The 2021 NFL preseason is almost over. The only notable thing left to do for the league’s thirty-two teams after they have all played their three practice showdowns is to narrow down their roster. By August 31st, every club needs to announce a 53-player roster that will begin the 2021 NFL season.
The New York Jets, en route to bouncing back off a terrible 2-14 campaign, are set to be amongst the most eventful teams of the bunch. The past offseason has seen many personnel changes both on the field and on the sidelines. After new head coach Robert Saleh came in, the most worked-on department was New York’s air attack.
On the one hand, the team gambled on a new bet as regards a long-term solution at quarterback. Not only that but the receiving corps and the offensive line also underwent drastic upgrades. On the other hand, the running group remains a liability.
Meanwhile, the defense received less attention from Joe Douglas and his staff. Yet, the Jets general manager brought in vital pieces to complete the pass-rush and the safety duo in Carl Lawson and Lamarcus Joyner, respectively. However, these acquisitions also represent some of the challenges the club’s front office is bound to face.
Lawson’s injury, which ruled him out for the campaign, is a perfect example. Therefore, the Jets might have more tough decisions to make than initially planned.
In Part One, we examined New York’s projected roster on the offensive side of the ball. Now, let’s take a look at how the Jets defense could look like come Tuesday.
Defensive Line (8)
The loss of Carl Lawson for the entirety of the upcoming year is an enormous one for the struggling Jets pass-rush. Firstly, New York was not even remotely dominant in that field, with its 31 sacks being the 12th-fewest in the league. Secondly, the Jets will get no production on more than $6 million in guarantees they committed to Lawson for this season.
Yet, the unit is a slight bit deeper heading into the 2021 campaign. The key performers of the group are all returning and the team’s D-Line obtains its look. That is not necessarily positive as regards the expected turnout for the unit. However, what is encouraging is the increased depth behind the starting quartet, as well as the limited internal competition.
Most notably, Quinnen Williams is back after impressing across the second season of his young professional tenure. Williams led the team with seven sacks. Moreover, four other returning defensive linemen registered more than two sacks – Franklin-Myers (3.0), Shepherd (2.5), Fatukasi, and Huff (2.0). Newcomer Rankins, having arrived on a team-friendly deal, has little leverage to start. The 27-year-old started just one game over his last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints.
In the meantime, Rashed Jr. has likely earned a spot by being one of the most productive defensemen throughout NY’s preseason stretch. The undrafted free agent out of Oregon State has posted eight solo tackles, ten total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a tackle for loss. Also, he led the team in tackles in the MetLife Bowl. Lastly, Jonathan Marshall, New York’s sixth-round pick, promises to be the last asset in that competitive group.
Ronald Blair could be a player capable of snatching a spot at the expense of the latter. However, as of now, he is more likely to remain on the outside looking in. The former 49ers pass-rusher has the support of Coach Saleh. However, he missed last season with a torn ACL. Then, the Georgia native went on to be sidelined for the majority of his inaugural training camp as a Jet. Blair only made one appearance over the preseason, which came at Lambeau Field.
UPDATE: Carl Lawson’s injury hurt the potential production of the Jets pass-rush. That’s why the team took to the market to make up for the season-long subtraction. New York acquired Texans edge-rusher Shaq Lawson in exchange for a sixth-rounder in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Shaq Lawson failed to stick around as a regular starter for the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. The Clemson alum has never started more than ten games in a campaign. However, Lawson has posted more than four sacks in each of the last four seasons. With an extended role, Lawson’s impact could be significant on a subpar unit like the Jets’ defensive line. Obviously, he is now anticipated to take the last spot in that department on the roster at the expense of Marshall.
Very little debate here. Jarrad Davis‘s injury solidified rookie Jamien Sherwood’s starting job, ending the former’s campaign in the process. Sherwood joins what is expected to now be a linebacker trio in a 4-3 defensive scheme, given the amount of talent Saleh and LeFleur have upfront.
C.J. Mosley comes into the 2021 season with the most impressive resume, mainly from his tenure as a Raven. Across five years in Baltimore, Mosley never started fewer than fourteen games. Moreover, the 29-year-old racked up more than 100 combined tackles in four of these five campaigns.
However, the veteran has failed to replicate this immense success in East Rutherford. Since signing an expensive five-year deal in 2019, Mosley has only appeared in a Jets uniform twice. There is clearly very little clarity on where C.J. Mosley’s current statistical identity is. Nevertheless, should he remain healthy, he could provide a throwback to his strong performance in Maryland.
The last starting spot will be dependent on the outcome of the battle between Hamsah Nasirildeen and Blake Cashman. Both have been active during the Jets’ three preseason clashes. Nasirildeen seems to have the edge, with even the Jets’ unofficial depth chart naming him the third starter at LB. However, as with other roster battles, no official word has been given yet by Coach Saleh.
Davis’s season-ending injury also opened the door for Noah Dawkins to snatch the final berth. Dawkins has thus far spent his two seasons as a pro with the Bucs and the Jets. Furthermore, he has collected just four snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
New York’s starting duo from the second half of 2020 returns in full force. Blessuan Austin was, similarly to Bryce Hall, a solid piece of an abysmal Jets secondary. The team allowed the fourth-highest collective passer rating last year. However, Austin and Hall both put on ratings near the 97.0 range, doing so over 73 and 52 targets, respectively. They both need to at least keep this level of stability, or even improve upon it, during the upcoming campaign.
Javelin Guidry and Michael Carter II have engaged in a battle to replace Brian Poole at the nickelback post. The former had a limited role across his freshman year out of Utah. Guidry experienced noticeable problems on his 16 targets. Yet, he enters the 2021 NFL season in a race for a starting job. His opponent for the spot, a fifth-round pick out of Duke, had 23 passes defended across four seasons in the Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Meanwhile, Brandin Echols, Justin Hardee, and Justin Pinnock are set to serve as backups behind Austin and Hall. Second-year outside corner Lamar Jackson is likely to see the end of his Jets tenure after allowing a rating north of 140.0 last winter. The same fate is possible to haunt Isaiah Dunn, who did not register a single snap versus the Giants and did not have a single tackle against the Eagles.
New York’s secondary remains a liability with severe flaws to the same extent as last year’s unit. In 2020, overlooking this as an issue would prove costly. Heading into 2021, there is little reason to think that will not happen again, to one degree or another.
Very few assets in the Jets air defense deserved praise for their performance last year. Marcus Maye was, undoubtedly, one of them. Maye provided a light in the darkness, conceding a rating of 80.4 across 46 targets. Throughout the offseason, Joe Douglas used the franchise tag on him just as he was about to enter the market as one of the most-wanted safeties.
However, the team was unable to come to an agreement for a future deal before the July 15th deadline. Therefore, this might be his last year as a Jet, unless the club prioritizes his re-signing. But that largely depends on his performance this winter.
Still, Douglas made sure to double down on this extra campaign with the centerpiece of this group aboard. One of his first additions in mid-March was former Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner. Across his last three seasons, Joyner has surrendered a rating near 90.0 or lower twice, recording 35 targets or more in each year.
Sharrod Neasman and J.T. Hassell have spent an identical amount of time on the field this past August. One of them will lose his spot considerably early when 2020 third-rounder Ashtyn Davis returns from a groin injury.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker: Matt Ammendola
Punter: Braden Mann
Long Snapper: Thomas Hennessy
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