NY Jets Post-NFL Draft State of the Roster: Defensive line

NY Jets (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images) /

The NY Jets’ defensive line remains one of the strengths of the roster going into 2020.

The NY Jets had plenty of weaknesses to address in the offseason, but the defensive line certainly wasn’t one of them. The position group has been one of the strengths of the roster for years and that continued with some fantastic play in 2019.

And the unit arguably got even better following the deadline trade of Leonard Williams. That’s a testament to the young depth that developed last season.

Some of that depth had already been cast-off as failed draft picks while others emerged from seemingly out of nowhere to become key contributors down the stretch.

Either way, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams managed to get the absolute best out of his defensive line in his first season with the Jets and the team can arguably go six deep at the position with no concerns at all.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a deeper spot on the Jets’ roster than the defensive line.

With that, let’s take a look at the state of the team’s defensive line heading into 2020.

NY Jets projected starters

  • Henry Anderson, DE
  • Steve McLendon, NT
  • Quinnen Williams, DE

More than any other position group, the defensive line will heavily rely on a rotation — so it’s probably best not to look into the projected “starters” too much.

But if we’re projected a trio of players to start in the base 3-4, it would probably be Henry Anderson and Quinnen Williams at defensive end and veteran Steve McLendon at nose tackle.

McLendon had arguably the best season of his 10-year career in 2019 earning a stellar 81.2 Pro Football Focus grade ranking him as the No. 12 interior defensive lineman in the entire NFL.

The 34-year-old is the vocal leader of the front-seven and one of the most unheralded players on the entire roster.

On the other hand, Anderson took a step back in 2019 finishing as the 100th ranked interior defensive lineman out of 118 qualifiers, per PFF. He’ll be playing for his Jets future in 2020 looking to convince the team to retain him under his current salary past this upcoming season.

Williams will look to build on a quiet rookie season that saw him finish with just 2.5 sacks and an average 67.4 PFF grade. The talent is evident, but he’ll need to show more flash and substance in 2020 to live up to his No. 3 overall draft pick expectations.

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NY Jets projected rotation members

  • Nathan Shepherd, DE
  • Folorunso Fatukasi, NT
  • Kyle Phillips, DE

The Jets have one of the deepest defensive line rotations in the NFL as evidenced by the fact that Folorunso Fatukasi, PFF’s 10th overall interior defensive lineman in the league last year, won’t even be starting in the base defense.

Nonetheless, the former sixth-round pick emerged as arguably the biggest surprise last season seeing his playing time increase throughout the year. Look for Fatukasi to prove that 2019 wasn’t a one-season fluke.

At the same time, former third-round pick Nathan Shepherd was all but written off as another disappointing Mike Maccagnan draft pick after a lackluster rookie season, but he managed to transform his image in one season.

Shepherd finished with a solid 71.3 PFF grade and now appears to be locked in as a key member of the Jets’ defensive line rotation.

Finally, undrafted free agent Kyle Phillips emerged from nowhere and became a very productive he’s piece for Gregg Williams. With the versatility to play both in a stand-up role or with his hand in the dirt, Phillips is a valuable member of the front-seven rotation.

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Fighting for a roster spot

  • Jordan Willis, DE
  • Bronson Kaufusi, DE
  • John Franklin-Myers, DE
  • Corbin Kaufusi, DE/OL
  • Domenique Davis, NT
  • Sterling Johnson, DE

It seems reasonable that the Jets will carry at least seven defensive linemen on their active roster meaning that at least one of these six players will likely make the team — perhaps even two of them.

The likes of Jordan Willis, Bronson Kaufusi, and John Franklin-Myers all spent time with the active roster last season with all but the latter seeing regular-season action.

Willis actually played quite a bit in his nine games even recording a sack on the season and earning a very solid 73.2 PFF grade. Kaufusi impressed in the preseason and was a part of the defensive line rotation through three weeks before surprisingly being released and re-signed to the practice squad.

Of the six on this list, those two likely have the best chance of sticking around.

Undrafted rookie Sterling Johnson actually received quite a large sum of guaranteed money ($60,000) meaning that the Jets likely see him as a practice squad candidate at the very least.

On the flip side, UNC Pembroke undrafted rookie Domenique Davis received just a $650 investment from the team — the lowest of all nine undrafted free agent signings — making him a major longshot to earn a roster spot.

Perhaps the most intriguing player on the list is Corbin Kaufusi — the brother of Bronson. The Jets have toyed with moving him to the offensive line and at 6-foot-9, he could be a mammoth of an offensive tackle.

However, he would obviously be incredibly raw at the position and it’s very possible he could still see some reps at defensive line.

Next. NY Jets Post-NFL Draft State of the Roster: Offensive Line

Ultimately, the Jets’ defensive line group is quite possibly one of the deepest in the NFL and it remains the true strength of their roster.