Jets must rework the safety position for 2017
By Paul Newbold
The New York Jets have some major issues in their defensive secondary. It’s imperative they rework the safety position for next season.
The New York Jets secondary was abysmal last season. Opposing quarterbacks padded their stats when facing the Jets in 2016. The secondary fell apart early in 2016 and allowed opponents to rack up 243.6 yards per game average through the air. Not only were the defensive backs getting beat, but it became obvious that the Jets safety position would need to be reworked.
Safety Marcus Gilchrist came to the Jets in 2015 from the San Diego Chargers. The 5’10”, 198-pound safety signed a four-year, $22M dollar contract with the team. While his play has been adequate for the most part, critics point to his lack of production and high salary as reasons to part ways with the veteran. Gilchrist is not the rangiest of safeties and he often takes poor angles to the ball. He’s produced only three interceptions in his two years with the Jets, and the time has come for the Jets to move on.
Safety Calvin Pryor has his fans and detractors among the Jet fan base. Taken as a first rounder back in 2014, Pryor came to New York with high expectations. Then head coach Rex Ryan raved about his skills and promised great things for the future. Unfortunately for the Jets, Pryor hasn’t accomplished what many had hoped for.
His hard-hitting style has left him banged up annually for the team. Slowed by injuries he’s proven he can’t adequately deal with bigger tight ends in coverage and his tackling ability is poor. Pryor’s hard-hitting style from his college days hasn’t translated well to the NFL. Pryor is under contract for 2017 and the team has an option year on him in 2018, but they may be looking to upgrade the position. Pryor’s days in Green and White may very well be numbered.
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Beyond Gilchrist and Pryor, the Jets have two second year players in Rontez Miles and Ronald Martin on the roster. Rookie Doug Middleton also returns after spending 2016 on the Jets practice squad as well. Miles has become a fan favorite of sorts, the 6’0″, 203-pound safety has shown some promise in limited playtime. Martin has limited time on the field as well, and Middleton is an unknown commodity.
The safety group will need to be reworked and that task with fall to head coach Todd Bowles and his new secondary coach Dennard Wilson. The debate among fans currently is how they should go about it.
Many believe the Jets will be looking at either Malik Hooker out of Ohio State or Jamal Adams out of LSU in the first round of this year’s draft. Both highly touted talents and would certainly go a long way to upgrading the position. My preference would be to wait and hope to land Obi Melifonwu out of Connecticut, the 6’4″, 219-pound safety was all over the field during the Senior Bowl. For a big man, his speed and athleticism were impressive.
Prior to the draft, the Jets might also want to look at acquiring a veteran through free agency as well. Dennard Wilson came over from the Rams and may be looking to bring his former safety T.J. McDonald over with him. He’s only 26 and could offer leadership to a young group. However, the Arizona Cardinals have a free agent safety that may also interest the Jets. Tony Jefferson has developed into one of the top safeties in the league, and while he may be a bit expensive on the open market, at only 25 years of age, he’d be a huge upgrade for the team.
The position needs to be rebuilt after a horrendous year. The Jets have plenty of options available to them and the answer likely is going to come from a mixture of free agents and drafted players. An improved safety position is just the first step into rebuilding this secondary, but it’s an important one. Without good safety play, corners are exposed more often, and opposing quarterbacks do not fear going deep as much.
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Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will work together to set a priority on the position. Dennard Wilson will likely have his opinion heard as well. For me, safety needs to be one of the top priorities this offseason, without an upgrade, the defense will suffer once again.