allowed Florida head coach Dan Mullen to utilize him against double-teamed linemen, through the inside, as well as his usual position. He’s able to overcome this lack of flexibility and even improve as a player, and it’s very likely he would have increased his value had he played 13 games in 2019.”

Depth Chart Analysis

Defensive Formation: 3-4

Starting Front Three: Steve McLendon, Quinnen Williams, Henry Anderson

Starting Outside Linebackers/Edge-Rushers: Jordan Jenkins, Jabari Zuniga

Depth Pieces: Bryce Huff, Nathan Shepherd, Jordan Willis, Folorunso Fatukasi, Sterling Johnson, Domenique Davis, John Franklin-Myers, Kyle Phillips, Bronson Kaufusi

It’s very obvious that the team lacks depth on the defensive side of the ball. While steps were taken to ensure balance in the secondary, the front group of players is far from complete. The main interior three is solid but there still isn’t a difference-maker when it comes to production on the edges. Even with Jenkins and Zuniga, not much has changed personnel-wise since the 2019 fiasco. The team will rely on catalysts such as Williams, Anderson, and Jenkins to unwrap their true talent and provide surprising production. However, that goes to show that the 2020 campaign is bound to be another long one for the Jets pass-rush.

Most of the so-called current “Depth Pieces” are unlikely to make the final 53-man roster and the Jets could find themselves with a limited group to work with. Bryce Huff, an undrafted free agent out of Memphis, is one of the lights at the end of the tunnel.


Where Does the Pass-Rush Currently Stand?

There weren’t many upsides for the Jets in terms of putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year. Heading into the 2020 season, the upgrades don’t nearly match the team’s push to compete in the upcoming season. Unless Quinnen Williams and Henry Anderson finally break out, it’ll be difficult for the Jets to make the jump towards being a top-16 pass-rushing unit.

For several reasons, the Jets were unwilling to approach Jadaveon Clowney, perhaps rightfully so. Firstly, his price tag of over $17 million per year is still not winning him, suitors. Secondly, even if you spend that kind of money on him, you could find yourself in trouble when the salary cap drops next year (between $20 million and $80 million, according to sources). New York currently has $14 million in space but signing Joe Flacco seemingly took them out of the race for either Clowney or Logan Ryan.

Before last year, Clowney appeared in three straight Pro Bowls and had nine-plus sacks in the latter two seasons. Clowney may never reach the level he was considered on as a draft talent. However, all he needs to do is reach his best figures to be a difference-maker on the Jets. That is why he’s still worth taking a shot on before proclaiming him as a player “who hasn’t lived up to the hype.” No Jets player had recorded nine or more sacks in a season since Muhammad Wilkerson in 2015.

In conclusion, the Jets’ decision not to pursue Clowney, albeit a smart one in the long-term, could end up being a negative one for the pass-rush, which might disappoint again in 2020.

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Teodor Tsenov is a writer in the NFL Department of Overtime Heroics. Teodor joined the media in March 2020, previously writing for Franchise Sports UK. Also a second-year International Sport Management student at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in Den Haag, the Netherlands. Originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.