The NY Jets will be relying on these three defensive players more than most in 2020.
The NY Jets‘ defense overachieved in 2019 as, despite multiple key injuries and a less-than-stellar starting lineup on paper, the team fielded a top-10 unit when all was said and done.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deserves a lot of the credit for turning what could have been a disastrous defense into one of the league’s best. And going into 2020, fans are expecting another standout season from Williams’ unit.
However, that could prove more difficult than at first glance.
The Jets lost their two best defensive players within a two-week span following the Jamal Adams trade and C.J. Mosley‘s decision to opt-out. Once Adams departed, the Jets hoped that Mosley could return to full health and alleviate the concerns of losing their star safety.
Unfortunately, the Jets are instead preparing for another season without their highest-paid player. In his place, the Jets will need to see a few notable players step up as a result.
Perhaps these players are coming off disappointing campaigns. Maybe they were injured last season and are looking to prove their health in 2020. Or perhaps they’re simply our to prove that they are more than a one-year wonder.
Either way, the success of the Jets’ defense will hinge on the success of these individual players.
Let’s take a look at three X-factors on defense for the Jets in 2020.
Next: 3. Blessuan Austin
3. Blessuan Austin, CB, NY Jets
Blessuan Austin was one of the true surprises of the 2019 season. A sixth-round pick who had missed essentially all of the previous two seasons with torn ACL’s, most assumed that Austin wouldn’t even step on the field in his rookie year.
But partially out of necessity, the Jets activated Austin off the PUP list midway through the season and the Queens native went on to start six of the final seven games of the season.
Austin looked every part of a starting-caliber cornerback and his impressive showing had Jets fans hopeful for even more from the young defensive back. Going into 2020, Austin will be looking to prove that his late-season success wasn’t just a fluke (see Darryl Roberts).
In many ways, Blessuan Austin holds the key to the Jets’ secondary this season. If he can not only repeat his success in 2020 but take another step forward towards being more than just a starting-caliber corner, the Jets may have found a long-term starter at the position.
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Veteran Pierre Desir will enter the year as the de-facto No. 1 cornerback, but imagine the possibilities if Austin can show enough to take over that role by the end of the season.
He won’t be handed anything with expected competition for a starting job from the likes of Quincy Wilson, Bryce Hall, and Arthur Maulet, but the Jets are going to give him every opportunity to prove that he’s a part of the future.
And if he could manage to do that, the Jets’ questionable cornerback group could turn into a strength for the second consecutive season.
Next: 2. Avery Williamson
2. Avery Williamson, LB, NY Jets
You could make the argument that, following the departures of Adams and Mosley, no player is more important to the Jets’ success on defense than Avery Williamson.
While he doesn’t quite take the top spot on our list, he’s pretty damn close.
Not too long ago, there was discussion that Williamson might not even make the final roster. With rumors swirling about a possible trade or cap-saving cut, it may be a bit surprising that Williamson is still on the roster here in August.
But the Jets are surely counting their blessings that they held on to him.
After a very solid 2018 season with the team, Williamson tore his ACL in Week 2 of the preseason and subsequently missed all of the 2019 campaign.
Going into 2020, Williamson will not only be tasked with returning to his pre-injury self, but he won’t be doing so alongside his expected position-mate.
Instead, Williamson will be the captain of the defense leading an inexperienced linebacker corps on Sundays. The Jets can’t really afford Williamson to be less than 100 percent recovered from his injury.
They need the fully-healthy Williamson who first joined the Jets back in the 2018 offseason. In fact, they might need even more, realistically speaking.
Williamson will have a ton of pressure on his shoulders this season. Let’s just hope that his shoulders (and knee) could handle that pressure.
Next: 1. Quinnen Williams
1. Quinnen Williams, DL, NY Jets
Avery Williamson’s performance in 2020 will be crucial to the Jets’ defensive success. But no player is as big of an X-factor as 2019 first-rounder Quinnen Williams.
After a disappointing rookie campaign that saw him finish with just 2.5 sacks, the Jets will be expecting big things from the former No. 3 overall pick.
That includes a more consistent approach in run defense and a much-improved pass-rush plan — the latter is by far the most important for the Jets.
The Jets aren’t going to get much pass-rush production from their edge rushers this season. Gregg Williams will do his best, but the talent just isn’t there for an above-average unit.
For that reason, Quinnen Williams holds the key to the Jets’ pass-rush in 2020.
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Williams excelled as an interior disruptor while at Alabama totaling eight sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his only season as a starter. The 22-year-old flashed elite pass-rush potential in college, but we didn’t really see much of that last year.
From a nagging ankle injury to being used more as a block-eater than a true penetrator, Williams was slowed by a variety of factors. But the excuses can only go so far for a player who was declared the best prospect in his draft class.
If Quinnen Williams can show the potential he showed in college this season, the entire state of the Jets’ defense will change. But if he disappoints once again, it’s hard to see the team improving their pass-rush very much, if at all.
Williams holds the key to not only the pass-rush but the Jets’ defense this season.