Evaluating New York Jets Pre-Draft Roster and Needs: Defensive Line
The New York Jets went into this offseason with needs all over the field, but the one area they didn’t have to worry about was the defensive line. The Jets have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. The three were nicknamed the “Sons of Anarchy” by a fan poll this year, and they wreaked havoc in opposing backfields all season. That trio was backed up by Kenrick Ellis and Leger Douzable, and the Jets’ only move on the line this offseason was to re-sign Douzable to a one year contract.
Wilkerson is the star of the group recording 63 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception while being equally outstanding against the run and the pass. Wilkerson is already one of the premier 3-4 defensive ends in football at just 24 years old, and his absence from the Pro Bowl was an absolute joke. Everything the Jets do defensively begins with Wilkerson, and as he continues to improve he will lift the entire defense with him.
At the other end spot was Richardson, who deservingly won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Traditional stats simply do not quantify Richardson’s impact (which is why his win was derided by many uninformed critics), but his presence was invaluable to the Jets’ third ranked run defense. Richardson was consistently able to create penetration against the run and disrupt plays in the backfield, allowing the linebackers to make the tackle. Going forward, the Jets want to see him improve his pass rushing to match his play against the run. If he can do that, Richardson and Wilkerson will be unstoppable.
The final starter was Harrison, a mountain of a human being who was a revelation last season. According Football Outsiders, the Jets led the league in yards per carry allowed and ranked third in stuff percentage, and Harrison was a huge part of that. His ability to occupy blockers and close gaps at the point of attack makes everyone else’s job significantly easier. Harrison doesn’t offer much in the way of a pass rush, but as true run stuffing nose tackle, it doesn’t get much better.
Ellis and Douzable both performed very well in their backup role, and they were reliable filling in when the starters needed a break and in short yardage situations. However, that brings us to the Jets’ need on the D-line: depth. Carrying only five full time defensive linemen (Quinton Coples splits time) is a risky move, and the Jets were lucky enough to enjoy nearly perfect health last season. However, they need to add depth in the draft to ensure that they are prepared in case they are not so lucky in 2014.
Obviously the defensive line is not a priority, but the Jets do have four picks over the final two rounds and there’s no reason not to take a flier on a young lineman, particularly one with some pass rushing credentials. Prospects that could be available in that in that range and make sense include Jay Bromley, Kyrie Thornton, Shamar Stephen, Taylor Hart and Ben Gardner. The Jets are not going to be looking for a star here, but adding some depth and insurance late in the draft would make a lot of sense.
The defensive line is by far the strongest position group on the team, and there is not any major work to be done here. However, NFL teams should always make sure they are prepared in case of injury, and right now the Jets could still use some help fortifying their defensive line. Look for them to use a late pick on the position, but that will be all.