Seemingly overnight, the New York Jets core of pass rushers has gone from non-existent to oceanic in terms of depth.
So much so that beat reporter Connor Hughes admitted that “one or two good players will get cut from this group” during a recent roster projection on The Athletic. It was a bold statement from the Jets insider but one that could not be more accurate.
The NYJ defensive line currently runs 17-deep and the argument could be made that at least 14 or 15 of these players deserve to be on an NFL roster. In reality, there’s probably only space for nine or 10 spots. That means tough decisions are on the horizon, but is there a way the Jets can turn this abundance of options into long-term assets?
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Jets Could ‘Flip a Player They’re Going to Cut’
Hughes believes that general manager Joe Douglas would be wise to trade a potential cut for future draft capital during the earlier stages of preseason. He wrote:
There is so much talent in the defensive line room, but only so many roster spots. It might make sense for the Jets to flip a player they’re going to cut for a mid-round pick. [Bryce] Huff, [Vinny] Curry, [Tim] Ward and [Jacob] Martin are all fighting it out for the final two defensive line spots. [Jonathan] Marshall, [Nathan] Shepherd, [Solomon] Thomas and [Tanzel] Smart are battling it out for the defensive tackle positions. It’s anyone’s game.
The journalist purposefully left out the roster locks — starters Quinnen Williams, Carl Lawson, John Franklin-Myers and Sheldon Rankins, as well as 2022 draft picks Jermaine Johnson II and Micheal Clemons.
Out of that group, Rankins is the only player that could still be viewed as a question mark to make the roster after a poor 2021 campaign. His job feels like less of a guarantee than the other five listed above.
Beyond that, it’ll be a cage match to fill those final three or four spots.
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Likely Trade Scenarios
Let’s say Rankins has an encouraging training camp and secures a starting role at defensive tackle, that would clinch six roster spots on the D-line and leave 11 potential contenders to battle it out for a place as a backup.
Those players are Huff, Martin, Curry, Ward, Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Jabari Zuniga and Bradlee Anae at defensive end and Marshall, Thomas, Shepherd and Smart on the interior.
You can rule out any sort of trade return from prospects like Zuniga and Anae. Both were available on waivers at different points last season and neither saw too large of a market. Rashed is in a similar boat, although a really strong training camp from the sophomore UDFA could theoretically yield a seventh-round pick from a desperate suitor.
Then there are the veterans — Curry and Smart. At this point in their careers, these players are a total shot in the dark that would never garner much interest before the season began.
Marshall’s not likely to get Douglas much either, since he practically redshirted his rookie campaign. Plus, it would be odd to trade a developmental piece one offseason after drafting him.
That leaves free-agent signings Martin and Thomas, as well as younger assets like Huff, Shepherd or Ward. Aside from trading a starter, the latter group is probably the Jets’ best bet to produce a decent return during the preseason.
Hughes suggests a “mid-round pick,” but even a late-round selection wouldn’t be a worst-case scenario if the player is expected to be cut. On paper, no NYJ reserve would make a more appealing trade candidate than Huff.
The 2020 UDFA just turned 24 years old and ranked top-10 in pass rush win rate before his injury last season. Unfortunately, Huff only has four career sacks and 12 QB hits according to Pro Football Reference.
Having said that, his analytics and tape should be intriguing enough to entice a team that needs more talent at pass rusher.