Jamal Adams Derwin James Eddie Jackson
Robby Sabo, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

There’s a specific and debilitating reason New York Jets strong safety Jamal Adams deeply deserved NFL First-Team All-Pro honors.

Robby Sabo

Second-Team All-Pro is nothing to dismiss. It’s an honor bestowed on few players who make a living navigating the rigors of a league Jerry Glanville once dubbed “Not For Long.”

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For a dude who eagerly awaited the presence of Elvis in Atlanta every Sunday, the above quote is rather mild-mannered. (By the way, if you’re not familiar with “NFL Rocks” circa 1992, the Bruce Coslet era, get on it immediately before the NFL ensures its presence in the world is completely turned to ashes.)


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Speaking of NFL Rocks, here comes a hard-hitting box safety who doesn’t stop moving sideline-to-sideline, endzone-to-endzone so fluidly it blends beautifully with Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

Jamal Adams.

Adams, 23, is that connection with the previously noted Second-Team All-Pro mention. The sophomore New York Jets best player was named a Second-Team All-Pro for his ridiculously filthy 2018 campaign.

That’s great. It’s a tremendous honor, one Adams would never argue with or take for granted. Internally, though, he knows he’s the best safety in the National Football League and was deserving of the top spot. More specifically, the kid was deserving for a crippling reason overlooked by all who voted.

The New York Jets four-man pass rush (and overall defensive talent, for that matter) rivals the bottom quarter squads in the league. So much so that Adams is a big part of the pass rush. In fact, it’s arguable that he represents the team’s best pure edge rusher.

Last April, we took note of this specific handicap.

Stats cannot fully make the point. This past season, the Jets defense collected 39 sacks, placing them tied for 16th in the league. This was a marked improvement from the paltry 28 (28th in the NFL) the season prior. Henry Anderson was a major reason for the improvement (seven sacks).

The Los Angeles Chargers finished the 2018 campaign with 38 sacks, one fewer than the Jets, believe it or not. The year prior, the Bolts collected 43, good enough for fifth in the land. The Chicago Bears’ 50-sack mark this season placed them in the third spot.

Of course, the Bolts and Bears are mentioned due to the First-Team All-Pro safeties, Derwin James and Eddie Jackson.

2018 Final Player Statistics

Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears

  • 6 interceptions
  • 3 touchdowns
  • 15 pass deflections
  • 1 sack
  • 1 QB hit
  • 2 forced fumbles
  • 1 fumble recovery
  • 2 tackles for loss
  • 41 solo tackles
  • 51 total tackles

Derwin James, Los Angels Chargers

  • 3 interceptions
  • 0 touchdowns
  • 13 pass deflections
  • 3.5 sacks
  • 6 QB hits
  • 0 forced fumbles
  • 0 fumble recoveries
  • 4 tackles for loss
  • 75 solo tackles
  • 105 total tackles

Jamal Adams, New York Jets

  • 1 interception
  • 0 touchdowns
  • 12 pass deflections
  • 3.5 sacks
  • 8 QB hits
  • 3 forced fumbles
  • 1 fumble recovery
  • 9 tackles for loss
  • 86 solo tackles
  • 115 total tackles

There are a couple ways to look at the pure stats. First and foremost, it’s so close between the three. Adams and James couple up as those pure in-the-box safeties while Jackson runs solo as a deep-half safety in Vic Fangio’s Cover 4 look.

New York Jets

So, before you go on, understand the differences between the Adams/James safety-type and Jackson. The two very different types contrast in many ways.

Having said that, First-Team All-Pro knows no difference. Two strong safeties can be chosen just as two centerfielders can represent the squad. For instance, Adams is paired with Minnesota Vikings strong safety Harrison Smith on the second squad.

What jumps out is Jackson’s interceptions and touchdowns. It’s undoubtedly what skyrocketed his league-wide prowess in 2018. The question is, “What happened in 2017?”

Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears, 2017

  • 2 interceptions
  • 2 touchdowns
  • 6 pass deflections
  • 0 sack
  • 0 QB hit
  • 1 forced fumbles
  • 3 fumble recovery
  • 1 tackle for loss
  • 53 solo tackles
  • 70 total tackles

Khalil Mack is what happened.

Without Mack and a legitimate pass rush in 2017, Jackson was a solid safety. Amazingly, he put forth two touchdowns during his rookie campaign (making it five in two seasons), but let’s face it: touchdowns for defensive players are largely produced by out-of-control opportunity.

Mack’s presence along with a burgeoning overall defense props up Jackson’s play to a degree that’s simply unmeasurable. The same can be said for James in L.A. to a much lesser degree (as Joey Bosa missed time this past year).

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Something Mike Maccagnan has failed to really understand is the inside-out, old-school theory of football. It’s obvious to every football executive, even Maccagnan. He just hasn’t slammed his foot down to force the issue.

Offensive weapons can absolutely make the offensive line look better. Linebackers and defensive backs can do the same for the conventional four-man pass rush. But when it’s flipped on its head while discussing the reverse, the two don’t belong in the same stratosphere.

The O-line and pass rush are ions ahead as it relates to boosting the outlining players. For years, New York’s skilled players have suffered at the hands of this reality, Jamal Adams included.

Of the three safeties, there’s no question Adams played with the least talent—despite the Bolts finishing with one fewer sack than the Jets. Joey Bosa or Jordan Jenkins? Melvin Ingram against Brandon Copeland? The two-time Pro Bowl Casey Hayward compared to Trumaine Johnson? As much as I love Marcus Maye, Adrian Philips is a Pro Bowl safety. Hell, even Brandon Mebane sends Leonard Williams running for his money in a too-close-for-comfort call.

Surrounding talent should absolutely be factored into the equation … somewhat. Overall performance and statistical output is more critical, but take a look at Jamal vs. Derwin. Which category does James soundly defeat Adams? Three interceptions to just one? Adams smacks him in tackles for loss, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, quarterback hits, and tackles.

Let’s also mention a very real reality in this league: rookies need to earn that rightful place. When ties are present, the nod must go to the sophomore or veteran … or, the man whose stats continually remain grounded due to his below-average supporting cast.

There’s also a very real argument for James and Adams as the top two, kicking Jackson out, but we’ll bypass that one. Jackson’s statistical output is phenomenal. The only knock comes when realizing he missed two games. Unfortunately for Adams, those two games were the last two (coinciding with the actual All-Pro vote).

If the formula is based purely on statistical output, fine; Jackson is in while James and Adams battle it out. If overall value is considered, there’s no debate. Adams is, by far, the most valuable to his defense of the trio.

The playoff-bound Bears didn’t miss much of a beat when Jackson hit the shelf towards the end of the season. If the Jets didn’t employ Adams, on the other hand, forget about it. There would be no such reality of even a decent New York defense.

By no means is this a travesty. Both Eddie Jackson and Derwin James were studly in 2018. Both were fully deserving.

That aside, Jamal Adams played the best safety spot in the league over 16 weeks this past National Football League campaign. His impact on a far inferior defense speaks volumes.

Don’t you dare give Jamal Adams a Khalil Mack-type. In that ultra-scary scenario, offensive coordinator nightmares are born.


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