New York Jets: Three players who will benefit from a 4-3 defense
By Michael Henken
With the recent hiring of Gregg Williams as the team’s new defensive coordinator, it’s expected that the New York Jets will be switching to a 4-3 defense. A few of the unit’s marquee players may benefit greatly from such a change.
Prior to the start of the 2018-19 NFL season, the defense of the New York Jets was thought to be one of the team’s strong points. That, however, didn’t turn out to be the case, as the unit was often inconsistent and, at times, highly undisciplined.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will obviously be looking to change this and from the outside looking in, it appears as if he has the style to do so. With a wealth of experience, Williams has been considered to be one of the best defensive minds in the game. In addition, he runs an aggressive 4-3 style of defense while seeking discipline and physicality out of his players.
In recent years, the Jets have run a 3-4 style of defense under former head coach Todd Bowles. For the most part, that system was ineffective. That may change moving forward, however, as it appears as if a few key players on the Jets defense may actually benefit greatly from a switch to a 4-3.
Let’s take a look at three who stand out.
1. Trumaine Johnson, CB
Prior to the start of the 2018 NFL season, cornerback Trumaine Johnson signed a lucrative five-year $72.5 million contract with the Jets and with that, was expected to be a No. 1 shutdown cornerback for the team. That, however, didn’t turn out to be the case.
In fact, it would be fair to say that Johnson was a disappointment at best. He did indeed miss a chunk of the season with an injury, but even when he was on the field, he didn’t perform at the level that he previously had.
And towards the end of the season, he ran into issues with the coaching staff that led to him being benched for the final game of the season. Ultimately, he didn’t fit into the defensive system the Jets were running and his production reflected that immensely.
Putting Johnson into a 4-3 scheme with Williams at the helm, however, could make all the difference. After all, Johnson received his contract from the Jets due to the fact that he emerged as a top talent in six seasons with the Rams. And it’s also important to note that his best season came in 2015 when Williams served as the Rams’ defensive coordinator.
Aside from the fact that the two have a proven track record together, Johnson fits into Williams’ system. Williams puts a heavy emphasis on rushing the passer which makes it critical to have aggressive cornerbacks who perform well in press coverage.
Johnson fits the bill.
Next: Leonard Williams
2. Leonard Williams, DL
After a relatively impressive rookie season in 2015 and a strong campaign in 2016 that saw him be selected as a first-team alternate for the 2017 Pro Bowl, former first-round pick Leonard Williams hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations.
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Often being double teamed, Williams’ production has dropped immensely over the last two years under the leadership of Bowles and former defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. In fact, Williams has totaled just seven sacks over the last two seasons.
To put that into perspective, he totaled seven sacks in 2016 alone.
Towards the end of this past season, there were even rumors swirling indicating that the Jets could explore trading Williams, though those rumors have since died down a bit. And that may be a good thing, as some feel as if his production will increase in a 4-3 system.
With more personnel surrounding him on the defensive line, Williams may see less double teams. In addition, opposing offensive lines will likely have to account for more attackers given the expected focus on aggressive pass rushing. It’s also possible that the Jets add more talent on the defensive line in free agency or the NFL Draft, which would only benefit Williams as well.
Next: Darron Lee
3. Darron Lee, LB
Like Williams, linebacker Darron Lee is a former first-round pick who hasn’t exactly lived up his potential. He did, however, perform relatively well this past season, as he totaled three interceptions. He didn’t record a single sack though and ended up being suspended for the final four games of the season.
Regardless, Lee serves as one of the most athletic players on the Jets defense. He has tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed which helps in coverage and makes him more suited for a 4-3 style of defense.
In addition, Williams could likely develop Lee’s pass rushing abilities given his physical traits as well. Playing behind what’s expected to be an improved defensive front, Lee could be useful in both coverage and pass rushing under the tutelage of Williams and the implementation of a 4-3 system.
Ultimately, the criticisms against Lee have been fair, but perhaps he just wasn’t a fit for Bowles’ system. Moving forward, Williams may be able to unlock the true potential of the young linebacker.