The Jets secondary, and the defense as a unit, was up-and-down for the majority of the 2019 NFL season.
On the one hand, Gregg Williams was responsible for a good change in New York’s defense. He ran very successful run-containing schemes and had the third-best defense against the ground game. He stacked the box and outplayed the opponents’ intermediate game.
On the other hand, there’s still a problem when going up against vertical passing systems and still lack a good cornerback against the wideout. The Jets finished 16th in allowed yards through the air with 236.2. Furthermore, depth was also a problem.
Therefore, improving the secondary, focusing on but not limited to the cornerback position, was one of the tasks before general manager Joe Douglas. To say that he was active in that department would be an understatement – especially in the draft.
First, he signed former Colts corner Pierre Desir in free agency. Then came the draft: Ashtyn Davis in the third round, Bryce Hall in the fifth, Quincy Wilson from a trade with Indy, and Lamar Jackson as an undrafted FA. He also made sure Brian Poole and Arthur Maulet returned on their new respective one-year deals.
There are some holes that have been filled. There are problems which will still be costly for the team come September. Nevertheless, let’s take a deeper look at how the secondary will look like entering 2020.
Desir signed with the Jets on a one-year contract after Poole and Maulet came back on similar deals. He became a regular starter for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, his second of three years with the team, and proved to be a crucial piece right piece. He allowed a passer rating of 85.6 in 2018 and 96.5 in 2019, facing more than 70 targets in both campaigns. Also, he recorded a total of 19 defended passes during that span.
In what promises to be an interesting Jets cornerback rotation, Desir effectively replaces Trumaine Johnson. Johnson was very disappointing during his tenure as a Jets, with most problems caused by injuries, and cutting him was an easy decision. Desir’s success against wideouts will be valuable for a secondary, which lacks a good outside corner.
After the Jets did some brilliant work to get Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims with their first two picks in the draft, the first surprise appeared to be selecting Ashtyn Davis, a safety. On the one hand, that could be a nod that either Jamal Adams or Marcus Maye as damaging as it would be, might be heading out. On a deeper level, however, Davis would make a great depth piece at safety and even join the regular cornerback rotation. During the last two seasons with the California Golden Bears, Davis had six interceptions and nine defended passes.
From Jets Mock Draft 1.0:
“Davis played five years in Berkley and showed off in his last two with the program. He’s a free safety with dynamic in-the-box skills, a good Blitzer, and tough to beat in pass coverage. Ashtyn Davis recorded six interceptions over the last two seasons in the Pac-12, including four in 2018. An All-American in track and field, his speed makes him a difficult matchup against even pacy receivers in a Cover-3 zone defensive scheme. With Gregg Williams running mostly formations similar to Cover-2 man or Cover-4 zone, he should be given a chance to thrive and dominate.”
“Hall missed some time last year but had a huge campaign in 2018 when he posted 21 passes defended to go along with two picks. His success in one-on-one situations stems from reading plays quickly, which he does exceptionally well. If that matters for a rookie that will get only so much playing time, he also provides good value when it comes to corner blitzes. He recorded four sacks in four years with the Cavaliers and also contributed to stopping the running game. Arnette seems like the better prospect. However, Bryce Hall isn’t much of a downgrade compared to Arnette and can become an excellent corner with a minimum amount of work.”
Wilson was brought in as a part of the sixth-round pick (Pick 211), which the Jets traded to the Colts on Day Three of the draft. The fourth-year player was a pleasant surprise in his early seasons, but a slip came in 2019. Last year, he played just nine games, starting none, participating in only 12 percent of all defensive snaps, and allowing a passer rating of 144.9.
“You’ve perhaps heard of the dominance of Lamar Jackson, the Ravens wild-running quarterback and current NFL MVP. Well, now get ready to meet his defensive counterpart, out of Nebraska. Jackson is a late-round version of Damon Arnette, who might have an even higher ceiling. Like Arnette, Jackson is a force to be reckoned with in man coverage and the vertical passing game. Jackson recorded career-high 12 passes defended, second to only Indiana corner Tiawan Mullen in the Big Ten.
Furthermore, his reaction to the situation is always swift and adequate. He’s fast coming in the box to stop runs and also is a great open-field tackler. In each of his last three seasons, he had 25-plus total tackles, including 40 in his most recent campaign in 2019. Jackson is not just a corner with a high ceiling against wideouts but a promising overall contributor to the Jets defensive unit.”
Depth Chart Analysis
Potential starting outside corners: Blessuan Austin, Pierre Desir
Potential starting nickels: Brian Poole, Bryce Hall
Regular rotation at safety: Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Ashtyn Davis
The Jets’ most notable need in the secondary was a true outside corner. Truth to be told, they haven’t found exactly what they’d been looking for yet. However, Joe Douglas is instead giving Adam Gase an incredibly deep and promising secondary. Desir is more than capable of becoming a force to be reckoned with on the outside, while Maulet and Hairston are great second-choice options.
Meanwhile, the battle for second place in the nickel hierarchy is wide open. Whether that’s Hall, one of Douglas’s best steals in the draft, Quincy Wilson, or another option, the holes have been filled. Now, the waiting game for who’s about to step up and play meaningful snaps is underway.
With Adams playing in the box for the majority of the time, it’s quite important having Davis as an option. Marcus Maye, despite being a centerpiece of the Jets secondary, surrendered a passer rating of over 104.0. If the deep safety spot starts to decline, the Jets could be in trouble. However, Ashtyn Davis might be the well-thought Plan B, in addition to being a depth piece at both safety and cornerback.
Cover 1 (3-4)
The Jets put on a mix of both zone and man 3-4 defensive schemes last year. The guarantees were a regular three-man rush with a “Bandit” outside linebacker (Jordan Jenkins) joining the pass-rush most of the time, and the strong safety (Jamal Adams) staying in the box, for blitzing purposes mostly. With the addition of Pierre Desir, they would be able to play more man coverage. The Jets were successful in keeping plays short, and putting a back out of the backfield against the Mike linebacker (C.J. Mosley, for a full season hopefully) would further confirm that.
Cover 3 Zone Blitz (3-4)
Perhaps something we’ve seen more from the current roster. The Jets definitely have the players to best utilize in the circumstances this scheme puts on the table. Again, you have to keep Jenkins a part of the pass-rush. Adams and Poole could be solid in zone coverage, and the same goes for Mosley in the blitz. Maye, Desir, and Austin would be in the deep thirds. Brian Poole is quite the advantage to have against the strong side.
Where Does the Secondary Stand?
While its success still didn’t look sustainable, the Jets secondary made some great improvement throughout the 2019 season. According to SharpFootballStats, the Jets were 13th in terms of Explosive Play Rate with 8 percent on passing plays, which is an enormous upgrade for one of the NFL’s previously worst deep-threat secondaries. It posted a 1 percent improvement, allowing seven fewer explosive plays.
Joe Douglas loaded the house in the cornerback department and ensured players who are easy to plug in any formation. That way, the Jets have put opponents on notice. Not only did they bring back a vital nickelback but they also retained depth to the outside passing defense. Desir’s addition has to be a “thumbs up” for press coverage against the good receivers.
The Jets secondary is in a favorable spot heading into preparations for the 2020 season even without adding Logan Ryan. Last season provided an opportunity for players who perhaps didn’t expect any. Now, that has reflected the rotation, which has enough players to spark out as starters and provide a positive turnout.
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