The New York Jets had quite a few struggles at the safety position last season, particularly following the disastrous signing of Ed Reed midseason. Safety was not expected to be the Jets’ highest priority this offseason, but they surprised everyone by choosing to upgrade the position in the first round. The Jets now have three quality strong safeties and no free safeties, so it will be interesting to see out the roster shakes out. Here is what the depth chart could end up looking like.
Starters: FS Calvin Pryor, SS Dawan Landry
Reserves: FS Josh Bush, SS Antonio Allen
The decision to choose Pryor in the first round made sense on a lot of levels, given that he presents a big upgrade at safety and is a good fit for the Jets’ system. That being said, he will probably be forced to play out of position as a rookie. Pryor is at his best as an in the box strong safety, where he can use his excellent run stopping instincts and sledgehammer hitting to support the run defense.
However, he is a much better option at free safety than Landry or Allen, as Pryor as more range and coverage instincts than either. For that reason, Pryor will likely start at free safety and spend a lot of time playing the deep middle of the field. He will need to show good discipline and quickly adjust, because the free safety position was a major problem for the Jets last season.
Landry and Allen will battle to start at strong safety, and it will be an interesting competition. Landry is on the tail end of his career and doesn’t make big plays, but he is reliable and mistake free, and his intelligence and leadership are vital in the Jets’ young defense. Landry is a solid run stopper, but he offers very little in coverage. His competition is Allen, who has come a long way since being drafted in the seventh round in 2012. Allen is at his best in the box as well, but he also has the crucial ability to cover tight ends in man to man.
The reality here is that although Landry will probably technically be the starter, Allen is still going to see a significant amount of playing time. The Jets frequently used three safety looks last season, and they should continue to do that this year. Allen could also outright replace Landry in nickel packages and obvious passing situations, giving the Jets their best coverage lineup. Allen is a promising player, and the Jets need to continue to develop him.
No matter how the playing time breaks down, those three players are guaranteed a roster spot. That leaves one available spot, and the battle should come down to Bush and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Both were solid reserves and special teamers for the Jets last season, but the addition of Pryor means there is only room for one of them this time around. Jarrett is very similar to the other three in that he is a hard hitting, run stopping, in the box safety. For that reason, Bush is the favorite to earn the final roster spot. He is the only true free safety the Jets have in camp, and giving him an advantage because he balances out the roster.
Rontez Miles and Brandon Hardin are the other two safeties in camp, and both are intriguing young talents. Miles spent last season on the practice squad, while Hardin is a former third round pick of the Chicago Bears. There is some talent here, but it is unlikely either of them will factor into the final roster.
The big storyline here is how the Jets will choose to rotate Pryor, Landry and Allen, and it will be very interesting to see what roles they fill. Look for Pryor to be the full time free safety and Landry and Allen to share the strong safety position, depending on game situations. Either way, the Jets expect the a much better performance from their safeties this season, and they are hoping Pryor immediately becomes an impact player.