Who are the greatest defenders in the history of the NY Jets? Take a look at the top 30 greatest defenders of all-time for Gang Green.
Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets corner back Darrelle Revis (24) warms up before a game against the Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets have been around since 1959 when the team was founded, in those 50+ years we’ve seen some fantastic defensive players grace the gridiron. Always when modern writers do these kind of all-time lists they often are too modern-heavy with their picks or perhaps too old-school heavy with reliance on the past.
The key to doing a list of this magnitude is to balance the respect of the past with the realization of greatness of the present. That has all led to the culmination of this all-time list to settle the debate once and for all, who in fact are the 30 greatest defenders of the Jets to ever don the historic green and white uniforms, at least in my opinion.
Without further adieu, enjoy!
Next: 30. One incredible safety
— Victor Green (@VictorGreen21) November 30, 2015
30. Victor Green
It seems like this season, Victor Green emerged from the shadows of a retired career to pass the torch from one former great Jets safety to another one in the making in Calvin Pryor. Green in his own right had a phenomenal career with the Jets that certainly warranted top-30 consideration. Green played nine seasons with the Jets from 1993 all the way through 2001 before making the near betrayal jump to the New England Patriots for a season. Regardless of that small minute detail, Green’s career was defined by steady-play, unteachable leadership and a propensity for big-plays.
Green’s best season with the green and white came arguably in 2001 when he picked off six passes (a career high) and tallied four fumble recoveries. Earlier in his Jets career he was always around the ball which explains his high sack totals after he earned a starting spot on the Jets’ defense. Though Green may not boast Hall of Fame numbers, that shouldn’t derail what was an amazing career in the NFL. Green continues to be a model citizen off the field with his multiplicity of charities that he donates to and helps with events on a consistent basis.
For an un-drafted free agent out of Akron, I’d say Green far surpassed even the most modest expectations for his career as he was recently added to the Jets Ring of Honor. On April 4, 2006 he signed a one-day contract with the Jets so that he could retire on the team with which he started his career. For these rankings sometimes it goes beyond the statistics for making the list and Green is a special case where he had both the statistical backing and the intangibles necessary to make this top-30 defenders list of all-time.
Next: 29. An often forgotten about player
29. Bryan Thomas
This guy may not be in a lot of top-30 lists of the Jets greatest defenders, but I have him in mine every time. Bryan Thomas was drafted in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft with the 22nd overall selection out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He spent his entire career with the Jets from 2002-2012 in which he amassed over 300 tackles, 30+ sacks, seven forced fumbles, and six fumble recoveries.
He was a consummate professional and one of the quiet leaders on the team in the mid to late 2000’s. With the revolving door at the head coaching position, he often had to alternate between the defensive line and line-backing positions. This is a guy that doesn’t sweep you off your feet with his statistics, but the intangibles is really something that was counted on during his tenure.
Thomas’ best season came in 2006 when he reached the highest sack total of his career (8.5) and he did his best work getting after the opposing quarterbacks. Later in his career he was deployed as more of a guy that set the edge in the run game and provided an additional body to swarm to the football. Though recently he has had to deal with some issues off the field, this is a guy that I could see eventually making it into the Ring of Honor one day.
Next: 28. A mammoth of a man
28. Jeff Lageman
Jeff Lageman was an interesting player for the Jets, he was drafted in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft. Standing at 6’6 and weighing around 260+ I would consider that a large man, but Mel Kiper Jr. in his lead-up to the draft considered Lageman small for the defensive end position. The Jets ignored Kiper’s comments and decided to roll with him and he provided the Jets with a consistent pass rusher.
Lageman’s NFL career spanned 10 seasons, the first six with the Jets and the final four with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His best year came in 1991 when he registered 10 quarterback sacks. In his six seasons with the Jets, Lageman had 34.5 sacks. I’m proud to say he proved the doubters wrong, by the end of his career he totaled 47 sacks in the NFL.
After retiring after a torn muscle in his arm, he transitioned from the field to the broadcast booth where he currently resides with Jaguars coverage. And in my research I discovered that not only does he do that, but he also makes these instructional videos for the fans to get a deeper understanding of positional units and what coaches ask of NFL players from across the league.
Next: 27. The big guy
27. Kris Jenkins
Kris Jenkins, one of the best defensive tackles in his prime, played at an elite level throughout his career. Jenkins started his NFL journey by being drafted in the second round by the Carolina Panthers. Jenkins had tremendous success with the Panthers helping them reach the Super Bowl as he went to the Pro Bowl four times, and was a three time All-Pro. But after dealing with an array of injuries the Panthers decided to part ways with the versatile defensive linemen sending him to the Jets for multiple draft choices.
