With the additions of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, Todd Bowles‘ New York Jets defensive core is stout and exciting up the middle.
Left tackle, cornerback, edge rusher, and, of course, quarterback — these are the highest paid positions in the National Football League. Since Lawrence Taylor made the term “blindside” famous in the 1980s, the sentiment that these four positions garner the most dough cannot be argued.
This sentiment is also another reason for fans of the New York Jets to hit the bottle.
As it stands right now, Mike Maccagnan is dishing out no big money to any of these four positions. Darrelle Revis is gone. There is no franchise quarterback. Jordan Jenkins and Lorenzo Mauldin are hardly pass-rushers extraordinaire and Kelvin Beachum, who was scooped up as a free agent this past offseason, will never be confused with Anthony Munoz.
Even after the 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, Mike Maccagnan has yet to fill any of these four positions.
At least he did do something promising.
Prior to the draft, Jets fans were in the worst position of all 32 fanbases. Not only were they faced with a tough season ahead, but there was very little to hang a hat on. I mean, what was there to be excited about, Quincy Enunwa? No offense to Enunwa, but there’s gotta be more that just him to look forward to.
Now, after the festivities in Philadelphia, things are a bit different.
Todd Bowles‘ defense is looking promising up the middle.
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) May 13, 2017
As it stands, there are no long-term solutions at corner. Morris Claiborne or any of the late round corner selections from the last two drafts could surprise, but barring that magic trick, it’ll be a position of need come 2018.
At the EDGE, the same story can be written. One could argue Jordan Jenkins could fill one of the two spots, but that’s a rough argument no matter how it’s attacked.
The area the true core is built from is in between the hashes, the middle of the football field.
The three heavies are still here, despite the fact that Sheldon Richardson just doesn’t fit in. He, along with Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, make up one hell of a threesome at the interior defensive end spot. Most believe Deon Simon is ready for a starting nose tackle gig.
The newly-drafted Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, in theory, should make up one of the nastier safety duos in the NFL. If an NFL safety is a first or second-round pick, this should be the case, and if it’s not, say goodbye to the GM.
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The key in whether or not Maccagnan can start attacking the corner and edge spot next offseason might come down to Darron Lee‘s ability to develop. According to Pro Football Focus, the site that loves to confuse fans with their analytical insight, Lee graded out as the worst rookie linebacker a season ago.
Playing basically in the body-type of a safety, many scratched their heads at the choice considering Bowles’ favoritism for the 3-4 defense. In the NFL, the speedy Lee is a prototypical WILL in a 4-3. This made many believe the Jets were ready to play the 4-3 most of the time, myself included. But while Bowles tried to run the classic four-man front, the four defensive linemen were far too heavy to keep the integrity of a quick enough EDGE.
The only way it could work is if one EDGE was heavy and the other remained light with a Lorenzo Mauldin or Jordan Jenkins, and even in that case, it still hurts the structural integrity of the defense.
In the end, the 3-4 prevailed in 2016, even showcasing the Big Cat at nose tackle during the final quarter of the season.
Regardless of the structure of the front seven, if Lee improves to a level that warrants his first round selection, the middle of this defense is an extraordinary exciting group. Just think about Lee quarterbacking the sub package with Adams and Maye behind or alongside him. Those are three explosive, sideline-to-sideline athletes who can not only get after it in the run game, but ballhawk their way to turnovers.
Moreover, the interior rush game should be stout with a hungry Big Mo looking to prove doubters wrong and Richardson playing out his walk year. Oh yeah, there’s also Williams, the Jets best defender who’ll continue his onslaught on offensive guards.
In 2017, defensive schemes will be built around protecting the edge. Bowles will have to allow the middle of his defense to flourish while protecting his weak corners and weak edge pass rushing.
That’s not an easy task.
Instead of watching Adams or Maye flourish as the sixth man on a blitz or join the box on the strong side, they may need to be held back in an over-the-top position in fear one of the corners can’t handle the opposing WR.
Still, it’s an exciting middle of the defense that will learn in 2017 and flourish in 2018 once the proper sideline players are in place.