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In a 4-3 defensive scheme, half of the Jets’ starting defensive line is seemingly set. What may the other half look like?

Ryan Honey

The Jets defense will look a little different up front in 2021 compared to the 2020 campaign.

A 4-3 scheme is en route to replace the previous 3-4 system, thanks to newly hired head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

As for the defensive line roles, some spots may be set while some may need to host position battles.

Who might assume these currently uncertain starting jobs?

Make way for Carl Lawson/Quinnen Williams

Let’s begin with the slated starters though.

On the right side of the line, it’s essentially clear Carl Lawson and Quinnen Williams will occupy the starting defensive end and defensive tackle spots, respectively.

The Jets made a significant investment in Lawson this offseason by inking him to a three-year, $45 million deal. His 2021 cap hit is set to be $14.33 million, the highest on the team and one that currently accounts for 6.81% of the total cap.

Lawson is one of the more underrated defensive ends in this league and much more productive than what the sack category of the stat sheet may reveal (he recorded just 20 sacks in 51 total games with Cincinnati). He’ll look to be a premier pass rusher with a (hopefully) strong interior to assist him.

As for Williams, the 2019 first-rounder is one of the top young interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

He notably developed from year one to two — he increased his tackle total from 28 to 55 and improved on the pass-rushing front as well. Williams notched seven sacks and 14 quarterback hits last year (both marks led the team) after recording 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hits the season prior.

He’s proving to be a versatile weapon and one that could be a staple on this defense for years to come.

DL2 role: Sheldon Rankins? Folorunso Fatukasi? Jonathan Marshall?

Sheldon Rankins and Folorunso Fatukasi will compete for this specific role and each has an advantage over one another.

As for the latter, Fatukasi actually possesses experience playing alongside some of the current defensive counterparts. Foley appeared in 15 games (eight starts) last year as more of a nose tackle and has worked with Williams, who appeared and started in 13 games in 2020.

However, an active regime normally seems to favor guys it acquired — this current one brought in Rankins, not Fatukasi, so there’s a chance the staff prefers Sheldon.

Rankins is still young at 27 years old and likely could still produce if provided the right on-field situation.

Given the present run-stopping and pass-rushing capabilities of both Rankins and Williams, the pair would possibly make for a versatile interior of the defensive line.

There’s also Jonathan Marshall, who the Jets drafted in this year’s sixth round out of Arkansas.

He’ll compete to earn significant playing time and the staff will likely give him a look, but I can’t see him starting (at least not this year). Marshall is a young late-round draft selection and needs time to develop before assuming notable responsibility.

Honey’s pick: Sheldon Rankins

DE2 role: Kyle Phillips? John Franklin-Myers? Vinny Curry?

John Franklin-Myers and Vinny Curry were both acquired during the Joe Douglas era, which could give them an advantage in regard to the upcoming defensive end position battle.

Douglas claimed Franklin-Myers off waivers in Sept. 2019 and he proved to be decent on the pass-rushing front last year. In 15 games, Franklin-Myers racked up three sacks (third on the team) and 13 quarterback hits (tied for second).

At 24 years old, there’s a chance Franklin-Myers has yet to play his best ball — the Jets could unlock his true potential by providing him with a great deal of playing time.

Douglas signed Vinny Curry this offseason but he started just five of 27 games with Philadelphia the last two years and is entering his age-33 season. Having inked just a one-year deal, Curry is more of a stopgap option and isn’t likely to hold down a starting job.

Kyle Phillips, on the other hand, went undrafted in 2019 and signed with the Jets when Mike Maccagnan still held his general managerial role.

He’s still only 24 years old, but the production wasn’t all too intriguing last year (11 total tackles, zero sacks, one quarterback hit in seven games). Not to mention, Phillips is coming off a season-ending ankle injury that caused him to miss the final nine matchups of last year.

Phillips may be fighting for his job, and numerous signs point toward the potential occurrence of him either getting cut or assuming a backup role.

Honey’s pick: John Franklin-Myers