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Jets must switch to a 4-3 defense in 2019

New York Jets (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
New York Jets (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 23: Head coach Gregg Williams of the Cleveland Browns looks on during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – DECEMBER 23: Head coach Gregg Williams of the Cleveland Browns looks on during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 23, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The New York Jets have agreed to a three year deal with Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator and interim head coach of the Cleveland Browns. The signing will likely prompt a switch to an aggressive 4-3 defense.

On Wednesday, the Jets officially announced that they’ve agreed to a deal with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams is considered one of the better defensive play callers in football, getting good performances from virtually every defense he leads.

Williams will more than likely convert the Jets’ defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. He doesn’t stay in a base 4-3 very often, however. You can expect to see plenty of sub packages and different looks in Williams’ blitz-heavy defense.

Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan built the defense to run a 3-4, so this switch could come with some complications. Some players will thrive off of the scheme change, and some players will be hurt drastically. Who fits into the 4-3? Who doesn’t? Here’s an in-depth look at how each player will be affected under the new scheme.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 23: Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets celebrates a sack on Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 23: Leonard Williams #92 of the New York Jets celebrates a sack on Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 23, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Defensive Line

The defensive line is in store for the biggest revamp among the Jets’ defensive groups. Each lineman has his own way of fitting into a 3-4. This isn’t the case in a 4-3 defense.

Leonard Williams will likely slide into a defensive tackle role in the new scheme, which could play out well for him. He is quick and strong, which could cause problems for interior offensive linemen. Although he may listen to a couple of offers, moving him isn’t a priority for Mike Maccagnan.

As for the second defensive tackle, the Jets have a decision to make. They can ride with their 2018 third-round pick Nathan Shepherd or they can find a replacement in free agency or the draft. Shepherd struggled to find success in his 3-4 defensive end role, but he could benefit from the scheme change. He played as a 4-3 defensive tackle in college and performed well.

One of the most intriguing options outside of the organization is Grady Jarrett who posted six sacks and eight tackles for loss in the Falcons 4-3 scheme. He’s only 25-years-old and could earn a big paycheck if he hits the open market. Quinnen Williams, who is projected to be picked in the top five of the upcoming 2019 NFL Draft, is another excellent option as well.

Unfortunately, Henry Anderson is likely out of the equation for the Jets. He is a misfit in a 4-3 defense as he’s too slow for a defensive end role and too small for a defensive tackle role. He tied for the most sacks on the Jets last season with seven, but he simply does not fit anywhere. This is the same reason the Colts traded him and likely the reason the Jets let him walk in free agency.

With Anderson likely not returning and Williams moving into a defensive tackle role, the Jets are in desperate need of defensive ends. Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Copeland are solid 3-4 outside linebackers on the edge, but they are not big enough to play on the line as 4-3 defensive ends. Both of them could get some attention as trade bait in the offseason.

The Jets have plenty of options for acquiring defensive ends in the offseason. They can use the draft which is loaded with edge rushers. Nick Bosa, Clelin Ferrell, and Rashan Gary are the top three options to fit into the 4-3 defensive end role. Ferrell and Gary should be available at the third pick, and maybe later in the first round if the team opts to trade down.

The free agent market has quite a few options as well. Demarcus Lawrence would be a perfect fit for the Jets if he were to hit the open market, but it’s unlikely he does. Brandon Graham, Trey Flowers, and Ezekiel Ansah are all edge rushers hitting the market as well. Defensive end is a big priority for the Jets if they want to see the defensive transition go smoothly and they have a good amount of options laid out for them.

Next: Linebackers

Linebackers

Darron Lee may benefit more than anyone else from the scheme change. He’s always been an odd fit as a 3-4 linebacker because of his small frame. With the switch to a 4-3, he can begin playing sideline to sideline rather than between the offensive tackles which will bring out his elite athleticism.

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Gregg Williams even met with Lee before the 2016 draft where the Jets selected him with the 20th pick. Williams believed Lee would be a great MIKE (middle linebacker) in a 4-3 defense. This is still true and if Lee does get to play the MIKE, he could be in for a breakout season. Williams has gotten positive production out of almost every middle linebacker he’s coached as a defensive coordinator, getting good seasons out of Jonathan Vilma, James Laurinaitis, Christian Kirksey, and Joe Schobert.

Avery Williamson will likely slide into the WILL (weakside linebacker) position if Lee does indeed play the middle. His combination of speed, athleticism, and tackling makes him a decent fit. Maccagnan will likely need to add a third linebacker unless they slide Neville Hewitt to the outside. Anthony Barr and Preston Smith are two of the better options on the market.

Next: Secondary

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 11: Zay Jones #11 of the Buffalo Bills runs the ball against Morris Claiborne #21 and Trumaine Johnson #22 of the New York Jets during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 11, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – NOVEMBER 11: Zay Jones #11 of the Buffalo Bills runs the ball against Morris Claiborne #21 and Trumaine Johnson #22 of the New York Jets during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 11, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Secondary

Williams’ blitz-heavy 4-3 defense calls for corners who specialize in man coverage. Trumaine Johnson is one such player, who played for Williams in 2015 when he had his best season. Johnson put up seven interceptions and 17 pass breakups that year under Williams.

Parry Nickerson is also a good fit as a nickel corner, but he’s still raw. Nickerson struggled when Buster Skrine went down with injuries, but another offseason and a scheme change could help him drastically. With Skrine’s injury history, it’s hard to see Maccagnan bringing him back, however. Nickerson would likely become a full-time slot corner if that were the case.

Morris Claiborne is a serviceable starter in Williams’ defense, and there aren’t many better options out there. Unless the Jets want to draft a cornerback in round one, Claiborne will likely be brought back to play CB2 across from Johnson for another year.

Five potential first-round draft targets for the Jets. Next

Jamal Adams will be quite the player in Williams’ defense. Adams will feed off of Williams’ energy and play with even more fire than he already does. Williams likes to bring safeties down when his corners are capable of covering deep balls. Adams and Marcus Maye should make a fascinating tandem under Williams’ tutelage.

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