On February 29, 2008, the Panthers traded Jenkins to the Jets. For much of his first season with the Jets, Jenkins was dominant and warranted heavy consideration for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award. On Sunday October 18, 2009, Jenkins left the game against the Buffalo Bills with a left knee injury. To the Jets dismay, his injury history continued and they soon discovered Jenkins had suffered a torn ACL and would be done for the season. The following year his leg got twisted again in the first game of the season, another torn ACL.
Although Jenkins Jets career was marred by injuries and he never fully reached his potential, he was a charismatic figure on the sidelines and a really personable guy. He was the class clown of the locker room and always kept everyone at ease. Jenkins now is retired and enjoying the newfound time with his loved ones and as you saw in the video above, he didn’t have the easiest upbringing. He is more deserving of enjoying his retirement than anyone and will forever be remembered in Jets lore.
Next: 26. A former DROY
26. Erik McMillan
Originally drafted by the Jets in the third round of the 1988 NFL Draft, Erik McMillan was an undersized safety who was relatively dismissed by NFL draft analysts heading in. McMillan quickly showed his versatility and worth to the Jets organization. In his rookie season, McMillan hauled in eight interceptions, two of which went back to the house. Which collaboratively led to McMillan receiving the patented Defensive Rookie of the Year award by the Associated Press.
McMillan would never again reach the same plateau of success that he had during his rookie season with the Jets. Every season after he saw his interceptions totals annually decrease, but what McMillan did do when he wasn’t intercepting passes was continue to score touchdowns. In his second season with the team, McMillan scored on three different occasions: one pick-six and two scoop and scores. By the end of his career he had collected seven touchdowns.
After his five seasons with the Jets, McMillan attempted to revive his career in 1993 with stints in Kansas City, Philadelphia and Cleveland. But after soon realizing he couldn’t stick anywhere, McMillan decided to hang up the cleats and retire. In the NFL, the average career spans three to four years, McMillan should be very proud of his career with the Jets and enjoy all the benefits that came with it.
Next: 25. The defender Bill Parcells took a chance on
25. Jason Ferguson
Something that is becoming an even bigger issue today is players and drugs, which played a major part in Jason Ferguson falling to the seventh round of the 1997 NFL Draft. The Jets were the only club to invite him for a visit before the draft, because most teams apparently were thrown off after he tested positive for marijuana at the pre-draft combine, reportedly being the only player to do so.
Bill Parcells took a chance, reluctantly at first, but he did so nonetheless. Ferguson after a stint with steroids, finally cleaned his act up and started producing on the field. Ferguson played 13 seasons in the NFL, after playing out his contract with the Jets he was a coveted free agent in 2005 and followed Parcells to the Dallas Cowboys, as well as following Parcells to the Miami Dolphins to finish off his career.
Ferguson was able to collected 21.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and attain nearly 500 tackles throughout his career. He spent the majority of his career with the Jets and was a top-five defensive tackle in team history. Ferguson was a guy who constantly proved doubters wrong: through the drug issues, through the injury concerns and through the draft experts who overlooked his potential.
Next: 24. A defender in pursuit of a championship
24. Larry Grantham
Some of the younger Jets fans may not recognize the name of this player but Larry Grantham was a vital cog in the Jets winning their first and only Lombardi trophy back in 1969. He was drafted by the then New York Titans in the 1960 college draft and helped form the backbone of the Jets defense that reached the playoffs in 1968 and 1969. Grantham helped transform the start-up Titans from a pretender to a world champion.
Unfortunately back in the day, statistics weren’t recorded with the accuracy that we see today in the NFL, but rest assured from his outside linebacker spot, Grantham made opposing offenses jobs a lot harder on game-day. He was one of the leading tacklers for gang green and was named to multiple all-star teams throughout his career. His official/unofficial stat line provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com was:
He recorded over 20+ interceptions, over 400+ tackles and 10 fumble recoveries in his career
After his playing career he’s dealt with a myriad of issues revolving around alcohol abuse and cancer. The medical financials got so bad that Grantham had to put his Super Bowl III championship ring up for auction to help pay for the bills. He never wanted too, but he had little choice. Fortunately in a feel-good story all of the charities that Grantham had donated to and helped raised money happened to hear about this and got involved and got him his ring back and helped him pay for some of his medical expenses. To read more about this story here is the link: Ex-New York Jets LB Larry Grantham will get to keep Super Bowl III ring by Jenny Vrentas.
