In the lead-up to training camp, NewYorkJets.com will be breaking down the key storylines for each position group. Today, we look at the defensive line.
Big Cat on the Prowl
With the offseason departure of Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams is now the Jets' longest tenured DL as he enters Year 4. Williams recorded only two sacks last season, but he battled in the trenchers for long stretches with a wrist injury. With that being said, the "Big Cat" led the team once again with 28 quarterback hits. The 2015 No. 6 overall pick has led the Green & White in QBH since joining the team. This year, the USC product is stepping up as a leader on the field and is eyeing to regain his 2016 form when he led the Jets with seven sacks and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
"When you look at Leonard, he's a prideful guy to go from seven sacks to two sacks," coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. "Of course he wants his numbers up and of course we do too, but then we look back because we look at kind of the big picture. He was kind of high on quarterback hits, so you know sometimes you get there and sometimes you don't, but he's hitting the quarterback. He's around the quarterback and he's a very disruptive player for us."
The Jets beefed up the defensive front through the draft with the additions of third- and sixth-round picks Nathan Shepherd and Folorunso Fatukasi. Shepherd recorded 168 tackles, 27 for loss and 10 sacks in three seasons at Fort Hays State and the 6'4", 315-pounder ran with the first-team defense for most of the spring. The 24-year-old Shepherd should see a considerable amount of playing time as a rookie and the Jets coaches believe he'll make an early impact.
"I definitely believe he is a lot more pro ready than a lot of people think," head coach Todd Bowles said. "When they (draft pundits) say raw, they don't mean years away. He may need some weeks, or even camp or training camp, but he'll definitely play in the rotation. He's got heavy hands, he's quick off the ball, he stays low and he's got a great drive. He'll be ready once he goes to training camp."
Fatukasi is another player with heavy hands that some pundits believe was a great value pick for the Green & White. NFLDraftScout.com's Dane Brugler had a third-round grade on the Connecticut product despite being selected in the latter half of Day 3. Bowles said Fatukasi, and Shepherd, will play multiple roles along the line and their additions will help keep everyone fresh.
"Same size, different players," he said. "Fatukasi can go across and go down and play nose as well Shepherd. But, the way that we're going to use him in certain schemes and the way they fit differently in our defense, so we have plans for both of them. They can play on the same side, they can play opposite of each other. They can also give Leo a break and they can also play at the nose, but we have them both slotted for certain things depending how we want to use them."
Top Snapshots of the Jets D-Line at Multimedia Day and On the Field
Low Risk, High Reward
Perhaps one of the underrated moves this offseason was general manager Mike Maccagnan's draft day trade for Colts DL Henry Anderson in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Anderson played in 29 games (19 starts) in three years for Indianapolis and suffered a laryngeal fracture that cost him the last seven games of 2017.
With a defensive scheme change in America's Heartland, the Colts decided to part ways with Anderson, who fit the bill as a 3-4 defensive end. The 6'6", 301-pounder said he feels comfortable in that role, which he played for four years at Stanford, and his goal is to add 20-25 pounds before training camp.
"We actually like the player and he's 26 years old," general manager Mike Maccagnan said after making the deal. "He's going into the final year of his contract, but we liked him coming out of college. He's an excellent guy from a character standpoint and we thought for the value, it was a good opportunity to maybe add a guy. We'll see how he plays for us and potentially (he's) young enough to invest in going forward."