With the NY Jets’ season approaching, we look at three defensive players that will rise to the occasion.
While ranking No. 2 in run defense, defending the pass was lackluster (ranking 18th in DVOA) once again for a team that looked to improve their outside cornerbacks in free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.
It’s imperative that the team doesn’t strictly praise themselves on ranking in the top-10 defensively across the league. These numbers stand to be a bit deceiving when aiming to improve individual units across a defense led by coordinator Gregg Williams.
With safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye holding down the back end, the focus has shifted to relieving some pressure on them by upgrading on the outside.
Bringing in former Indianapolis Colts’ cornerbacks Pierre Desir will surely provide better security to the No. 1 corner spot than we’ve seen in years past.
With Blessuan Austin and Arthur Maulet likely battling it out for the No. 2 spot — alongside maybe Quincy Wilson and Bryce Hall — that leaves vastly-improved slot corner Brian Poole to cover over the middle.
General manager Joe Douglas has made headway on revamping the cornerback position for the Jets, it’s a better group heading into Week 1 this year than it was last year. That’s big. Jets fans don’t want another episode of the Trumaine Johnson/Darryl Roberts show.
The defensive line should be improved, too. With that group building chemistry through all of 2019, they’ll be sure to develop some continuity in 2020 that will likely help that team down the stretch.
That unit won’t look much different when taking the field at Buffalo Week 1. Considering the pandemic, it was a wise move for Douglas to keep the integrity of that group intact throughout the free-agency process.
Let’s look to see which three defensive players will be key, underrated, difference-makers for the Jets in 2020.
Next: 3. Steve McLendon
3. Steve McLendon, DT, NY Jets
Interestingly enough, Steve McLendon has now been with the team for what will be coming up on five years (!) counting down to the 2020 season.
The longevity for a player of his stature, and the position he plays, is undoubtedly impressive. McLendon has been a relentless workhorse stationed on the defensive line ever since joining the team back in 2016.
At the age of 34, McLendon signed his third contract with the Jets, second one-year deal, back in October of 2019. This makes him one of the longest-tenured Jets on the team today.
Ever since being signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh, McLendon has been a persistent leader who players have looked up to day-in and day-out.
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McLendon’s energy and emotion on gamedays go unmatched, his effort on the field encourages his fellow teammates to compete with his intensity no matter how late in the game.
McLendon has been underrated for the majority of his career, his powerful run-stuffs and power moves usually lead to other defenders getting the credit that he deserves.
Although the statistical category may not be crammed with impressive numbers, McLendon’s silent work ethic and charisma have definitely rubbed off on teammates.
Those teammates have spoken wonders on McLendon’s behalf about how he’s been able to handle adversity when times are tough on the field and in the win category.
It’s easy to see why McLendon has made this list, and why he will continue to prove to not only Jets fans, but fans around the NFL, that he is a difference-maker.
Next: 2. Avery Williamson
2. Avery Williamson, LB, NY Jets
This is a player, in Avery Williamson‘s case, who has been forgotten by many fans after a knucklehead decision to keep him in the second preseason game of 2019 for a quarter too long.
If fans do remember correctly, Williamson was an above-average run-defending middle linebacker who occasionally got his hands dirty when preserving the pass.
At age 28, Williamson is going into the final year of his three-year deal in which he signed with the Jets back in March of 2018.
After the unfortunate event of tearing his ACL in Week 2 of the preseason against the Atlanta Falcons in 2019, Williamson quickly turned into a fan favorite by posting comical sketches on his social media’s wearing his Jets uniform performing hilarious everyday acts.
While on the field in 2018, Williamson was able to put together an admirable season in which he led the Jets in tackles.
If Williamson is able to shift himself back into the lineup and get anywhere close to his 2018 form for the 2020 Jets, it can prove beneficial to not only him, but the defense as a whole.
Next: 1. Brian Poole
1. Brian Poole, CB, NY Jets
The Jets were able to re-sign Brian Poole to a very manageable one-year, $5 million deal after exceeding expectations in 2019.
Poole was able to stick out from the pack this past season and earn another contract in which he seems to be betting on himself for the foreseeable future.
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Poole’s confident play has him thinking that he can take it to another level in 2020 to earn yet another rewarding payday.
With the Jets’ passing defense struggling throughout the majority of 2019, Poole proved that he can be that sustainable constant at slot corner the Jets haven’t had a hold of in quite some time.
The 27-year-old Poole recorded just one interception this past season against the Raiders in Week 12. Although lacking in the interception department, Poole’s 79.0 grade given by Pro Football Focus ranked top-10 at his position.
On 53 targets in 2019, Poole gave up just one touchdown — impressive for a player who was regarded as a penalty machine in Atlanta.
With the NY Jets’ cornerback situation coming around slowly, one thing’s for sure, Brian Poole is aiming to stay consistent for 2020 and beyond.