Next: 23. An ageless wonder
23. Calvin Pace
Calvin Pace becomes the first active Jet to make this list and the above hit on Eli Manning in the preseason is one of the great highlights of Pace’s career. Though perhaps his greatest play was in the 2010 playoffs against the New England Patriots in the playoffs when he strip-sacked Tom Brady and it made the front-page of Sports Illustrated. Pace has been the ageless wonder for this Jets team since being brought in during the Eric Mangini regime that infamously went on a shopping spree that got this Jets roster Super Bowl ready.
The Jets opened the checkbook in 2008 luring Pace from the Arizona Cardinals on a six-year $42 million dollar deal to add another dynamic piece to this vaunted Jets defense. Pace enjoyed a lot of success and still does with this Jets organization. Pace has amassed over 50+ sacks, 450 tackles+ and even a handful of interceptions and fumble recoveries. Pace has lasted through the Mangini era, Rex Ryan era and now the latest regime in the Todd Bowles era.
Pace continues to defy all odds and father time with his great play and what speaks to that perhaps more than anything was his 2013 season. This was the first time in Pace’s NFL career in which he reached the double-digit sack mark. He reached his career high in his 11th season at the ripe age of 33 years old. Perhaps with a few more good years, Pace can continue to rise on this all-time list before everything is said and done.
Next: 22. A keen defender during a championship season
22. Gerry Philbin
There’s not enough good things you can say about Gerry Philbin, he’s one of the greatest players that ever donned a Jets uniform who will never get to fully realize his impact, because of the ‘sack’ statistic that was never recorded back in the day and wasn’t official until 1982. A lot of these older Jets would be or even should be higher if we truly knew their statistical impact, what we did know is his physical impact on the field which was tremendous.
Philbin was drafted by the Jets of the American Football League in the third round of the 1964 draft, he joined the Jets and became an immediate starter and perennial All-AFL selection at defensive end. He played nine seasons for the Jets. Though according to some metrics, Philbin recorded an astonishing 14 1/2 sacks during the Jets infamous Super Bowl run in which they claimed their first and only Lombardi to date.
He was slightly undersized for the position, but made up for it with an unstoppable motor and with a ferocious bull-rush pass rushing move. Philbin is a member of the All-time American Football League Team. Among other accolades he accumulated during his stellar career include: two-time All-AFL selection, first-team All-WFL selections and of course the AFL championship and a Super Bowl championship after defeating the Baltimore Colts 16-7.
Next: 21. The only Hall of Famer on the list
Aug 8, 2015; Canton, OH, USA; Ronnie Lott during the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
21. Ronnie Lott
Okay I know I’m going to have to answer a lot of questions for this: He didn’t play with the Jets that long? Why if he’s on the list is he only at 21? First off yes he only played with the Jets from 1993-1994, but that is exactly why I only have him at 21. He’s the Jets only defensive Pro Football Hall of Famer in Canton.
This guy was the idol of many growing up in the 80’s-90’s, he defined the era of toughness. So much so that he had a finger amputated and continued to play the game of football, if that doesn’t define toughness I don’t know what does. Lott came into the league as a cornerback, in his rookie season he notched seven interceptions and helped the 49ers win a Super Bowl. The very next season he had to make the difficult transition from cornerback to safety.
He only had 10 interceptions and that is including the two games he missed at the end of the season. During his time with the Jets he continued to prove why he was one of the most feared tacklers in the game and continued his interception ways in the city that never sleeps. He’s one of the greatest defenders in NFL history let alone Jets history, just for that fact alone he deserves a spot on this list.
Next: 20. A inspirational defender
20. Dennis Byrd
Dennis Byrd’s career was cut short due to a career ending spinal injury. Byrd was a rising star in the league, in his rookie campaign he notched seven sacks, in his second season he jumped to 13 sacks and appeared headed for stardom. Another great Jets defensive linemen that could bring them back to the promise land.
Then everything changed, the collision happened stripping Byrd of his NFL opportunity and threatening to strip his ability to ever walk again. But three months after he was able to walk into a Jets press conference, he ended up being a very inspirational story. Then he decided to return the last memory of that fateful day by returning his original jersey that had to be severed off.
As the video recounts the tale, that occurred during the Jets 2010 playoff run in which they were set to play the 14-2 New England Patriots. The same team that mere weeks ago embarrassed the Jets on that same field. Inspired by this act from Byrd the Jets played in personally my favorite Jets memory of all-time which resulted in a 28-21 victory and led the Jets to their 2nd straight AFC Championship game.
Next: 19. His defensive possibilities were endless
19. Jonathan Vilma
Jonathan Vilma was a monster for the Jets, heck his Fat-Head, is still hanging up in my room from his time with the Jets. Vilma was a first round draft choice out of the University of Miami as the 12th overall selection. In 2004, Vilma was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. During his rookie campaign, he recorded 107 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions, including one which was returned for his first NFL touchdown.
