Head coach Robert Saleh right after the end of the 2022 regular season said his preference was to keep his defense intact. After all, as a unit it had risen from near the bottom of the league in Saleh's first season in charge to among the best this past season -- fourth in scoring defense, fourth in yards allowed and ranked first overall by Pro Football Focus..
But changes are inevitable in a salary cap era. Sheldon Rankins (Houston) and Nathan Shepherd (New Orleans) left in free agency and Quinnen Williams, after logging 12 sacks last season, remains at the heart of the defensive line. The Jets signed veteran DT Quinton Jefferson in free agency (he had a career high 5.5 sacks for Seattle last season). Solomon Thomas re-signed and Tanzel Smart and Marquiss Spencer are the only other listed as DTs on the current roster. The Jets could add a DT at some point (but perhaps at No. 13 overall) in next week's draft in Kansas City, MO. Reported attempts to sign Fletcher Cox and Calais Campbell in free agency were unsuccessful.
At defensive end, Carl Lawson is entering the final year of his Jets contract and second-year players Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons return, along with John Franklin-Myers and Bryce Huff. If the Green & White choose to add to players at edge, a pick seems more likely in later rounds.
Below is a look at some of the top options at defensive tackles and edge rushers in the NFL Draft.
DT Jalen Carter (6-3, 300), Georgia
Legal issues and questions about his decision-making have caused many draft analysts to downgrade Carter on some boards, though Pro Football Focus continues to rate Georgia's former defensive star as the top non-quarterback available. Last season, Carter (who reportedly gained 10 pounds after the season) dealt with ankle and knee injuries, but from Week 9 on was awarded a 93 overall grade by PFF to lead the country. He had a modest 3 sacks for the Bulldogs, but racked up 8 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 3 blocked passes and 32 tackles.
DT Bryan Bresee (6-5, 305), Clemson
As a freshman in 2020, Breese recorded 33 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks and was the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year and named to the All-ACC First Team. An ACL tear limited him to four games in 2021, and last season he dealt with another knee injury and the death of a young sister. He still played in 10 games, had 3.5 sacks, 7 TFL and 15 tackles on a modest 302 snaps. Bresee, who declared for the draft after his sophomore season, also rushed the QB off the edge and is big, strong and athletic. In 28 games at Clemson, Bresee recorded 51 tackles, 15 TFL and 9 sacks.
DT Mazi Smith (6-3, 323), Michigan
Smith stayed with Michigan through four years and is seen more as a run stuffer (7 TFLs than a pass rusher, .5 sacks). He also dealt with a legal issue in 2022 after a traffic stop turned up a concealed weapon. That case was dismissed when he entered a guilty plea on a lesser charge. He played in 14 games in each of the past two seasons for the Wolverines, and last August, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic rated Smith No. 1 on his annual list of college football freaks, citing Smith's size, speed-shuttle time of 4.41 seconds and three-cone drill time of 6.94 seconds, and his "rare power and agility."
Other top-rated defensive tackles: Calijah Kancey (6-1, 281), Pittsburgh; Keeanu Benton (6-3, 309), Wisconsin; Gervon Dexter Sr. (6-5, 310); Florida
EDGE Will Anderson (6-3, 253), Alabama
Anderson started as a freshman in 2020 for Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. Straight out of the gate he was third in the SEC in sacks (7), had 10.5 tackles for a loss and 52 tackles. He was even better and more imposing as a sophomore with 101 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 38 TFL and 3 passes defended. Hard to improve on those numbers, and as a junior there was a bit of a falloff: 10 sacks, 21 TFL and 51 tackles. Some analysts have projected Anderson to be an outside linebacker in the NFL, but it's nearly unanimous that he's a blue-chip prospect, one of the top-rated players in the draft.
EDGE Tyree Wilson (6-5, 271), Texas Tech
With a wingspan of more than 7 feet, Wilson has used his imposing size and strength to overpower opposing OL. He transferred to Texas Tech (receiving a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately) after his freshman (redshirt) season at Texas A&M. He blossomed at Tech, logging 7 sacks, 14 TFL and 38 tackles in 13 games in 2021. He played in 10 games last season (a foot injury ended his season in early November), and collected 7 sacks, 17 TFL and 61 tackles. He was named to the All-Big 12 First Team.
EDGE Myles Murphy (6-4, 268), Clemson
Landed at No. 3 on the Freaks List of Bruce Feldman of The Athletic after a three-year career at Clemson where he flashed an eye-popping combination of size, speed, athleticism and strength. In 38 games for the Tigers, he displayed an uncanny ability to ease past OTs with his speed, used his strength to set the edge and have an impact stopping the run and to often dominate opposing tight ends. He finished his collegiate career with 17.5 sacks, 46 TFL and 119 tackles. PFF gave him a 90.9 run-defense rate for his career, second only to Anderson.
Other top-rated edge rushers: Nolan Smith (6-2, 238), Georgia; Lukas Van Ness (6-5, 272), Iowa; BJ Ojulari (6-2, 248), LSU
See NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah's updated list of the top 50 prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.