AFC East

New York Jets Defensive Breakout Candidates

Darron Lee bulked up in the offseason, but he doesn't expect the added weight to affect his speed. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

NFL training camps have officially began and football is back. The New York Jets offseason was headlined by the addition of the third overall draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft in potential franchise quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold will help solidify the Jets offensive future, but the Jets also made moves on the defensive side of the ball to help strengthen the defense to becoming a top unit again.

The Jets defense made some major needed additions this past offseason. The Jets had cap space to work with and general manager Mike Maccagnan spent wisely and added veteran talent and depth to the defense to go along with its already young promising core.

The Jets signed number one cornerback Trumaine Johnson formerly of the Los Angeles Rams to a five-year $72.5 million contract and middle linebacker Avery Williamson formerly of the Tennessee Titans to a three-year $22.5 million deal to take over the middle linebacker duties for Demario Davis who the Jets let walk in free agency to the New Orleans Saints.

With these pieces added to the defense, the Jets are expecting some of its young talent to breakout and reach its higher potential to contribute along side them. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams has solidified himself as the cornerstone of the Jets defense, but the team will not be able to move forward with Williams alone. The Jets need to see major steps forward from second year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye and third year linebackers Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins.

Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye were both selected with the Jets first two selections in the 2017 NFL Draft. Adams was selected with the sixth overall selection and Maye was selected with the 39th overall section and both were starters in their rookie seasons for the Jets secondary.

Adams finished with 83 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and six pass deflections in his rookie season. Adams was disruptive all over the field for the Jets, but to break out the area he needs to improve on is his interceptions. Adams has the potential to become a ball hawking safety and creating more turnovers in the secondary will be key to his development to breaking out even more for the upcoming season.

Adams acknowledged there will be a difference in his game this season as he has raised his own expectations after a very promising rookie season. “Year one to year two should be a difference,” said Adams. “That’s what I’m shooting for.”

Maye rookie expectations were not as high as second round pick compared to Adams, but Maye performed way above his expectations and has Jet fans very excited for the future of the teams secondary. Maye finished with 79 tackles, two interceptions, one pass deflection and a forced fumble. Maye statistically had a clear positive impact on the pass defense for the Jets and for him to breakout his key will be to just improve on these numbers even more and a be a force in the pass and run defense to become more of a multi dimensional player.

Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins now have two seasons under their belts and have enough experience to know what parts of their games must improve this season to become higher impactful starters than they already are. Lee was the 20th overall selection in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and Jenkins was the 83rd overall selection in the third round.

Lee’s first two seasons with the Jets have been impactful and a little rocky, but he is emerging as a leader of the Jets defense. Lee has 167 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and six pass deflections. For Lee to become a next level linebacker his key is to take control of this defense in the middle of the field even more. This includes creating more turnovers, creating more sack opportunities and becoming an even better cover linebacker and run stopper who teams will focus on in-game planning each week as Lee has special athletic ability for a linebacker.

Lee has the potential in him to surely reach this next level and he is focused on becoming a better leader and player after learning from his veteran counterparts. “I feel like this is all falling into place at the right time,” said Lee. “I’ve got the tutorial, I had my training wheels the first two years. Having David Harris, who’s an ultimate pro, and Demario was a great pro and he had a great year last year, I learned a lot from them. Just in those two years, I have a pretty good sense of direction of where to take it for this team and what’s going to be asked of me to help this team succeed.”

Jenkins expectations coming to the Jets as a third round pick were not the same on the same level as Lee. Jenkins was a productive college player at the University of Georgia and so far is a solid contributor at the outside linebacker position. Jenkins is now regarded as the top player of this position group and is why the target is on him to become more than just a contributor and to breakout and become a more feared pass rusher.

Jenkins has 90 tackles, five and a half sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries to this point of his career. To be an edge setter the biggest area Jenkins needs to break out this season is with his pass rushing skills. Jenkins has improved on this category in each of his first two seasons. Jenkins finished with two and a half sacks in his rookie season and three sacks last season. Jenkins needs to break out and explode in this area and increase his sack totals to become a premier outside linebacker in this league. Jenkins in his third year is ready for the challenge to lead this unit and has the potential to surely improve in this area and become a next level outside linebacker.

The Jets need these four starters to continue to improve off their encouraging careers to this point if they would like to get back to the playoffs soon. These four young talents along with Williams, Johnson and Williamson fills out seven of the starting spots on defense and if all four can fulfill this potential they will raise the Jets defense to an even higher level for the future and have the cap flexibility in the upcoming future to add even more pieces. Jets fans are excited for the team’s future and these four players will be a huge part of getting the Jets back on track to the playoffs and becoming a top level defensive unit.

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