He continued his success in his second NFL season resulting in a pro-bowl berth by leading the NFL in tackles with 169, four forced fumbles, notched one fumble recovery, half a sack and one interception. But after a serious knee injury, he was thrown on IR and became expendable under Mangini’s scheme. Then the Jets brass decided to trade their perennial all-star with David Harris waiting in the wings. But with that being said, Jets fans will always wonder what could’ve been.
Especially looking at his success that he had with the New Orleans Saints which included two Pro Bowls, multiple appearances in the Top 100 series on NFL Network and of course a Super Bowl championship. Vilma has since retired from the game of football and has moved onto the next stage of his life in sports broadcasting for NBC Universal. The only real blemish in his career will be ‘The Bounty Gate Scandal’ in which multiple Saints were suspended, fined and cut.
Next: 18. A broadcaster and keen defender
18. Greg Buttle
Not only is Greg Buttle a part of the 2003 All-Time Four Decade team for the Jets or a former All-American, but he is quite literally the voice of the Jets in many respects. Unlike some other former Jet greats, he still stays very much in touch with the team, especially since his occupation is engulfed in it. From his on-air talent and play-by-play for Jets preseason games, he also hosts Jets Gameday on the Jets Radio Network.
Buttle was selected in the third round, 67th overall in the 1976 NFL Draft by the Jets for whom he played nine seasons from 1976 to 1984. He wasn’t as adept at getting after the passer as the Jets would have liked, but he more than made up for it with his prowess for intercepting the football. Over the course of his career with the Jets, he was able to snatch 15 passes.
Buttle had two key interceptions in the Jets’ 1981 playoff game against Buffalo which helped fuel a big comeback effort (which ultimately fell short) in the franchise’s first playoff game since the 1969 season. Still, the Jets seem to be a snake-bitten franchise of sorts ever since, rumor has it ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath sold his soul to the devil for the Jets lone Lombardi trophy. The Jets haven’t made it back since, though they’ve gotten close a handful of times in a number of AFC Championship games.
Next: 17. A true defensive great
Dec 14, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; New York Jets logo prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. Mandatory Credit:
-USA TODAY Sports
17. Kyle Clifton
Another member of the Jets All-Time Four Decade team, Kyle Clifton was a linebacker who played 13 seasons in the NFL for the Jets. His most prominent statistic from his career came in 1988 when he led the NFL in tackles with 199. Even to this day, that is one of the craziest statistics I’ve ever seen. What’s amazing is that we’re seeing records fall week by week and season by season in the NFL.
According to Pro Football Reference, that is still the NFL record for tackles in a single season. That means that Clifton averaged an insane 12+ tackles per game. His career total is 1,484 tackles, though after that incredible 1988 season he saw his tackles decrease each season (excluding 1993) for the rest of his career. We’ve seen a few players get close to his 199 number over the last several years by the likes of Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis to name a few.
To say he is in quite an elite class would be under-selling it. Lewis is an inevitable Hall of Famer and Willis would’ve been if his career wasn’t sidelined by injuries. Clifton is of a dying breed in terms of getting the opportunity to play for one team his entire career. Even if we took a poll of who the most popular player is in Jets history, most would say Namath and even the great one played for a different franchise, so for the players that get the opportunity to play with the same team their entire career, it’s a cherish memory.
Next: 16. An under appreciated defender
Jan 29, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of Super Bowl III championship ring to commemorate the New York Jets 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts on Jan 12, 1969 on display at the NFL Experience at the Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sport
16. Bill Baird
How many times in this list have we mentioned that infamous Super Bowl that resulted in a championship? How many more times will I reference it? Well I’m not sure, but this guy I’m sure 99% of modern day fans have no idea who he is yet, but without him the Jets might not have won the big game. Baird is the career interception leader for the Jets at 34 interceptions.
Baird played professionally in the American Football League for the Jets from 1963 to 1969. He and a few other Jet greats like: Jim Hudson, Randy Beverly and Johnny Sample completely shut down the Baltimore Colts’ passing game in Super Bowl III, helping the Jets defeat what was thought of as impossible, toppling the Colts to set up an AFL-NFL merger.
Without the Jets winning that game who knows what the NFL would be like today. Some would argue this is a bit low on the list considering his statistical achievements over his career. But I think with his minimalized amount of time with the Jets hurt him on my list and the impact of other players, though Baird would later return to the Jets and serve as defensive backs coach from 1981-1984. Baird also is tied for fourth on the Jets season total interception list with eight picks.
