Safety Marcus Maye will absolutely be on the field for the majority of the Jets’ defensive reps. Who will start alongside him?
There’s a tad bit of uncertainty when it comes to the 2021 version of the Jets defensive backfield.
Marcus Maye is one of the more underrated safeties in this league and should be a leader of this unit, that’s for sure.
But outside of that, the potential starting cornerback tandem of Bryce Hall and Bless Austin comes with its fair share of question marks.
The Jets will need to field a talented pair of safeties to make up for the possible struggles coming out of the two outside cornerback spots. Marcus Maye fits the bill at free safety; who could best fill the role of the strong safety position?
Joe Douglas sees something in Ashtyn Davis, or else he wouldn’t have drafted him in last year’s third round. The former Cal Golden Bear is a tremendous athlete and can be a defensive weapon as well as a return specialist.
The issue though is that Davis struggled for the majority of his 2020 rookie campaign.
He didn’t portray great talent in coverage, having allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 73.1% of throws for four touchdowns and a combined passer rating of 142.5.
Overall, Davis recorded an underwhelming 53.0 Pro Football Focus grade — not an intriguing mark for someone who the Jets used a third-round selection on.
The advantage Davis has over the other main strong safety option (who we’ll discuss soon), however, is his experience playing alongside Maye.
Davis appeared in 10 games last year with six starts while Marcus appeared and started in all 16. The two likely, at this point, know how to work with one another and could further build chemistry if the Jets were to provide Davis with notable playing time as a starter.
While Davis possesses the aforementioned advantage, there are still numerous signs that could point toward Lamarcus Joyner starting.
For one, this current Joe Douglas-Robert Saleh regime acquired Joyner, having inked him to a one-year deal back in March. Saleh’s potential influence in the decision to sign Joyner could lead to the 30-year-old finding a noteworthy number of reps.
Joyner could additionally introduce a veteran presence in what’s mainly a young defensive backfield. Bryce Hall (23 years old) and Bless Austin (25) have appeared in a combined 26 career games (23 starts).
Since it’s only a one-year deal, Joyner could be a short-term stopgap option while Ashtyn Davis or someone like 2021 fifth-round pick Michael Carter II further develops as a situational defensive back.
And despite the fact Joyner is on the wrong side of 30 years old, on-field versatility is still present. Joyner has performed as a safety and more of a nickel cornerback in his career, so if Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich wish to field him in various roles, they certainly could do so.
We still need to see what occurs in training camp and the preseason later this summer. But if it were up to me, I would choose Joyner. It’s unclear if Davis can be a long-term weapon in the defensive backfield and you at least know what you’re probably going to get out of Lamarcus, regardless of his age.
As was previously mentioned, Joyner could be a stopgap safety this coming season — the team will worry about his possible long-term future in Florham Park (if there even is one) after 2021.