This is part two of a series projecting the opening day starting lineup for the Jets. You can read part one on the offense here. With free agency a month away and the draft a little less than 90 days away this is the only downtime for NFL news during the year so the best way to make it through is to try and look ahead and guess at what the team will be when they kickoff for real in September.
For the sake of this article I will list the starting lineup for a 3-4 alignment, but since the Jets are multiple in their fronts, it may not correlate to what the first play might look like. Just a best guess.
Defensive Ends – Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson - The Jets are most talented along the defensive line and especially at defensive end where Wilkerson is already a second team All-Pro selection and Richardson is the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Wilkerson improved his pass rush ability generating 10.5 sacks while still being a force against the run. The only question in the offseason for Wilkerson is will the Jets give him a new contract or will they activate the fifth year option in his rookie contract that would keep him under contract through 2015 and only have his salary jump to six million during that year. The best business decision is to activate the 5th year option let him play for two million this year and address the contract after the 2014 season. Sheldon Richardson was among the top rated defensive end/tackles in the league when it came to stopping the run and his 3.5 sacks was low compared to the pressure he caused. Expect Richardson’s sack totals to jump in year two.
Nose Tackle – Damon Harrison - Harrison came from a part-time player who made the team as an undrafted free agent his rookie year to one of the best run-stuffers in the league in his second year. He has worked extremely hard and has taken the coaching that Karl Dunbar has given him and made himself into an integral part of the Jets defense now and for the foreseeable future. Kenrick Ellis lost his starting job when he had a back injury during the preseason and never got it back due to Harrison’s play.
Outside Linebacker – Quinton Coples and Jason Worilds - Worilds is an ascending player at age 26 that has been looking for a role as a starter. Despite only starting 11 games with Pittsburgh in 2013 he led the team with 8 sacks. The Steelers are, as usual, cap strapped and that usually costs them in free agency. He went to high school in Carteret, New Jersey so choosing the Jets from amongst his free agent suitors would be a homecoming. Worilds will be highly coveted but the Jets have the money to outspend the others to acquire a player just entering his prime. Quinton Coples had a rough beginning to 2013 fracturing his ankle while he was trying to learn the outside linebacker position. Once he got back in the lineup and got to full speed he was the Jets best defensive player the final month of the season notching all 4.5 of his sacks and getting consistent pressure. If Coples fulfills his promise as a player the Jets pass rush will be upgraded immensely. There are only so many lineman and you can’t double team Wilkerson, Coples, Worilds, and Richardson at the same time so this has the potential to be a very dynamic group. Not to mention the return of Antwan Barnes from injuries will help with depth and help prevent the defense from tiring as the season came to a close.