Next: 15. A future Hall of Fame defender
15. Ty Law
This guy was ‘2-4’ before the great Darrelle Revis. Sure he only played two seasons (one and a half really) with the Jets, but so what. It’s the same thing as Ronnie Lott from earlier, his impact goes beyond time spent here. He had his best season as a pro with the Jets back in 2005 when he grabbed 10 interceptions. Yes you read that right, 10 picks in one season, his best mark ever and is tied for third all time with the Jets in single-season history.
Technically over the course of his career he had more interceptions than Baird, but he only had 10 of his 53 interceptions with the Jets, the rest were split between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs and a small stint in Denver. He’s clearly had a Hall of Fame career and will be inducted one day in the near future.
Again, his placement on the list is based on statistics, time played, my subjective feelings and emotion towards Law and some other mathematical and scientific formulas that are never wrong. With that being said, Law was a five-time pro bowler, a three-time Super Bowl champion with the Patriots and a multiple time All-Pro that will go down as one of the top cornerbacks who ever graced an NFL football field.
Next: 14. An original Titan
Dec 14, 2014; Nashville, TN, USA; New York Jets logo prior to the game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
14. Dainard Paulson
Who? Yes that answer is understandable, I continue to dig into the depths of team history to pull the most provocative names possible who garner attention. I had to dust this one off though, Dainard Paulson played for the then New York Titans (1961-1962) and when the team became the Jets he spent another four seasons there (1963-1966). Paulson is one of the originals and deserves his fair share of credit.
You’re not going to hear this statistic often in this list but Paulson was a two-time former AFL all-star in the 1964 and 1965 season in which he had an unbelievable run for the ages. In those two seasons, Paulson combined for 19 of his career 29 interceptions. Hauling in 12 interceptions in 1964, good for first all-time in team history in terms of a single season.
That is truly one of the Jets records we may never see toppled and that’s coming one slide off of Ty Law who got 10 nearly a decade ago. Again, we have to keep this all in perspective, this was at a time in which there were only 14 games in the league. Ty Law got 10 interceptions in 16 games and Paulson broke that in two less games, it’s incredulous to think that is even possible.
Next: 13. One tough as nails safety
Nov 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A NFL football with the Armed Services logo during the NFL game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Steelers 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
13. James Hasty
Might as well keep the love going for the great Jets cornerbacks and safeties over the years and now the train has stopped at James Hasty’s driveway. Hasty is a former cornerback who played in the NFL for the Jets, Chiefs and the Raiders from 1988 to 2001. I’ve talked about consistency a few times on this list and I’m sure it’ll be a recurring theme, but Hasty’s ability to cause turnovers can’t be understated.
He had an amazing ability to track the ball in the air, so much so that in every season except two (and his last season in the NFL he only played one game) he intercepted at least two passes every season. Just hear these stats: he intercepted two passes three times, he intercepted three passes in three times, and he intercepted four+ passes in six seasons including a phenomenal season in which he intercepted seven passes in one season.
Hasty has won at every level of his career from his playing days to his transition as a coach off the field. From 2001 to 2004, Hasty was an assistant football coach for Bellevue High School who won four straight State Championships in the state of Washington. He is currently the head coach at his own Franklin High School in Seattle, WA. Hasty still contributes with coverage in college football on ESPN.
Next: 12. A true interception machine
Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A Tennessee Titans football on the field before the game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
12. Lee Riley
Lee Riley didn’t start his career with the Jets and actually technically never played for the Jets as he played his last two seasons with the Titans back in the early 1960’s, but that is where Riley found his greatest success. Actually to be quite frank, it’s unheard of to have your best statistical season as literally your last season before you retire. I think this is the first time I’ve ever witnessed it.
But yes, in Riley’s final season in the AFL, he notched 11 interceptions, the most in his career. Combined between the AFL and the NFL, Riley had accumulated 23 interceptions over seven seasons. His 11 interceptions still ranks amongst the best seasons in team history. Currently, Riley places second on the list in terms of single season success. Back in the AFL/NFL days though, you had to be versatile.
Mainly because in those days there weren’t 53 man rosters, half the time you’d be lucky to have a team half that size. Which meant that you’d have to learn a few positions and that’s exactly what Riley had to do. He played all of the secondary positions in cornerback, safety and even played some linebacker during his days with the NFL (pre-merger).
Next: 11. One incredible linebacker
11. Marvin ‘Shade’ Jones
Marvin Jones was drafted in the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft out of Florida State University by the Jets and he played his entire 11 year pro career for the team. As the fourth overall pick, a lot of high expectations were thrust upon Jones and he answered the bell for this team. Jones was the ultimate catalyst during the 90’s and early 2000’s, he could do it all literally his nickname should’ve been ‘jack of all trades’ or go-go gadget.
