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Can Deon Simon become a reliable starter with Jets?

Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Deon Simon (93) tackles Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) after he scrambles during the 2nd quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2017; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Deon Simon (93) tackles Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) after he scrambles during the 2nd quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
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Gang Green’s defensive line is already pretty scary. Can Deon Simon rise to the occasion and make the defense of the New York Jets even stronger in 2017?

The New York Jets have themselves a good deal of potential in 2015 seventh-round pick Deon Simon. You could even say he’s the most underrated member of Todd Bowles‘ defense. Coming out of Northwestern State University, few scouts and general managers had grades on him. This is because the Southland Conference isn’t exactly notorious for breeding next-level talent. What made Simon different from other prospects is his size and an ideal fit in a 3-4 scheme.

At 6’4, 320 lbs., he’s your typical first and second down nose tackle. Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Sheldon Richardson typically play nose tackle on third down for their pass rushing ability. Simon is essentially taking on the Damon Harrison role. Jets fans everywhere are hoping he can do the same things “Snacks” did in green and white.

In 2012, Harrison was brought in as an undrafted free agent and he eventually molded into an All-Pro. Simon is being developed in a similar way. He didn’t see the field in 2015 and this past season he played 204 snaps. Under that workload, he was able to total 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

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Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 75, which ranks 47th out of the 205 interior defenders who earned a snap in 2016. He was given a run defense grade of 74.8, which ranks 36th in that same group. His pass rushing grade is unsurprisingly nothing to brag home about (58.9, 81st). Simon is nowhere near Harrison’s level, however, you have to like what you see in the second year of his career. Productive nose tackles are hard to come by in the NFL and he’s only 26.

He was without question more impressive than his teammate Steve McLendon who seems to be a cap casualty at this point. The veteran spent a portion of the season on the sideline with a hamstring injury while finishing 95th overall in that group of interior defenders (49.5). He did record 28 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble, but all of those sacks came in just two games. The Jets could try to stick it out with him, although they can save just north of $1.6M by releasing him, per Over The Cap. Given the holes throughout the roster, that option makes the most sense.

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There’s no hiding that the opportunity is there for Simon in 2017. He’s capable of handling a first and second down role, he’s cheap and he’s rapidly improving like Harrison did. A 2015 season on the sideline to a 204-snap 2016 campaign is enormous progression. The overall grade PFF gave him obviously shows that as well. A solid summer is all he needs to lock up the starting spot and we should expect that outcome. Gang Green is simply a defensive line factory.

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