Other than offensive line, edge rusher represents the other “must fix” for Joe Douglas and the New York Jets this offseason.
Heading into the 2020 offseason, most of the focus surrounding the New York Jets has been on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Douglas’s team has dire needs in the trenches and out wide, as supplementing young Sam Darnold is a top priority.
However, there remain gaping holes on the defensive side of the ball that cannot be overlooked. Particularly, the Jets are sorely lacking a reliable pass-rushing presence off the edge. In 2019, the Jets’ leader in total pressures was Tarell Basham, whose 39 pressures ranked 48th among edge defenders and 62nd in the league.
Fortunately for the Jets and other teams needy for pass-rush juice, there could be two elite edge defenders on the market in March. Let’s take a look at what they bring to the table.
- Former team: Seahawks
- Free agency type: Unrestricted
- Age: 27.0
- Spotrac Market Value (average per year): $20.0M
Jadeveon Clowney has not quite lived up to his No. 1 pick status, but he has been a great all-around defender throughout the duration of his career. He makes his money providing a beastly presence against the run. In each of the past five seasons, Clowney has ranked top-10 among edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ run defense grade. In three of the past four seasons, he has ranked top-five at his position in run stops (tackles against the run constituting a negative value result for the offense).
It is in the passing game where Clowney has fallen short of his potential. He has been consistently solid in this phase, but not quite as spectacular as it seemed he would be when the Texans chose him first overall in 2014.
Here is where Clowney has ranked among edge defenders in both total pressures and pass-rush productivity (per-snap pressure rate with greater weight to sacks) over each of the past few seasons.
- 2019: 33rd in pressures (48), 55th out of 124 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (6.5)
- 2018: 17th in pressures (59), 55th out of 109 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (6.2)
- 2017: 14th in pressures (64), 39th out of 129 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (7.2)
- 2016: 30th in pressures (49), 59th out of 117 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (6.2)
- 2015: 64th in pressures (30), 65th out of 108 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (5.8)
Clowney is about to receive a huge deal. Many teams could deem him too expensive for a player who has brought merely solid production against the pass. Not to mention, injuries remain a problem for Clowney as he missed three games in 2019. He has played a full 16 games just once in his six-year career, missing 22 of 101 possible regular season and playoff games.
While the pass-rush numbers are somewhat disappointing, Clowney is arguably the best run-defending edge in the league. His pass-rush production compliments his run defense just enough to the point where he still brings a star-level impact. But is that impact worth $20-plus million per season? That is the question teams will have to ask themselves.
- Former team: Jaguars
- Free agency type: Unrestricted
- Age: 24.9
- Spotrac Market Value (average per season): $17.1M
Yannick Ngakoue is the polar opposite of Clowney. He has stayed tremendously healthy throughout his career (66 out of 67 possible games), has a history of elite pass-rushing production, but is shaky against the run.
Since entering the league in 2016, Ngakoue ranks eighth in the league with 85 quarterback hits and 12th in the league with 37.5 sacks. He is one of just seven players to record at least eight sacks in each of the past four seasons.
From 2017-18, Ngakoue established himself as one of the NFL’s most dominant pass-rushers off the edge. He collected 56 quarterback hits over that two-season span, second to only Aaron Donald (68).
However, he had a down year in 2019. Ngakoue posted 15 quarterback hits this past season, less than half of his 2018 total (33). He dropped to 27th among edge rushers in total pressures with 50, after ranking top-11 at the position in each of the previous two seasons.
Here is a look at where Ngakoue ranked among edge defenders in both total pressures and pass-rush productivity over each of his four seasons.
- 2019: 27th in pressures (50), 64th out of 124 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (6.3)
- 2018: 10th in pressures (64), 17th out of 109 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (8.1)
- 2017: 11th in pressures (70), 8th out of 129 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (9.5)
- 2016: 33rd in pressures (47), 59th out of 117 qualifiers in pass-rush productivity (6.2)
Against the run, Ngakoue has been a liability. He has ranked no higher than 82nd at his position in PFF’s run defense grade in any given season. In 2019, he placed 116th out of 124 qualifiers in the stat (51.6 grade). In terms of tackling efficiency (ratio of tackles to missed tackles), Ngakoue has been one of the top-15 least-efficient tacklers against the run among edge defenders in each of the past two seasons.
These weaknesses tell the story of why exactly Ngakoue has never played more than 80 percent of Jacksonville’s defensive snaps in a season, and why exactly two-thirds of his career defensive snaps have come on passing plays. He is too good to be limited to a situational role, but his issues against the run will pull him off the field on rushing downs.
For the Jets, I think Ngakoue should be their primary free-agent target on either side of the ball. With the number of elite run-stoppers they have, the Jets can deal with Ngakoue’s issues in that facet. Pass-rushing juice is what the Jets need, and Ngakoue has that. He has been a quarterback’s nightmare since entering the league and will be only 25 going into 2020. To boot, he carries an excellent track record of durability.
The Jets have firsthand experience of how good Ngakoue can be. He has collected five sacks and 11 additional pressures over three games against them.
If Joe Douglas hands out only one huge contract to a defensive player this offseason, it should go to Ngakoue.