‘Sky’s the Limit:’ Top-10 Rank Is Only the Beginning for Jets D-Line

Quinnen Williams

Getty New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams sacks Ryan Fitzpatrick on November 3, 2019.

By now, most New York Jets fans are aware that the team’s greatest strength is its defensive line.

Slowly but surely, the rest of the league is beginning to take notice too. Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus (PFF) posted an NFL D-Line ranking on August 3, 2021, and Gang Green came in at number seven — Linsey must have gotten the message after that 30th overall team rank back on July 1.

PFF has generally been pretty high on the Jets defensive linemen, just not the rest of the roster. They included four NYJ players in their top 32 interior DL article back in May.

They have also touted two of those four more directly. Quinnen Williams was listed as a top 25 NFL pro under the age of 25 and Folorunso Fatukasi was named the franchise’s “most underrated player” heading into 2021 by PFF.

The Jets’ relationship with the infamous grading site has been hot and cold, to say the least.

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‘Can’t Double Team Everybody’

This positional group on the Jets roster has depth for days. It’s been a priority for Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh to build the trenches, and they’ve done a magnificent job doing so.

Focusing on the defensive side, D-tackle and edge rusher combine to make up a unit that’s 10-plus players deep. Take a look at my projected rotation as of now (subject to change).

“LEO” DE 3-Technique DT Nose Tackle 5-Technique DE
Carl Lawson Quinnen Williams Foley Fatukasi John Franklin-Myers
Jabari Zuniga Sheldon Rankins Nathan Shepherd Bryce Huff
Ronald Blair Tanzel Smart Jonathan Marshall Vinny Curry (PUP)
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. Michael Dwumfour Kyle Phillips

Obviously, not all of these guys will make the Week 1 roster, but Douglas will try his best to keep as many as he can.

“They can’t double-team everybody,” Rankins told the media on August 2, “I mean they could try, but then they’re going to have one-man routes and that’s what we want, appreciate it.”

He also compared this group to his old DL room with the New Orleans Saints, noting that he expects the Jets unit to be “damn good.” Rankins continued: “I played with some [talented] dudes, but the dudes I’m playing with now and in this scheme, I feel like sky’s the limit, I feel like whoever we roll out there, teams better buckle their ****. We’re coming, and when that group gets tired the next group’s coming and we expect to do that for 60 minutes of a full football game, week-in week-out, and dominate games.”

2020 breakout star Franklin-Myers had a similar opinion, except with fewer expletives. “The sky is the limit with our defense because we got a lot of young guys, we have that hunger, guys who want to play football [and] want to get better. [Guys] who stay after practice and do extra work for 30 minutes, something I’ve never seen… it’s a great sight to see,” JFM told reporters.

In an interview with team reporter Olivia Landis, Fatukasi called the D-line’s “ability to feed off” one another their greatest weapon. Coach Saleh compared the nose tackle’s physicality to “old man farmer strength,” and Rankins commented on the run-stuffing DT as well.

“He’s big, strong and he knows football, so he’ll understand certain blocking schemes, he’ll understand where he needs to fit or where he needs to shoot to be able to make a play,” the former Saint said about Fatukasi. “When he wants to move somebody he can move them, and there’s nothing they can do to stop him.”

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Jets Bring Trouble off the Edge

I’m 600-plus words in and I’ve yet to even mention Lawson and Huff, who have been terrorizing Mekhi Becton and Morgan Moses in training camp so far.

Franklin-Myers should rotate both inside and outside due to his versatility, so expect Huff to be utilized a lot as a pure pass-rusher in throwing situations now that Curry is sidelined.

This ferocious front all starts with the monster free-agent acquisition though. Lawson was named a top 10 NFL disruptor by Next Gen Stats. The former Bengal hasn’t always had the sack totals but his pressure rate has been through the roof in recent seasons.

He attributed hunting quarterbacks to “chasing chickens,” saying that it’s best to corner them with multiple pass-rushers. Lawson told team reporter Ethan Greenberg that he thinks “the chemistry will come when [the D-line] has some type of adversity.”

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Saleh’s Energy Is ‘Infectious’

JFM referred to Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s system as “more simple,” which makes sense after hearing what Rankins had to say about it.

“Here, it’s just get three yards in the backfield however the **** it happens,” the Jets new DT stated bluntly.

“I know that I line up and I go play football,” Franklin-Myers explained, “there’s no reading, there [are] no false steps… I think this attack front just fits me [and] a lot of guys here.”

JFM also talked about Coach Saleh, calling his energy “infectious.” He continued: “We just want to get better… [the coaches] do a good job of bringing the energy each and every day so like, we enjoy doing this.”

The head coach has a knack for getting the most out of his pass-rushers throughout his career.

As for the heavy burden that this unit carries being the backbone of this defense, Rankins, Lawson and Franklin-Myers have all welcomed and craved that responsibility. JFM had the best quote: “We all know that we go as the D-line goes, and we preach that and we live that.”

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