New York Jets Post Draft Depth Chart: Defense & Special Teams
Feb 20, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Jets coach Rex Ryan speaks during a press conference during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
This is part 2 of the roster evaluation, you can read the 1st part featuring the offense here. Today we’ll look at defense and special teams. Although most of the resources have been spent on the offensive side of the ball, there are some new faces to the squad on defense and special teams. Let’s see what the post draft depth charts look like compared to last year. Defense Defensive Line – 2013 starters Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson key reserves Kenrick Ellis, Leger Douzable. 2014 Exactly the same – The Jets defensive line was the standout unit of the whole team in 2013 so it is no surprise that they decided to keep the young unit together and let it grow under coach Karl Dunbar. 16.5 of the team’s 41 sacks came from the defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson‘s 10.5. Tackles for loss were also a big area of strength as the team had 52 compared to opponents having 33. The defensive line had 29 led by Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson‘s 12. The unit seems thin on depth but does not take into consideration that Antwan Barnes, Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples played defensive end in some formations last season with Coples also sliding in at defensive tackle all the way from outside linebacker.
Advantage: None although growth from the younger players is expected
Inside Linebacker – 2013 starters David Harris, Demario Davis key reserves Nick Bellore 2014 starters Harris, Davis key reserves Jeremiah George, Nick Bellore, Steele Divitto – Harris and Davis are both 3 down linebackers for the Jets or at least they were last year. They combined for 231 tackles, 3 sacks, and 13 tackles for loss. The problems were that Davis looked lost in coverage for the most part and while Harris started the season improving his coverage skills, he tired by season’s end because there was no depth at the position. Nick Bellore is a special teams ace who is a key player for the Jets but he is not good enough to be out on defensive. For 2014, the team addressed the position by adding Jeremiah George in the 5th round of the draft and Steele Devitto as an undrafted free agent. George is an undersized player at 5’11 235 lbs. who ran a 4.65 forty yard dash at his pro day and lifted 30 reps on the bench press. George led the Big 12 in tackles at Iowa State with 133 tackles (4th in nation), 12 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions. He has the skills to do well in coverage but his issues include getting off of blocks, speed in open space is average, as well as patience, discipline and anticipation. George plays all out as CBSSports.com says “plays like his hair is on fire”. George will be a huge help on special teams but is a project at inside linebacker. Divitto is a player long on intelligence, strength and desire and short on athleticism.
Advantage: None Davis will probably improve but Harris is starting to deteriorate at 30 and there is no depth you can count on
Dec 8, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterbackMatt McGloin
(14) is thrown to the ground by New York Jets defensive endQuinton Coples
(98) after attempting a pass during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Outside Linebacker – 2013 starters Quinton Coples, Calvin Pace key reserves Garrett McIntyre, Antwan Barnes (for a couple of games)
2014 starters Coples, Pace key reserves Barnes, Jermaine Cunningham, Garrett McIntyre, IK Enemkpali, Trevor Reilly – Pace and Coples combined for 91 tackles, 14.5 sacks, and 11 tackles for loss last year. It took Coples a little more than half a season to adjust to his new position and recover from a broken ankle. In his last 5 games he had 4.5 sacks and most of his 8 tackles for loss. Coples still has a lot of work to do in learning to play in space as an open field tackler as well as in coverage. Pace managed 10 sacks last year though most of them were due to the defensive line eating up the double teams leaving Pace against a tight end, a running block or unblocked. If Coples can consistently get to the quarterback, Pace might even face less resistance this year. Pace can still set the edge but is too slow in coverage to be left there too often. Last year there wasn’t much depth and the team went to more 4 man lines to accentuate their strengths. The depth returns this year with Antwan Barnes returning from injury, Jermaine Cunningham, formerly of the Patriots, McIntyre and two draft picks in Enemkpali and Reilly. Barnes had 2 early season sacks and was creating havoc in the backfield before an ACL injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. If Barnes can return to full strength that will make the pass rush even more dangerous whether he is rushing from defensive end or linebacker. Cunningham, 26, is a former 2nd round pick of the Patriots in 2010 that did not pan out. He has the size and the ability to get to the quarterback but is another reclamation project in the mold of Maybin and Sapp. Enemkpali has potential as a pass rusher as he fared very well against former 1st round pick Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M when they matched up. He is really strong and has power moves but also is very stiff which doesn’t let his speed and quickness shine through. Needs to work on his anticipation skills being so new to the linebacker position but he is ultra-competitive and plays very hard. Will need a year of playing on special teams to develop before he can step in and be more of a factor. 7th round pick Trevor Reilly is a very intriguing talent who dropped to the 7th round due to the fact that he is 26 (went on a Mormon mission for 2 years) and is coming off of a knee injury. He had 100 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks for Utah last year. Everyone agrees that he is extremely tough and has a high football IQ but his athleticism is the question mark. However most believe that he can be a situational pass rusher/backup OLB quickly.
