New York Jets 2015 Training Camp: Grading defensive line


Despite Sheldon Richardson’s 4-game suspension to begin the season, the New York Jets have arguably the best defensive line in football, and it should be no surprise to anyone. A line consisting of Richardson, Damon Harrison, and Muhammad Wilkerson as the starters is simply frightening, but when Leonard Williams is added to the equation, you have something special.

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Gang Green selected the USC standout with the 6th overall pick in this year’s draft. New general manager Mike Maccagnan labeled Williams as a player that couldn’t be passed up if he fell to the Jets, even with no needs at all on the d-line.

Prior to the draft, New York retained veteran Leger Douzable after signing journeymen Stephen Bowen and Kevin Vickerson during the free agency period. All three were given one-year deals. The Jets have quite the rotation heading into 2015, and the scariest part about this unit is that it looks better on the field than on paper.

Aug 1, 2013; Cortland, NY, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (91) and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) stretch during training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

According to, Gang Green had two of the top-three 3-4 defensive ends in the league last season in Wilkerson and Richardson. Richardson ranked 2nd while Wilkerson was 3rd behind, of course, J.J. Watt. The two ranked as the best run-stuffers in the entire league with +19.2 grades behind Bills’ defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (+20.7). Both also received positive grades in every other category except for penalties. Although, you can’t really knock them for drawing a few flags (each had 4), especially after taking a look at their stat line. They combined for 71 tackles, 13.5 sacks, and 7 batted passes on the year. When the defensive ends are producing, the only question that remains is the nose tackle. However, the Jets seem to be doing just fine there as well.

“Snacks” is considered to be one of the best nose tackles in the game. On PFF, Harrison ranked 13th out of 40 defensive tackles that received at least 50% of snaps last season. This group includes guys who play in a 4-3 scheme too, so this makes him stand out even more. He ranked as the 3rd best run-stuffer with a +16.8 only behind Dareus and Ndamukong Suh. Even though he looks good in run defense, getting after the quarterback is a different story for the former undrafted free agent. As a guy who has totaled just one sack in his entire career, Harrison may not be on the field too much in 2015 when opposing offenses are in passing situations. Fortunately, this is when Williams should come in handy.

May 27, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams (62) watches organized team activities at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Even as a guy who currently sits at 300 pounds, Williams was an absolute nightmare for quarterbacks in college. He racked up 21 sacks and even intercepted 2 passes in his 3-year career at USC. The former Trojan stood out at the combine as well, running a 4.97 in the 40-yard dash. Most scouts and GMs do not expect 3-4 defensive ends to crack 5 seconds in the 40.

The Jets should consider themselves lucky to have a player as athletically gifted as Williams is. He was projected to go 2nd overall in many mock drafts, so Maccagnan was smart to stick with the best player available approach. Williams has big shoes to fill in the first four games of the season, but he has the capability to step up right away and the depth behind him if can’t.

Douzable and Bowen are two huge pieces on the New York’s defensive line regardless of their role. As experienced linemen in the league, both guys can teach the youngsters off the field as well as rotate in when called upon. Douzable has 4 sacks in just two years with the Jets where playing time was limited. Bowen is coming off of back to back injury-depleted seasons in Washington, but when healthy, he has showed he can stuff the run with 168 career tackles. Like Bowen, Vickerson excels as a run defender but at nose tackle. He has played nine seasons in the league and as a result, he’s racked up 165 tackles over his career. One of these three may not be on the roster when Week 1 hits, but each of them are nonetheless veterans that can help the Jets in many ways.

Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle

T.J. Barnes

(99) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Barnes, Deon Simon, Ronald Talley, Davon Walls, and Jordan Williams round out the rest of Gang Green’s defensive line. Barnes and Simon are the only guys that can realistically make the roster out of this group. Talley did not play football last season while both Williams and Walls are undrafted rookies.

Williams played his college ball at Tennessee and Walls came out of Lincoln University which is a Division II school. One of those two can potentially make the practice squad, but even that could be pushing it. The Jets’ defensive line is simply too talented and deep. The true competition may very well be at top of the depth chart.

Overall, the defensive line is without a doubt the heart and soul of the Jets. With head coach Todd Bowles, the “Sons of Anarchy”, and Leonard Williams, the sky is the limit for this unit.

Grade: A

Next: New York Jets: The Geno Smith divide

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