The NY Jets will have a number of interesting position battles on defense this summer.
The NY Jets‘ defense overachieved in many ways last season. From a non-existent edge rusher group to a lackluster cornerback position, the Jets’ defense had a number of question marks entering the 2019 season.
Throw in a slew of injuries at the linebacker position and it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the unit finish bottom-five in the league when all was set and done.
But somehow, someway, the Jets found a way to not only finish with a league-average unit, but they finished top-10 in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders. The Jets had a top-10 defense in 2019 — and that’s something few saw coming.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deserves plenty of credit for how he rallied the troops despite the unit’s obvious shortcomings. And going into 2020, the Jets didn’t rest on their laurels either.
General manager Joe Douglas brought in some additional depth at positions of need. And where there’s additional depth, there is additional competition.
The Jets enter training camp with a few pretty important roster battles on both sides of the ball. And after taking a look at three offensive players on the bubble, we’ll be analyzing the defense today.
Let’s take a look at three defensive players fighting for a roster spot in training camp.
Next: 3. John Franklin-Myers
3. John Franklin-Myers, DE, NY Jets
John Franklin-Myers isn’t a name that many Jets fans will be familiar with. After all, the former fourth-round pick hasn’t played a game with the team and missed all of last season with an injury.
However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him sneak his way on to the final 53-man roster.
Franklin-Myers was a fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams back in 2018. He would go on to play all 16 games in his rookie season being used in a rotational role as both an edge defender and interior pass-rusher.
In total, Franklin-Myers registered two sacks in his rookie season and tacked on another in the postseason including a strip-sack of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.
But facing increased competition in a stacked Rams front-seven, Franklin-Myers was released ahead of the 2019 season before the Jets quickly scooped him up off waivers.
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Unfortunately, a foot injury kept him out of action in 2019 as he spent the majority of the year on the injured reserve. But Joe Douglas clearly saw something in the former Stephen F. Austin standout and he figures to compete for a depth defensive line spot in 2020.
Somewhere between Kyle Phillips and Henry Anderson from a physical standpoint, Franklin-Myers stands at 6-foot-4, 288 pounds. The 23-year-old was an effective run-stopper in college and has also flashed a pretty impressive bull-rush move as well.
If the Jets carry eight defensive linemen (including Phillips and Jabari Zuniga), Franklin-Myers has a good chance at sticking around. At the very least, a practice squad spot shouldn’t be out of the question.
Don’t be surprised to see Franklin-Myers find his way on to the Jets’ roster in 2020.
Next: 2. Bryce Huff
2. Bryce Huff, OLB, NY Jets
The Jets might have the weakest group of edge rushers in the NFL, but that weakness could turn into an opportunity for some of the lesser-known players on the roster.
And undrafted free agent Bryce Huff is looking to make the most of his golden opportunity this summer.
Huff was one of nine undrafted players the Jets signed following the conclusion of the draft (eight of which remain with the team), but none of them stand as good a chance at making the final roster as he does.
An overachiever at Memphis, Huff was twice named second-team All-AAC after leading the Tigers in sacks in consecutive seasons. While nothing about his athletic pedigree stands out in particular, he has one important advantage over others on the roster.
His worth ethic.
Huff is a high-energy, relentless player who may never be a double-digit sack producer in the NFL, but should have no problem finding his way on to rosters for his special-teams contributions and work ethic on defense.
Ideally, Huff will step in as a situational pass-rusher for Gang Green in 2020 picking up a sack here and there. But to solidify his roster spot, he’ll need to turn some heads in training camp.
Everything is set up for Huff to make the Jets’ final roster. But nothing is guaranteed for anyone — especially an undrafted free agent.
And training camp will be Huff’s opportunity to prove himself ahead of the regular season.
Next: 1. James Burgess
1. James Burgess, LB, NY Jets
Following C.J. Mosley’s decision to opt-out of the 2020 season, many would likely assume that James Burgess would be safe from roster cuts. But that isn’t necessarily the case.
Burgess came out of nowhere last season and despite entering the season as a 25-year-old practice squad player, went on to lead the Jets in tackles when all was set and done.
He wasn’t particularly outstanding, but Burgess held his own commanding the middle of the Jets’ defense with the likes of Mosley, Avery Williamson, and others sidelined with injuries.
However, the Jets’ abundance of linebacker depth — even without Mosley — could squeeze him out of the equation.
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Williamson’s roster spot seems secured now and the statuses of Patrick Onwuasor and Neville Hewitt were never in question. But behind them is where things get interesting.
2019 fifth-rounder Blake Cashman returns after underwhelming in a starting role last season before ending up on the injured reserve. And while it is still possible that the Jets carry all five inside linebackers, it’s also possible that one doesn’t make the cut.
If that’s the case, the battle for the No. 4 inside linebacker job will come down to Cashman and Burgess.
Both may have looked better than they actually played last season due to the Jets’ stout defensive front, but each showed enough promise to indicate that they could be valuable reserve linebackers/special-teamers down the line.
But if one of them has to make it, Cashman might have the slight edge given his draft status and the fact that he’s a year younger. Cashman is also the better athlete and could, with a lot of development, become a starting-caliber player in a few years.
Burgess simply doesn’t have that same potential.
Either way, there’s a decent chance that one of them isn’t on the roster come September. And training camp will be where the Jets make their final decision.