Advantage: None The Jets should have addressed this position earlier in the draft to make selections that had less question marks surrounding them. Getting Barnes back is the key to keeping the pass rush going throughout the year. Without Barnes the Jets couldn’t rest Wilkerson or Richardson as much as they would have liked and they wore down towards the end of the season as a result. If Coples truly turned the corner like he played in the season’s last 5 games then he is a threat to be in the backfield on most plays and get close to 10 sacks. If he can’t play with effort and consistency then his days here are numbered.
Dec 29, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets cornerbackDee Milliner
(left) celebrates his interception catch with teammate New York Jets strong safetyDawan Landry
(right) during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback – 2013 starters Dee Milliner, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson (slot) key reserves Darrin Walls, Ellis Lankster
2014 starters Milliner, Dimitri Patterson, Kyle Wilson key reserves Darrin Walls, Dexter McDougle, Johnny Patrick, Brandon Dixon, Ras-I Dowling – The cornerback position is the biggest question mark on the entire roster. After an atrocious 2013 due to age and injury, Antonio Cromartie was a salary cap casualty. In the early part of free agency, the Jets thought they had a deal with Vontae’ Davis to replace Cromartie only for Indianapolis to significantly up their offer and retain him. After that the Jets passed on Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner, Captain Munnerlyn, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and others before scooping up Dimitri Patterson off of the bargain bin. The team also was granted a waiver claim on Johnny Patrick of the San Diego Chargers. In the draft the team took Dexter McDougle in round 3 and Brandon Dixon in round 6. Patterson, 30, is a player that does most of his work inside and is a ball magnet with 4 interceptions and 6 pass defenses in just 6 games in 2013. In 2010 for Philly he had 4 interceptions and 11 pass defenses in just 9 starts and the next year he had 12 pass defenses for the Browns. Patterson’s problem has been injuries. Last season he missed most of the year battling a groin injury that required surgery after the year, before that he had a high ankle sprain, before that a broken hand. When he is on the field, Patterson is an excellent asset but will he stay on the field?
Johnny Patrick was a player that the Jets coveted in 2011 as documented in the book “Collison Low Crossers”. In the book the more the Ryan and Pettine saw of Patrick, the more they liked him and thought they could mold him. They Jets are hoping for a leap from Patrick like they had with Cromartie but on a smaller scale. Patrick,26, may not ever be a top, starting corner in the league but the Jets are hoping to get a young player that can contribute in a dime back role, develop under good coaching and play special teams. Ras-I Dowling, 26, was on the practice squad last year, he has the size, speed and ability that made him the Patriots’ 2nd round pick in 2011. He got the starting job right away but just like his senior year in college he got injured, he tore a hip tendon that put him on IR after 2 games, then tore his quadriceps muscle after 7 games in his 2nd year. Dowling has the talent, specializes in playing press man coverage and is physical, IF he can stay healthy he could contribute significantly for the Jets. However staying healthy for a whole year is a long shot.
A player that most incorrectly state is injury prone is 3rd round pick Dexter McDougle. McDougle had the shoulder injury last year that derailed his senior season but wasn’t injured before that on the field. He had a scooter accident in 2010, that circumstance is not likely to recur. Pretty much McDougle does everything well, good read and react skills to mirror receivers, good balance, agility and acceleration, top end closing speed and tackling ability. If he were 2 inches taller and 4 lbs. heavier he would’ve been a 1st round pick. McDougle had a 37″ vertical leap at his pro day which more than makes up for his lack of being 6 feet tall. This is such a good kid, character-wise, that they named an award after him for being such a team player at Maryland. He had 3 picks in 3 games before the injury last year. I believe McDougle will help the Jets right away either playing in the slot or outside. Brandon Dixon is a developmental corner that has good size and speed but comes from a very small school (Northwest Missouri State) and needs time to adjust. Darrin Walls continues to develop in his role as “relief pitcher”. Walls is an ascending boundary corner that played well at times spelling an ineffective Dee Milliner, Walls needs to have a big training camp to get Rex Ryan to see him as starter’s material instead of a backup. Ellis Lankster, 27, is a special teams gunner and a dime back and that’s pretty much his ceiling.
