2 Free-Agent Misses Magnify Jets ‘Least Stable’ Defensive Position: Report

Robert Saleh

Getty New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh needs to fix the run defense in 2022.

The New York Jets defense ranked dead last in 2021 and there were a few reasons why.

At the beginning of the season, the offense left their counterparts out to dry more often than not with early punts and turnovers. Eventually, Mike LaFleur’s unit did turn things around but youth and injuries took their toll down the stretch.

This side of the ball lacked depth last year and as those injuries piled up, the roster became noticeably inexperienced and depleted in key areas. General manager Joe Douglas has done a much better job safeguarding against this in 2022 — at least on paper — but one position group is still a major concern that the front office has failed to address.

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Jets Have Balked at Defensive Tackle

When Douglas let Foley Fatukasi walk in free agency, the expectation was that the franchise would bring in more of a 4-3 run-stuffer to take his place. According to a recent article from The Athletic’s Connor Hughes ranking the Jets’ defensive position groups in terms of stability, management attempted to do so but missed on their main two targets.

“Foley Fatukasi, New York’s best run-stuffer, signed with the Jaguars in free agency,” Hughes explained. “The Jets wanted to replace him with B.J. Hill (who re-signed with Bengals) or D.J. Jones (who joined Russell Wilson and the Broncos), but when that didn’t work, they turned to re-signing [Nathan] Shepherd and adding [Solomon] Thomas. Is that enough considering [Sheldon] Rankins’ inefficiencies against the run? Probably not.”

The beat reporter brings up inefficiencies against the run because the Jets couldn’t stop a nosebleed in 2021 (29th ranked rush defense), especially when the opposition ran an “HB Gut.” Hill and Jones would have helped with that, considering their track record as successful rotational run defenders with Cincinnati and San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the Jets were unable to land either free agent, and the contingency plan ended up ignoring the position altogether in the draft. Because of this, Hughes labeled the defensive tackle position the Jets’ biggest weakness on the defensive side.

He wrote: “There was a belief the Jets needed to address the linebacker position because of analytical data on [Quincy] Williams and [C.J.] Mosley last year. That sentiment wasn’t shared inside One Jets Drive. The Jets blamed poor [run defense] on the interior defensive line for the perceived linebacker issues, and believed fixing the former was the solution. One problem: Not only did the Jets not add any linebackers, they also did very little at defensive tackle.”

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Solutions on & off the Roster

As we’ve mentioned before, there are still a few potential solutions on the market in free agency. Larry Ogunjobi is one — a veteran name that the Jets have been watching closely.

Ex-Jet turned analyst Leger Douzable claimed that Douglas made Ogunjobi an offer, but it may not have been high enough to entice him. There’s still plenty of time to work something out but there isn’t too much talent left out there otherwise.

The experienced option would be Ndamukong Suh, but the elder statesman may prefer joining a more championship-ready roster at age 35. Sheldon Richardson, Danny Shelton and Corey Peters are a few other DT veterans that have been suggested by analysts in the past.

Then there’s second-year X-factor Jonathan Marshall. Hughes noted that the Jets could be looking at him as a future “dominant run-stuffer.” The issue with that theory is he showed no signs of becoming that as a rookie.

According to Pro Football Focus, Marshall was a liability against the run in year one with a putrid 38.3 grade. Perhaps these problems can be corrected over the summer, perhaps not.

Outside of Marshall, the Jets would likely rely on some combination of Quinnen Williams, Rankins, John Franklin-Myers, Thomas, and Shepherd to play the position on early downs. A decent group, but one that feels like something is missing.

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