In this New York Jets position group analysis piece, the defensive ends will be assessed. The Jets have struggled on the edge and lacked a dominant pass rusher for far too long. In this new cover three scheme that Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich will be implementing, winning with the front four is crucial.
As a result of this, general manager Joe Douglas made one big investment. Hopefully, it turns out to be a long-term, dominant edge pass rusher on one end for the Jets. Carl Lawson was a very exciting free-agent signing. This offseason, a great veteran was added in Vinny Curry. In Douglas’ first draft, he selected Jabari Zuniga in the third round.
The Jets currently have three undrafted free agents a part of this group. Kyle Phillips and Bryce Huff have shown some flashes early on in their young careers. Hamilcar Rashed Jr. was added this year. Late in the offseason, an experienced player was signed in Ronald Blair. The expectations and roles for all seven of these players will be discussed.
Jets Position Group Analysis: Defensive End
Lawson was a big sign for the Jets in free agency this year. He is already the best pass rusher on the edge the Jets have had in a long time.
Lawson is a player who is built low to the ground. He wins as a pass rusher with his explosiveness, bend, and a wide array of pass rush moves. The production may not be dominant, but dominant reps are there. He will play this season at 26 years old. Lawson is coming off his best NFL season and entering his prime years as a player. Simply put, Lawson is a player teams will have to prepare for.
As stated in the introduction, being able to win with the front four in this defense will make it go. From one edge position, Lawson will bring it getting after the quarterback. Lawson and Quinnen Williams can complement one another very well and become a top-tier edge and interior pass rush duo. Lawson’s best play is ahead of him and hopefully, he is a long-term contributor for the Jets.
Curry was a solid free-agent addition for the Jets this offseason. He has familiarity with Douglas from their days with the Philadelphia Eagles, where they won a Super Bowl together. Curry is a tremendous veteran presence who can help the culture of the Jets.
Even as an older player, as a pass rusher, Curry was very productive last season. He still has a great get-off. Curry is a bigger type of player who wins being more physical. On passing downs, he should work well opposite Lawson.
As Douglas and Saleh look to build the Jets, Curry is the perfect player for this season. He will have a role on third-downs and obvious passing situations. Anticipate Curry making a good impact. Lawson and Curry are the best the Jets have had in a while in terms of edge rush duos.
It will be great to have Phillips back this season. The former undrafted free agent is entering his third year with the Jets. In his rookie season, Phillips was very good along the Jets’ defensive front. Last year, he, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending injury early on.
As a player, Phillips brings positional flexibility along the Jets’ defensive line. Phillips is a bigger defensive end who can also play inside. With his versatility, it will be interesting to see where he is utilized most.
Phillips is a very good run defender on the edge. He can help keep Lawson fresh on early downs. He can help the interior pass rush if needed. Overall, Phillips is a young player who has proven he is more than capable of being a very good contributor to the Jets defensive line.
Zuniga is entering his second season with the Jets as a former third-round draft pick. As a rookie, he did not play a lot. As a prospect, he does have some upside.
Zuniga brings good size and physicality. As a result of this, he has versatility. On running downs, he can play on the edge and do a good job. As a pass rusher, he is most likely to be successful from the inside.
Hopefully, Zuniga earns a roster spot this summer. He will be an interesting player to see in the preseason. It would be great if he could earn a solid role along this talented front. The Jets need Zuniga to deliver, he needs to make progress this year. Zuniga can be a future piece to this defensive line.
Last offseason, Huff signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent. He was an enticing prospect with his pass-rushing talent. As a rookie, Huff showed some encouraging flashes starting early on in the season which was great.
As an edge pass rusher, Huff has a good blend of speed and bend. He has the talent to continue to improve into a very good rotational or depth piece to the Jets’ edge group.
Expect Huff to be on the roster this season. He is a young player who provides adequate depth at defensive end. Huff is capable of creating a pass rush. In year two, it will be important for him to keep growing.
Later on in this offseason, Blair was acquired. He is a veteran player with game experience. Blair has years of experience with Saleh from the 49ers. Blair is a solid run defender on the edge and can in that regard help on early downs. He will be worth following this summer as his final roster status seems to be a complete unknown. He certainly has a chance to make the team and provide depth.
Hamilcar Rashed Jr.
Rashed signed with the Jets this year as an undrafted free agent. It was somewhat of a surprise that he went undrafted. As a prospect, Rashed has upside as a pass rusher with his athletic ability. There is some development for Rashed so he will likely land on the practice squad this year. He will be an interesting watch in the preseason. Over the long-term, ideally, he can become a depth contributor at edge.
Lawson gives this position group a ton of excitement and upside to be impactful as a dominant edge pass rusher. Curry will have an important role and should work well opposite Lawson. Phillips, Zuniga, and Huff are all young players worth following throughout both training camp and the preseason. Who will develop the fastest and take the next step to carve out a role on this defensive line?
Blair’s final roster status come cutdown could go either way. Rashed should end up on the practice squad as a rookie. Out of this group, at least four will make the team and likely a fifth with the depth. Lawson and Curry are two obvious locks. Between Phillips, Zuniga, Huff, and Blair one will not make the team. As a result of their youth and greater upside, Phillips, Zuniga, and Huff should round this group out.