The Jets have finally got it going, which is certainly a first for the 2020 season. The team has won two games in a row. Moreover, they have beaten playoff contenders in the Rams and the Browns. Throughout their highs and lows, the struggling secondary has seldom had positive spots. One of them, however, has been safety Marcus Maye, perhaps the best Jets defensive player in this campaign.
Marcus Maye joined the Jets after a second round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Coming off four seasons with the Florida Gators, expectations were high but still fair for a second rounder.
He immediately stood out, providing a spark in his first two seasons as a starting safety alongside Jamal Adams. Maye started all 16 regular season games in his solid rookie campaign. Then, an injury put a premature end to his strong start in 2017.
Furthermore, it took some time before he could replicate the success of that two-year span. Marcus Maye didn’t manage to return to his early dominance in 2019, allowing a passer rating of 103.8 in coverage. For a player that had 32 targets in coverage that year, these are worrying numbers. With Adams gone to Seattle the following offseason, the Jets’ passing defense was bound to fail. Concerns related to Marcus Maye, now paired with the inconsistent Bradley McDougald, were the prime reason.
The New York Jets’ secondary did indeed go on to fail miserably throughout the 2020 NFL campaign. However, Marcus Maye was far from the player to blame. The free safety has had a tremendous campaign. This established him as the lone bright spot in the Jets’ woeful defense against the pass.
Best Jets Defensive Player – Marcus Maye’s 2020 Numbers
Needless to say, Marcus Maye was not just impressive when you compare him to the rest of the Jets secondary. That would be too low of a bar. On the contrary, Maye had the best season of his young career. Moreover, he might have been one of the best in downfield coverage in all of the NFL.
Maye had troubles throughout the 2019 season and had his workload increased heading into 2020. The team anticipated this to occur due to Adams’ departure. However, still, it would in most cases result in a down year. Had that happened, Maye could have shown that his career ceiling wasn’t as high as previously thought. The other possibility was to put out a great year, justify his success with a big workload, and increase his value, quite likely, even in the long term. Fortunately for the Jets, he did the latter.
The former Florida prospect made an enormous jump forward in his fourth year in the league. Maye allowed a passer rating of 79.1, a career low, in 45 targets, the most he has had in three years. He ended up being the fourth-most targeted member of the secondary. Furthermore, alongside nickel cornerback Brian Poole, he was the only player with an allowed rating of under 90.0, with over 30 targets.
With Marcus Maye taking on such a big number of targets, the solid workload more than gives credibility to his great rating in coverage. New York’s passing defense was by far their worst component defensively. However, Maye might have very well saved the unit from an even bigger disaster. It lacked an adequate answer for downfield throws and on the outside against top receivers.
Best Jets Defensive Player – Significance Amidst a Struggling Secondary
As noted in the aforementioned paragraphs, Maye managed to provide a lone reason for positivity for his group. The Jets’ passing defense was one of the worst in the league so his success might go unnoticed. However, Joe Douglas should use it as an alarm. The needs of the secondary are currently very clear. Meanwhile, so are the pieces to build around and Maye could be one of them.
Many changes were made to the unit against the pass during the campaign itself. This included the firing of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the release of cornerback Pierre Desir. That move, for what it was, epitomized the short-term direction of changes at outside cornerback.
However, even the experimental use of unproven rookie corners didn’t save the Jets secondary from a shameful performance. The group has conceded an average of 278.1 yards per game through 15 games. That is the fourth-most in the NFL, after Seattle, Atlanta, and Detroit.
The first big hit on the unit was Pierre Desir and the extremely weak half a season he played in the Meadowlands. The former Colts cornerback was relied on heavily by Adam Gase and Williams, recording 51 targets in nine games. As it has been mentioned previously, Desir had a terrible campaign, allowing a passer rating of 110.3.
He was cut in mid-November, triggering the promotion of young pieces like Bryce Hall and Lamar Jackson. Jackson went on to put on an even worse display with a rating of 136.7, the second-worst on the team. Bryce Hall was much more solid at 95.5. But, then again, even McDougald and Ashtyn Davis, who replaced the former amidst an injury, didn’t resemble any good reinforcements around the prospering Maye.
The conclusion is that Maye couldn’t lift the Jets’ secondary from the inevitable failure. However, this was barely possible for a single free safety to begin with. Rather, the 2020 fiasco could benefit from the context that guys like Maye, Austin, and Poole provide. Instead of a total overhaul, the Jets’ first order of business would be to re-sign Marcus Maye. NY certainly has the resources to build around him with $76 million in salary-cap space. Therefore, Maye’s success is manifestly significant, even in the background of many more failing players on the roster.
Best Jets Defensive Player: Marcus Maye – Sustainability and Future
Marcus Maye was once a subject of concern by experts, quite possibly even within the organization. After all, he could have been traded at one point during the 2020 offseason. However, heading into 2021, there’s no question whether Maye has proven himself or not. Furthermore, there’s no question that he’s currently the most important member of the secondary alongside Poole.
Maye was able to increase his workload but post a positive drop in his allowed passer rating. This showed the woes of 2019 were a fluke rather than a trend. The fact that he is 27, a few seasons behind his prime, further proves that he is likely to reach his peak in the upcoming part of his career.
The group struggled miserably and re-signing Marcus Maye and Brian Poole would be the first step in the right direction. Such a move would keep the Jets’ best options at safety and nickel. Meanwhile, it would continue the search for a dominant outside corner.
Moreover, New York doesn’t have many options in response to a Maye exit. The two high-profile free-agents-to-be, Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons, both had problematic 2020 seasons. Both players have posted allowed passer ratings of over 100.0. Simmons previously had over 50 targets in his solid 2019 and 2018 campaigns. However, Harris discredits his previous success with a lack of a sufficient workload.
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