The D-line was the Jets' best unit on either side of the ball last year and figured to get even better with the maturation of its youthful core, led by Quinnen Williams in his third Jets season and Foley Fatukasi in his fourth. And then GM Joe Douglas and his staff, after conferring with HC Robert Saleh and his staff, went out and got more good linemen. Among the unrestricted free agency signings: Carl Lawson, a major edge-rushing edition; Sheldon Rankins, the former Saints first-rounder looking to regain the inside form of his first three seasons after battling Achilles issues the past two seasons; and Vinny Curry, the long-time Eagles rotational player and also a Jersey Shore product.
Then in the draft, the Jets waited till their final pick to grab Arkansas DL Jonathan Marshall, who is related to former San Fran Pro Bowl DE Cedrick Hardman, is strong, fast and passionate, and considers himself a Round 6 steal "because I'm going to come in and work my hardest to prove myself right."
Also new is the scheme: The Jets' base look for the front seven in DC Jeff Ulbrich's scheme will be the 4-3 for the first time really since the final season together for John Abraham and Shaun Ellis in 2005 (unless you count the first half of 2016 when Sheldon Richardson lined up as a DE/LB).
Players to Watch
It's got to be Lawson and how he and Williams play off each other. Lawson's sack numbers are understated — he had 5.5 sacks last year and 20 sacks in four Bengals seasons — but he turned on the rush with 32 QB hits last year, second-most among all NFL defenders, trailing only Pittsburgh LB T.J. Watt's 41 QBHs. Williams led the Jets with 7.0 sacks and 14 QB hits and gave hints on multiple occasions that he was ready to step up in class as an all-purpose monster 5-technique.
"I had a million reasons for coming here ... not a million, but you know, a bunch of reasons for coming here," the loquacious Lawson said of his free agency decision, adding that one of them was to play on the same unit as Williams. "That was another attractive option because he's a hell of a player."
Another one to keep an eye on is Fatukasi, who has emerged from being virtually unused as a rookie in '18 to come in right behind the Rams' Aaron Donald as the No. 2 run defender among interior D-linemen, according to Pro Football Focus.
Will Q — that's Quinnen, of course — come back strong from his early May small broken bone in his foot and enjoy a really big coming-out party as the third-year? Can Kyle Phillips, who lost more than half of last season to injury, regain his remarkable form as an undrafted rookie free agent, when he had 12.5 tackles for loss/no gain and 1.5 sacks over the last 14 games of '19?
Will Saleh's D perform as well vs. the run on the East Coast as it did in his four seasons as defensive coordinator at San Fran, whose run defense rose from ranking 32nd the year before he arrived to No. 7 last season? Will the DL also give the Jets' pass rush a much-needed boost, considering that the 49ers D-linemen compiled 41 sacks as a unit in 2019, a total that the Jets as a team haven't reached since 2014? And will the Jets have two full D-line rotations with which to wear down and victimize opposing offenses, the way Saleh liked it when the Niners' DL was humming in '19 when it conspired with their secondary to form the NFL's No. 1 passing defense?
See the Jets D-Line Leading Up to the 2021 Season