And even beyond that, Jones set the bar for consistency in his professional career. From 1995-2003, Jones had at least 90 tackles in every season, including a career high in 2001 when he collected 135 tackles. In eleven seasons, Jones played in 142 NFL regular season games, started 129 of them and compiled 1,021 tackles, nine sacks, five interceptions for 42 yards, 31 pass deflections, ten forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.
Jones worked his way into a full rotation in the 1997 season and never looked back, reaching his peak in the 2000 season becoming a first-team All-Pro for the first and only time during his career. Jones got the nickname ‘Shade Tree’ later shortened to just ‘Shade’ after his teammates found him sleeping under one after practice. The Jets have had their fair share of great linebackers and it started with Jones.
Next: 10. A defender with even more room to grow
Dec 29, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) at the line of scrimmage against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
10. David ‘Hitman’ Harris
David Harris is one of the few current players on this list and like I said at the beginning, I assume that older fans may be upset or perhaps modern fans will too. But I think his resume speaks for itself, Harris has played his entire career with the Jets, but there was a time when the team thought he was going to be gone. Fortunately the Jets, they were able to re-sign their leader and head coach Todd Bowles shared his thoughts on how important Harris is to the defense provided by the Media Relations Department of the team:
On how he believes Davis Harris has played this season…
I don’t think we could function on defense if David wasn’t playing right now. David’s probably the most underrated guy over there, but he’s the glue that keeps everybody together over there. He does everything. Not only just mentally, he makes plays. He makes a ton of plays. They’re probably not flashy, like you see Mo (Muhammad Wilkerson) and you see (Darrelle) Revis and the rest of those guys. But, David keeps that core intact. David understand the game. He’s our coach on the field. Without him, I don’t know where we’d be.
This analysis is a microcosm of Harris’ career. He’s been underrated his entire career, does all the dirty work, doesn’t necessarily make all the big plays that Revis or Wilkerson make, but he’s effective and he really is the glue of this defense and has been ever since coming in through one of the most important draft classes in team history, 2007. It was then that saw the Jets also bring in Darrelle Revis in the first round.
Harris was handed the reigns from Vilma and has run with it and been the defensive leader for the Jets ever since. He just recently got over the 1,000 yard tackle barrier and is amongst the leaders in team history in a number of categories. Harris can get after opposing quarterbacks, intercept passes, force fumbles and whatever the Jets have needed him to do. By the time Harris hangs up his cleats, he could make his way all the way into the top-10 of this list as he is without a doubt an ascending talent.
Next: 9. A linebacker with incredible tenacity
9. Mo Lewis
Now, a lot of Jets fans feel differently about Mo Lewis, obviously the reason why is because of the video above. No matter how great Lewis’ career was going to be, he would have and always will be remembered for the hit he made on Drew Bledsoe that kicked off the legacy of Tom Brady that has haunted the Jets for over a decade. But Jets fans and analysts shouldn’t hold this against him, because he went on to have a marvelous career with the green and white.
Lewis played 200 games as a Jet, the third longest tenure in franchise history and was one of the most charismatic leaders in Jets history, clearly a fan favorite. He was also a three-time Pro Bowler (1998, 1999, 2000) and was the Jets’ defensive captain from 1997 to 2003 as he was also named to the NFL All-Pro team after the 1998 season. Lewis shouldn’t be remembered for a hit on a quarterback, he should be remembered for a tenacious attitude, a competitive spirit and a beloved passion for all things Gang Green.
Lewis retired after the 2003 season with 1,231 tackles (883 solo), 52.5 sacks, 14 interceptions for 241 yards, 79 pass deflections, 29 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries for 74 yards and five defensive touchdowns in 200 career games. Lewis, along with former Jets teammate Marvin Jones, signed a one-day contract to retire ‘officially’ with the Jets on June 27, 2005.
Next: 8. One tough member of the NYSE
Nov 9, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; A end zone pylon with the NFL Armed Services week logo during the NFL game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
8. Abdul Salaam
The artist formerly known as Larry Faulk, changing his name to Abdul Salaam which means ‘servant of peace’ was and still is in most respects the least talked about member of the “New York Sack Exchange.” He’s the captain of the ship of players who are underrated and don’t get enough credit. Another thing Salaam doesn’t get credit for is his athleticism, which was on display throughout his high school career.
