After four seasons in Tampa Bay's defensive backfield, Jordan Whitehead, 25, was snapped up by the Jets early in the free-agency period. He is the jewel in the crown of a position group that was challenged last season by a raft of injuries (Lamarcus Joyner played in one game; Marcus Maye, who subsequently signed with New Orleans, played in six) and inexperience.
"We are so fortunate to have gotten him," defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Whitehead. "He is an amazing human being. Every day he does something that just lights me up again. Like damn, he can do that, he can do that, he can do that.
"I don't know what his role was in Tampa regarding whether he was a leader or not, but he has absolutely assumed that role here with the fellas. They absolutely gravitate toward him, and they follow his lead and he does a great job of that. It's just rare that you get a guy in free agency like that because typically when you check all the boxes physically, you check all the boxes from a character standpoint, teams don't let you go. The fact that we were able to get him is huge."
Whitehead (5-10, 198) has not played fewer than 14 games and has not made fewer than 50 solo tackles in any of his four seasons in the NFL since being drafted out of Pittsburgh in the fourth round (No. 117 overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft.
"Amazing human being, teammate, like constantly bringing people along, bringing the young guys along, great communicator,: Ulbrich said. "All the stuff, obviously we study the tape, and we get a good feel for the player, but as far as the man, he was everything that was advertised coming from Tampa. I got some people over there that I really respect from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint, and he was stamped by everybody as far as the character. He has absolutely lived up to that. He increases, obviously, what we do on the grass, but he improves the locker room as well."
Players to Watch
Whitehead and Joyner, 31, are projected to be the starters and the driving forces at safety largely because of their experience. But, as the Green & White painfully discovered last season, depth at the position is critical. Enter two of the club's "young veterans": third-year player Ashtyn Davis, 25, and second-year man Jason Pinnock, 22.
Davis (6-1, 200) missed the first month of the 2021 season because of injury but came back to play in 13 games (10 starts), had 2 INTs and 62 tackles (43 solo). He showed improvement during OTAs and minicamp, but the needle will need to keep rising.
Pinnock, like Whitehead, was drafted out of Pitt, but as a cornerback. Pinnock (6-0, 205) saw limited time at CB, but raised his hand late in the season when Ulbrich was desperate for help at safety, and he acquitted himself well as he learned on the fly.
"From a physical standpoint there's really nothing different," Ulbrich said about Pinnock. "I mean here's this long, big, physical safety that's just got range. He checks off all the physical boxes. Now for him, it's about learning the position, he's a long-time corner. Corners aren't typically the greatest communicators. They haven't had to learn the whole game, they've learned their side of the field, they've learned their techniques. So, a lot of the time when you get him back there it's not only the technique, it's the vision, it's the communication. He's a guy that's getting better, and he's getting more comfortable with the position. Still got a ways to go though. Pinnock is getting better. We are very excited about what he will be, but he's still a young player and has a long way to go."
See the top photos of the Jets safeties leading up to training camp.
Can Joyner, 31, come back from injury? Can Whitehead, who saw his time on the field limited on third down for the Bucs last season, flourish with more responsibility? Can Davis make a leap in Year 3? And will Pinnock develop quick enough to become a key component in the safeties' room?
"Lamarcus has so much value to us," Ulbrich said. "Here's a guy that's played nickel, he's played corner in some capacity, so he knows how to play man. We feel comfortable and he feels comfortable covering wide receivers in a man capacity. Now we're trying to find another guy that can assume that same role.
"Whether it's Jordan Whitehead, Lamarcus Joyner, from the safety standpoint, they just stand out because they are so vocal and they are guys that love to bring people along with them, they have some natural leadership to them.
"Time will tell. In this league, especially in the current landscape of pass happy every week, it's huge to have a revamped secondary and these guys. It's so early to name starters and to say who the four or the five are going to be. It's created great competition and with competition, these guys will all grow and get better and with a good secondary, you could be a pretty good defense in this league."