The delightful education of New York Jets youngster Quinnen Williams
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Despite their putrid record, the New York Jets have their foundational defensive pieces in Marcus Maye and Quinnen Williams.

In a season as dreadful and miserable as the one the New York Jets are currently having, it’s hard to find any positives. Let’s be honest, this season is something no Jets fan could’ve imagined even in their wildest nightmares.

Then just when it looked as if they were in line to nab Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick, they win a game. It takes the saying “Jets gonna Jet” to a whole new meaning. Whether the Jets draft a quarterback or not, one thing that’s certain is that they’ve found their two foundational pieces on defense. I’m talking of course about defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and safety Marcus Maye.

The irony of both players being regarded as foundational pieces is that they both had their names in trade rumors around trade deadline time. Now, that’s usually the case with a team that’s bad. You trade away the lone good players you have to acquire assets for the future.

There was also the case this season where a report came out from recently fired NY Daily News reporter Manish Mehta that said the team was fielding calls on Quinnen Williams which was then debunked. But with both players staying with the Jets through the dreaded deadline, it was a sign that either GM Joe Douglas sees them as part of the future or the packages teams sent wasn’t to his liking. Whatever the case may be these guys are here and are making a significant impact on this team.

S — Marcus Maye

Let’s first look at Marcus Maye, the older of the two. Maye, now in his third season in the league is a fan favorite amongst Jets fans, and rightfully so. He is currently the third highest-graded safety in the league with a PFF grade of 81.1. A year ago, Jets fans salivated at the thought of potentially having a safety duo of Jamal Adams blowing up runs in the backfield and Marcus Maye swatting balls away from receivers. Well, one of those things can still be in play for the Jets.

Maye’s athleticism is something that truly flies under the radar when people praise him. At this point, it seems routine to see Maye make an acrobatic interception or diving deflection. Just look at his interceptions against the Seahawks and Dolphins.

But what’s most impressive about Maye is his fearlessness when it comes to going one-on-one. Especially when the game is on the line. In their recent win over the Rams, Maye was put on an island and came up with a huge pass breakup thus ending the Rams’ bid at a comeback attempt.

This isn’t the first time he has played the hero role when the game was on the line. Last year he made the same type of heroic play late in the season against the Steelers — a game-saving play that had to get even the most pessimistic Jets fans giddy with excitement.

While he’s not a ball hawk by any means (only two interceptions on the season) and his stats don’t jump off the page (52 solo tackles, two sacks, and 34 targets), Maye seems to always find himself in position to make the right play and rarely gets beat. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season so the Jets will need to make a decision on him. However, if they were smart, they’d lock him down and have him patrolling that secondary for years to come.

DL — Quinnen Williams

Now let’s look at Quinnen Williams, the Jets’ third overall draft pick in last year’s draft. Evaluating a defensive tackle isn’t as cut and dry as some other positions on defense. Their impact doesn’t always show up in the box score. Their job is to eat up blocks and open lanes to help disrupt the run game and allow one-on-ones for pass rushers.

So of course, when Williams wasn’t putting up Warren Sapp-type numbers in his rookie year people wanted to jump on the “bust” ship with little hesitation. The bust narrative really took hold this season when Williams had a mediocre start to the season. However, those doubters and naysayers have been incredibly silent as the season has progressed.

During the first five weeks of the season, Williams had a PFF grade of 66.4 which was 50th best among IDL (Interior Defensive Linemen). Since then, Williams has exploded to an impressive 87.7 PFF grade which is currently fourth best. On the season so far, he has 37 solo tackles, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles according to Pro Football Focus. To the untrained eye, these don’t seem like much through 15 weeks, right? Now, look at it compared to other IDL. He’s tied for fourth in solo tackles and in sacks. He ranks tied for second in forced fumbles and he’s fifth in the combination of pressures, stops, and pass breakups (77).

Over the past five weeks, Quinnen has tallied at least 0.5 sacks in four out of five games. That’s living up to the third overall pick moniker. Will he ever live up to be once in a generation talent like Aaron Donald? Only time will tell.

For what it’s worth, Donald was first among IDL in Week 15 with a 92.9 PFF grade while Quinnen was third with an 87.4 grade. One thing that’s for certain is Q is well on his way to being a significant force in the league.

Yes, the Jets may have lost out on the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes, but it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. There are things to look forward to and Williams and Maye just might be the defensive pillars that anchor this Jets defense for years to come.

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