Salaam, a three-sport athlete at Woodward High School in Cincinnati, Ohio was a dominating defensive stalwart. Though by himself he was incapable as soon as the Jets got more help on their defensive line they became the stuff of legends. In November 1981, Salaam, Gastineau, Klecko and Lyons were invited to ring the ceremonial opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange that served as the inspiration for their nickname.
Gastineau and Klecko collected the huge sack numbers while Salaam and Lyons were more of the run stuffers. The only game Salaam appeared in for the Jets in 1983 was the final game of the season, a 34-14 loss to the Dolphins in Miami that brought the Jets’ record to 7-9. Following that season, he was traded with Kenny Neil to the San Diego Chargers for a 1984 NFL Draft second-round pick, but neither player ever made an appearance with his new team.
Next: 7. One incredible cornerback
7. Aaron Glenn
Aaron Glenn should be higher on this list, there is no question. Glenn’s statistics speak for themselves, since being drafted in the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft by the Jets, all Glenn did was make plays. All and all, Glenn grabbed 41 interceptions during his 15-year career that spanned five different franchises, but Glenn was with no team longer than with his eight seasons with the Jets.
And that’s where we run into some trouble when looking back on Glenn’s tenure with the team, after spending eight seasons with the Jets, they did the relatively unthinkable. They sacrificed Glenn to the 2002 expansion draft in which the Houston Texans acquired his rights and his contract thereof. Glenn apparently held a very strong grudge against the Jets so much so that even though he only spent a minuscule amount of his career with the Texans, he essentially despised the Jets franchise.
When Glenn decided enough was enough, he signed a one-day contract to retire, not with the Jets, but with the Texans. A team he spent three seasons with, Jets fans and the Jets brass were understandably upset and still hold some feelings about his decision. It’s unfortunate for both sides, especially considering the magnitude of Glenn’s career and his impact on the Jets. Glenn and the Jets seem to be slowly working on this volatile relationship, but it’s going to take a while. Regardless, he was an incredible cornerback and turned the Jets into a competitor during his time with the team.
Next: 6. An integral part of the NYSE
6. Marty Lyons
Another member of the infamous “New York Sack Exchange,” Marty Lyons was drafted by the Jets in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft. The following round, the Jets selected East Central Oklahoma State defensive end Mark Gastineau. Completing the creation of what would become one of the most dominant fronts in NFL history. Lyons typically doesn’t get the credit he deserves and I’ve never understood why.
During Lyons career with the Jets, he was an integral part and tallied 29 sacks with eight forced fumbles. But Lyons off the field contributions almost speak louder than his on the field ones and that just speaks to his commitment. The birth of his eldest son, the passing of his father, and the passing of a little boy to whom Lyons had been a Big Brother to, inspired him to establish the Marty Lyons Foundation to work with terminally ill children, providing them wishes.
Lyons is currently the radio analyst of the Jets and chairman of the Marty Lyons Foundation while also being a member of the College Football Hall of Fame (2011).There was some serious consideration for putting Lyons higher on the list, but a combination of his stats and the star power of the rest of the history of the Jets left his ceiling at six for me personally.
Next: 5. The original Big Cat
5. Shaun Ellis
One of the classiest players to ever don a Jets uniform, Shaun Ellis cracks my top-five. So why is he in this spot for the all-time defenders list of the Jets? Because sometimes it’s more than just stats, though with that being said, Ellis certainly put up his fair share of numbers. Over the course of his 12-year career, Ellis collected over 70+ sacks, 13 forced fumbles and his lone touchdown. He quickly earned the respect of his teammates with his savvy leadership, maturity, and his level-headedness.
Ellis was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Jets and only reached the double-digit sack mark twice, though his prowess was dedicated towards stopping the run game. Ellis consistently dominated in the trenches for the Jets and was selfless in his quest for stats so that he could open lanes for the Jets linebackers. Another thing that is underrated for defensive linemen is their durability and Ellis was as durable as they come.
He started and played in 184 career games out of 192 during his tenure. Though how many Jets on this list played for the Patriots at one time or another, again another blemish on their Gang Green career. But again, the shining light is that Ellis was able to play in a Super Bowl with the Patriots. Nicknamed “Big Cat” by his teammates, he was always involved in making key plays in games to turn the tides into the favor of the Jets.
Next: 4. A future Hall of Fame defensive end
4. John Abraham
Talk about one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, John Abraham was ferocious for the Jets after being taken out of the first round from USC. Though his rookie season was cut short by injury, he quickly showed the Jets that they made the correct move. The following year, he made good on that potential with his first double-digit sack season of his career.
