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NY Jets: Taking a closer look at the emergence of the defensive line

NY Jets (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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NY Jets
NY Jets

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

One of the few bright spots of the NY Jets’ season has been the defensive line.

The NY Jets‘ defense is going to see a complete makeover this offseason. They remain without an elite or even reliable pass rusher. Only one off-ball linebacker who is a lock as a starter is under contract in 2021.

Their cornerback group has promise, though has no proven players. And who knows if Marcus Maye will be back playing alongside rookie Ashtyn Davis.

But one thing for sure is the Jets have a young and talented foundation in their defensive line.

Similar to a season ago, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ utilization of heavy rotations saw multiple players emerge as role players.

From glimpses to starting potential to just getting started, here is how the Jets’ defensive line has emerged as one of the deeper units on the team.

NY Jets
NY Jets

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Notable role players on the NY Jets’ defensive line

Bryce Huff, DE, NY Jets

An undrafted free agent, Bryce Huff has quickly earned playing time off the edge for the Jets. The Memphis product is 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, and came out of school most known for his high energy and work ethic.

His snap count has been up and down this season, although he has produced when on the field. Through eight games, he has 13 tackles, three for a loss, and a sack.

What is most intriguing might be his efficiency in coverage, earning a 72.5 grade from Pro Football Focus.

Kyle Phillips, DL, NY Jets

One of those pieces that emerged a year ago, Kyle Phillips was undrafted out of Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 277-pounder, Phillips has proven to be a reliable rotation piece in Williams’ defense.

Though his play has taken a step back this season, he remains a dominant run stopper, grading out as the 35th best among edge defenders. Phillips has been on injured reserve since Week 7 with an ankle injury and is out the season.

Jabari Zuniga, DE, NY Jets

After battling injuries since training camp, Jabari Zuniga finally made his debut against the Kansas City Chiefs. Given he missed most of camp, he has slowly been incorporated into the defensive rotation.

The talented 6-foot-3 264-pound Florida product has four tackles to his name and is only going to see more action given he was taken 79th overall.

With outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins set to hit the market after the season, the Jets could give Zuniga a look as a potential replacement.

Next: A waiver wire pickup turned building block

NY Jets, John Franklin-Myers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NY Jets, John Franklin-Myers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

John Franklin-Myers, DE, NY Jets

General manager Joe Douglas has always taken advantage of the NFL’s waiver wire. Most recently with former Minnesota Vikings’ second-round pick center Pat Elflein.

But the most impactful acquisition might just be edge defender John Franklin-Myers.

A small school product from Stephen F. Austin, Franklin-Myers was taken in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams.

He was primarily a depth piece, being part of a very talented Rams defensive front. Franklin-Myers’ time with the Rams was highlighted by a strip-sack of Tom Brady in their Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots.

In his second season though, he was surprisingly waived, to which Douglas quickly picked him up. Although Franklin-Myers wound up on injured reserve, losing his second season.

Yet he has taken full advantage in 2020. Franklin-Myers has become a favorite of Williams, given his versatility and athleticism. Franklin-Myers has played in all but the season opener, including two starts. He has posted 13 tackles, including two for loss, eight quarterback hits, and one sack.

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In a season where the Jets have caused very little pressure, the aggressiveness and energy Franklin-Myers offers is extremely enticing. His snap count has continued to rise this season, as he has carved out a nice role.

Furthermore, Henry Anderson is set to hit the market, leaving a hole in the starting defensive line. No matter what Douglas’ intentions are in free agency or the draft, Franklin-Myers has established himself as a building block along the defensive line in 2021.

Next: The quiet breakout season of a future star

NY Jets (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Quinnen Williams, DL, NY Jets

As it has been established, Quinnen Williams has quietly had a breakout season in 2020. After a rather underwhelming rookie season, the Alabama product has become arguably the Jets’ best defensive player. Moreover, one of the best interior defensive linemen in the league.

From the surface, his improvement is small, but straightforward. He has gone from 2.5 sacks in 13 games as a rookie to 3.5 in nine.

He has 34 total tackles with seven for a loss, which is three more than a year ago. Additionally, he has forced one fumble and has a career-high in quarterback hits too.

Without a doubt, there is more to his impact apart from those numbers. Williams grades out as the 27th best interior defensive lineman out of 128, and the 18th best pass rusher.

Williams has 11 pressures, as well as four knockdowns in nine games. This is very promising because of his struggles getting after the quarterback at times last season in Gregg Williams’ scheme.

Williams has also maintained a strong run defense in year two, playing a big role in their 11th ranked run defense. Williams owns a 71.1 grade against the run this season, good for 28th out of 134 qualifying interior defensive linemen.

At 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Williams is an athletic freak who Douglas is going to love to have long-term to build his defensive front around. He will only be 23-years old next season and will only continue to become a force.

Simply put, hanging on to Williams at the trade deadline was one of Douglas’ best decisions.

Next: Next in a long line of dominant run-stuffers

NY Jets (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Folorunso Fatukasi, NT, NY Jets

Two factors came into play when the New York Jets dealt veteran nose tackle Steve McLendon to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The first was giving the veteran an opportunity to play in January. The second — give more playing time to Folorunso Fatukasi.

In the 2018 NFL Draft, the Jets selected Fatukasi in the sixth round out of Connecticut. At 6-foot-4 and 318 pounds, Fatukasi offers Williams’ that rotation flexibility he loves to have.

After spending most of his rookie season inactive, he finally earned playing time last season — and Fatukasi excelled.

In his second season, Fatukasi rotated all over the Jets’ front in 14 games played. He finished with 27 tackles, seven for loss, three quarterback hits, and one sack. Fatukasi finished with an 81.6 grade, including 87.6 against the run.

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He may not be the greatest at getting after the passer, but in Williams’ defense, his nose tackles need to be stout against the run. And in 2020, Fatukasi has somehow managed to get even better.

In 10 games, he grades out only behind Pittsburgh Steelers’ Cameron Heyward as the highest-graded interior defensive lineman against the run, per PFF. Overall, he ranks 11th with an 84.2 grade, good for the highest grade amongst Jets defensive linemen.

For a sixth-round selection from the Mike Maccagnan days, it is safe to say that Fatukasi has already been one better pick by the former general manager. One that Douglas will have to seriously consider retaining once his contract is up after 2021.

Next. NY Jets: Complete in-depth analysis of the race for the No. 1 overall pick

After all, Fatukasi, Williams, and Franklin-Myers make for a promising young trio upfront for a defense with many needs to take care of elsewhere.

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