Who could start for the Jets on the defensive side of the ball when their Week 1 meeting with Carolina comes along?
The Jets have made offseason changes when it comes to the brass running the defense.
A new defensive-minded head coach in Robert Saleh and a new coordinator in Jeff Ulbrich are in Florham Park. New defensive players have additionally been brought in by the way of the free-agent market and NFL Draft.
The Jets were 24th in total defense and 26th in points allowed last year — not fantastic rankings. This group must prove it’s superior to the 2020 version of Gang Green’s defense, and it’ll all begin with the Week 1 matchup against Carolina.
Who could start for New York when that early September date arrives?
DE — Carl Lawson
The Jets signed Carl Lawson to a three-year, $45 million deal, so he’ll most definitely be the No. 1 defensive end they employ in a 4-3 scheme.
Expect Lawson to be on the field for the majority of the team’s defensive snaps.
DT — Quinnen Williams
Quinnen Williams is one of the top young interior defensive linemen this league has to offer.
He’ll surely be taking on a starting role just like he did in each of his first two years with the team.
DT — Sheldon Rankins
You could go back and forth between Sheldon Rankins and Folorunso Fatukasi for this specific role. But don’t forget — this current Robert Saleh-Joe Douglas regime brought in the former, not the latter.
Fatukasi was a draft pick of former Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, and considering the Jets inked Rankins to a two-year deal instead of a one-year contract, it’s clear they wish for him to be a somewhat notable component of the defense and not just a short-term project.
DE — John Franklin-Myers
John Franklin-Myers proved to be productive on the pass-rushing front last year. In 15 games for New York, the current 24-year-old racked up 13 quarterback hits and a trio of sacks.
This is a player that could be on the rise, and I truly believe he’ll impress this coaching staff enough to earn a significant role within this defense.
OLB — Blake Cashman
Rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen could potentially climb the depth charts to the point where he takes on a significant starting role. However, it would make more sense to initially start a healthy Blake Cashman at this spot so the coaching staff could ease the 2021 sixth-rounder into the system.
MLB — C.J. Mosley
This one’s obvious.
The Jets have one of their top defensive playmakers back after he played two games in two years. C.J. Mosley dealt with groin injuries in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season amid the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s still under that lucrative five-year, $85 million contract though and will definitely take the starting reps in the middle of this unit.
OLB — Jarrad Davis
The Jets brought in Jarrad Davis on a one-year, $5.5 million contract this offseason due to his potential to productively fit into Robert Saleh’s 4-3 scheme. Davis averaged over 5.5 combined tackles per game during four seasons (55 total matchups) with the Lions and is expected to find success alongside Mosley.
S — Marcus Maye
The Jets franchise-tagged Marcus Maye and are working to sign him to a long-term deal.
But regardless of the contract situation, Maye will absolutely start in the secondary and be one of the top components of the Jets defense — this is a no-brainer.
S — Lamarcus Joyner
Some may say this is a spot for Ashtyn Davis.
Others think there’s a chance Michael Carter II finds a starting role here.
In my opinion, I think this is a legitimate opportunity for Lamarcus Joyner, who should return to more of a safety role (which would be contrary to the nickel corner role he assumed while with the Raiders).
Joyner underwent one of his more productive seasons in 2018 (career-high 78 total tackles) while performing as a safety for the Rams. Even in his age-31 season in 2021, the veteran could reunite with that level of production if provided the correct situation.
Plus, you’d likely rather have a veteran of some sort start in the defensive backfield over a young rookie such as Carter II. The fifth-rounder out of Duke will need time to become accustomed to the speed of the NFL.
CB — Bryce Hall
Again, the Jets would be better off starting guys in the defensive backfield with at least some experience.
Bryce Hall can portray physicality, having recorded 36 combined tackles through eight games (seven starts) last year.
CB — Bless Austin
Like Hall, Bless Austin is a young option but carries pro-level experience, having played in 18 combined games over the last two years. 2021 fifth-rounder Jason Pinnock will require time to develop and Austin is likely a superior option to Corey Ballentine.