Advantage: 2014 This year’s unit gets the nod only because Antonio Cromartie was the 7th worst corner in the league last year and Milliner was just as bad for 3/4th of the season. The Jets should have spent the money in free agency on a cornerback, specifically they should have put forth a better offer for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or upped their offer to Vontae’ Davis. I have no problem passing up Dennard for Pryor because Pryor’s abilities will make all the corner’s jobs easier. I reserve judgment on whether another corner should have been taken over McDougle until after this year at least. Mid-round corners are not easy to find but I’ll trust Idzik’s judgment based on the secondary built in Seattle, Arizona and even Tampa. The depth is much better this year as well.
Jan 2, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Jalen Saunders (8) carries the ball past Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Trey DePriest (33) in the first half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Safety – 2013 starters Dawan Landry, Antonio Allen, some Ed Reed key reserve Josh Bush
2014 starters Calvin Pryor, Antonio Allen, Dawan Landry key reserves Rontez Miles, Josh Bush – The Jets safety play in 2013 was not good. The team gave up 53 receptions of 20 yards or more and the deep safety play was to blame for a lot of it.The group they have can hit, can play run support but really were lacking in coverage. Antonio Allen showed flashes of becoming the Big Nickel safety who plays in the box and covers tight ends but he is still developing. Dawan Landry wasn’t very productive and Ed Reed was serviceable towards the end of the year. Enter 1st round pick Calvin Pryor. Pryor can do it all, he can play centerfield, he can support the run, he hits like a truck, has excellent instincts and ball skills. People seem to think that because he hits so hard that he is a box safety and that is just wrong. He wasn’t asked to cover the slot in the scheme at Louisville which is completely different than him doing it poorly. He has the speed and flexibility to cover just fine. In fact, Sports Illustrated’s Doug Farrar ranked Pryor ahead of Clinton-Dix because he is more”responsive and explosive in coverage”. Pryor’s skill set meshes well with Antonio Allen’s and that tandem should be with the Jets for a long time. A player to watch is Rontez Miles, who is another hard hitter that can cover the back end. He is coming off of injury but Rex is already starting to talk him up. That’s bad news for Josh Bush who seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth.
Advantage: 2014 Pryor -just watch and enjoy
Kicker – 2013 Nick Folk
Punter – 2013 Ryan Quigley
2014 Ryan Quigley (for now) Advantage: None I hope the Jets sign Zoltan Mesko or another punter because I don’t think Quigley is very good and every little bit of field position matters
Kick Return- 2013 A variety of returners from Kyle Wilson to Mike Goodson to Josh Cribbs, etc.
2014 Jacoby Ford, Shaq Evans
Advantage: 2014 because it can’t be much worse than last year
Punt Return – 2013 Jeremy Kerley
2014 Jalen Saunders Advantage: 2014 Saunders averaged 15 yards per return at Oklahoma and Kerley is consistently among the league leaders in fair catches
Overall – The Jets are, in essence, keeping last year’s extremely young unit together and letting them grow. It will be interesting to see, Wilkerson after his breakout year, Richardson grow from year 1, if Damon Harrison‘s Pro Bowl caliber year was a fluke or not, if Coples can put all of his talent on display consistently, if Pace has 1 more year in him, if Allen can develop the coverage skills to become a weapon covering tight ends, how Pryor assimilates into the defense, if Demario Davis improves his coverage skills, if David Harris can stay energized for 16 games, and who, if anyone, steps into the other starting corner role. There are a lot of ifs here and I would feel a lot more comfortable if the Jets had signed a more talented free agent to fill the corner role but there is certainly big-time talent on this defense and with Rex Ryan to lead it, I like the Jets chances to improve.