Although his time with the Jets was altered due to his injury history, he still holds high regard for me for not only his time with the Jets, but taking his entire career into perspective. He is currently retired after 15 seasons in the NFL from the Jets, to the Falcons, to finishing off his career with the Arizona Cardinals. In his Hall of Fame bound career, he accumulated over 130+ sacks, five Pro Bowls and 46 forced fumbles.
Half of his career he had double digit sacks and two of those ‘other’ seasons he was half a sack short. Just imagine what he could have done if you could take away the injuries as this guy is already one of the top sack artists of all-time and he had the potential to be perhaps the best pass-rusher of all-time.
Next: 3. A defensive character in his own right
3. Mark Gastineau
One of the more controversial figures in sporting history, let alone Jets history, Mark Gastineau did it all. From what I’ve gathered from Jets fans, analysts and historians of the game, despite Gastineau’s extracurricular activities with post-sacks and even off the field, he was still a dominating force in an era of great football during the late 70’s to the late 80’s. Perhaps the face of the franchise for the infamous New York Sack Exchange, he set the tone for those around him.
A five-time Pro Bowler, his 107.5 quarterback sacks in only his first 100 starts in the NFL made him one of the quickest and most feared pass rushers of his generation. In an era that featured some of the top pass rushers in NFL history, Gastineau set the standard for generations to come. In 1981 sacks were unofficial, but Gastineau’s 20 sacks trailed Klecko by only half a sack. Gastineau had his best individual season with an NFL record 22 sacks (leading the NFL for the second year in a row) back in 1984.
His honors and recognition are endless: former defensive player of the year (1983), he’s in the Jets Ring of Honor, on the Jets All-Time Four Decade Team, holds an NFL record four sacks in a Pro Bowl and to reiterate, Gastineau led the league in sacks in back-to-back seasons and is the all-time sack leader for the franchise. Also to keep this in perspective, Gastineau led the AFC in sacks seven weeks into the 1988 season, before abruptly announcing his retirement due to a family situation. At the time of his retirement, Gastineau was the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks.
Next: 2. This defender will eventually get into Hall of Fame
2. Joe Klecko
Joe Klecko was drafted by the Jets in the sixth round of the 1977 NFL Draft. Despite eight sacks by Klecko, his team went only 3-11 his first season. But after the Jets acquired the missing pieces on the Jets’ defensive line, they formed one of the top units in the NFL, forever known as the “New York Sack Exchange.” The four combined for 66 sacks in 1981, including a league-leading 20.5 by Klecko, to lead the Jets to their first playoff game since 1969. Klecko was honored with his first All-Pro selection.
Klecko moved from defensive end to defensive tackle in 1983 and was named to the Pro Bowl at his new position in 1983 and 1984. The Jets switched to a 3-4 alignment in 1985, forcing Klecko to learn a new position, nose tackle. He led the Jets with 96 tackles and five forced fumbles and tied for second with 7.5 sacks to earn his second All-Pro selection, and become the second player, after Frank Gifford, in professional football history to be selected to the Pro Bowl at three different positions.
While Klecko has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame several times, he has not yet been enshrined. Leading to a wide array of speculation and controversy. Numerous Hall of Famers have come out and made their case for Klecko, yet Jets fans will have to continue to patiently wait. Klecko is also a member of the Jets Ring of Honor and his #73 jersey has since been retired.
Next: 1. The all-time greatest defender of the Jets
Dec 13, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets corner back Darrelle Revis (24) stretches before a game against the Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
1. Darrelle Revis
This was a hard decision and really it was 1A and 1B between Revis and Klecko, but ultimately I went with Revis. Revis is a multi-time Pro Bowler (seven times), a four-time First Team All-Pro, but what hit Jets fans harder than anything before was seeing Revis go to the dark side. Perhaps Revis’ biggest accomplishment, finally winning a Lombardi trophy though not with the team he wanted too. Revis’ biggest blemish, at least in the minds of Jets fan everywhere, was his venture with the Patriots.
But looking past that little factoid, Revis has clearly been the best defender in team history. Since his return to the Jets in 2015, he’s been having a career year which only adds to his overall statistics. So far he has amassed 27 interceptions, over 400+ tackles, and over 120+ pass deflections. Revis has arguably been the best cover corner in the game since Deion Sanders hung up his cleats. And he still has a lot of good football left in him at the ripe age of 30 years old.
Already surging to number one on this list, he has the potential to be not only the greatest defender in Jets history, but the greatest player too, bar none. Including even the great Namath, he has that potential. “Revis Island” shouldn’t be remembered for his contract holdouts or his vacation trips to Tampa or New England, but he should be remembered for his ability to shut down opposing teams’ number one wide receivers on a consistent basis throughout the years in green and white.