Gregg Williams has to get back to his white board and his laptop.
The Jets defensive wizard has his biggest challenge to date ahead with the loss of impact players safety Jamal Adams and linebacker CJ Mosley, the latter who shockingly just opted out of the season for family health reasons. After Adams’ departure, Mosley was expected to take the defense by the reins.
Mosley looked like the coupled aggressor with Adams they sought when he had five tackles and an interception in the season opener last season against Buffalo, but a groin injury in third quarter ended his day. He did return in the 33-0 Monday night massacre by New England, yet the recurrence of the groin injury and a core muscles shelved him for the rest of the season.
Williams had plenty of depth at linebacker, especially with the return of Avery Williamson from an ACL and the addition of Patrick Onwuasor from Baltimore. It simply will be a matter of sorting out the numbers and schemes. The secondary, which was Williams’ successful project last season, still could use a veteran presence.
The real question will be the production of the projected front line of Henry Anderson, Quinnen Williams, and Steve McLendon, all of whom need to raise the bar.
Anderson was the rising star from the 2018 season, whose emergence with 8.5 sacks gave the Jets plenty of optimism to secure a future spot. A move outside and a bulked presence allowed him to flourish.
He excelled through camp last season, but injuries in late September and all of October derailed him for the remainder of the ride, as he finished with 24 combined stops and just one sack.
Now, it is 28-year-old Anderson’s job to lose in 2020 with rising stud Nathan Shepherd (missed six games last season due to a PED suspension and had two sacks) and third-round pick University of Florida edge rusher Jabari Zuniga in the nearby wings. Anderson needs to consistently show his flashed potential that should lead to a double-digit sack season.
Williams enters this season with a glaring bullseye on his back. It is a make-or-break season.
He was considered by many to be the best player (top pick, third overall) in the 2019 draft, and the Jets assumed they had a cornerstone lineman.
Williams had spurts, but he never materialized as a dominant figure with 28 combined tackles and 2.5 sacks in 11 games. The Jets crossed their fingers and hoped they didn’t have another Carl Barzilauskas (see top pick and sixth overall defensive lineman in 1974 who flopped).
The Alabama product realized his descent and worked diligently during the offseason in his home state to sculpture himself physically and mentally.
Will the 22-year-old avoid a sophomore slide? His two-felony gun charge in March (July court date postponed) and recent trade-wind chatter to Tennessee haven’t painted a positive picture.
The stable for is low-profile, 34-year-old McLendon, who continues to be a steady force with his 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks. He also has a career high in tackles for a loss with 10 and quarterback hits (7).
The 34-year-old recorded a PFF grade of 81.2 which ranked him as the No. 12 interior defensive lineman in the entire NFL. McLendon added 36 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and career-highs in both tackles for loss (10) and QB hits (7). Those numbers helped him rank as one of Pro Football Focus’ top linemen, and he hasn’t shown any signs of the impending twilight years.
With Mosley gone, team captain McLendon will undertake a deeper role with a defense that is still expected to be among the league’s best, and an offense that is expected to raise its stake. Kyle Phillips (1.5 sacks) and Folorunso Faukasi (1 sack) likely will have increased roles.
Overall, the consistent seven-man front generated 10.5 sacks from the team total of 35. That’s not bad with the emphasis on the linebackers, but they can do better.
Williams again will need to devise accordingly with his secondary and linebackers, but his front three rotation will need to reach the next level.