A brief look back at the Jets’ 2017 regular season proves that expectations matched reality. The team played with heart and competitiveness, but ultimately finished in the middle of the pack. There were also new signs of life on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. In the end, however, none of which was extraordinary enough to take the Jets to the promised land.
So as Gang Green trudges toward an important 2018, some things will need to change. This will come in hefty shifts on both sides of the ball as the team will look to rediscover it’s identity. Many expect a new quarterback to be thrust into the spotlight as well as some arrangements on both of the offensive and defensive fronts.
That being said, the Jets’ plans for their defensive scheme will be an interesting watch. While the unit had a decent 2017, many expect some rearranging. The once dominant Muhammad Wilkerson isn’t expected to be on the roster, and a few others are currently swindling in free agency.
A closer look at the performance of the Jets’ defensive line in 2017 uncovers some wounds. Not many names stick out other than Demario Davis, who had himself a career year. Kony Ealy played decently in his first year in the Green & White as well, but his mediocre stats shouldn’t overshadow the lackluster performances of his counterparts. Players such as Leonard Williams, Mike Pennel, David Bass, and a few others had somewhat forgettable seasons. And if the Jets wish to revive their once threatening front seven, and possibly recoup the nickname of the “New York Sack Exchange,” a switch needs to be flicked.
Being Disruptive vs Being Threatening
The Jets will enter 2018 once again with the 6th overall pick in the NFL Draft. It will be the third time in the past four seasons that New York selects in that spot. For the most part, they’ve had much success doing so. In 2015, it was Leonard Williams, and in 2017 it was Jamal Adams, both of whom hope to be franchise players in the Green and White. However, for Williams, that philosophy was staggered a bit this past season.
In training camp, Williams openly announced his season expectations and goals. He told one reporter that he planned to earn a sack in each regular season game. Now, at the end of the year, it’s an understatement to say that Williams missed his goal by a wide margin.
The third-year defensive tackle arguably had his worst season to date. He finished his 2017 campaign with only two sacks, and a career low in tackles and assists.
However, despite his underwhelming statistics, Williams was content with how things played out. He noted that sacks aren’t what make or break a defensive end, lineman or tackle. He claimed it was more about being disruptive and throwing off opposing quarterbacks.
And he isn’t wrong. According to the NY Daily News, Williams’ QB hit-to-sack ratio has been quite mind-boggling. Since 2006, there have only been three individual seasons, including 2017, in which a player recorded 19 or more QB hits and finished with three of fewer sacks. Williams is reportedly responsible for two of those seasons. He fell just shy of his rookie year performance in 2017.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) January 10, 2018
The Return of the Big Cat
While Williams has validity in his argument against his sluggish sack totals, the Jets shouldn’t ignore the fact that improvement is necessary. With the removal of Wilkerson and uncertainty surrounding the plans to fill his void, Williams will need to revamp his defensive presence.
It won’t necessarily need to come in the form of sacks, but Williams shouldn’t let that facet slip by him. Next season will be his ultimate chance at solidifying himself as a go-to leader. In a way, he should be adopting a J.J. Watt mentality. He’ll need to become the focal point of the Jets’ front seven, while also making those around him better.
The past shows that he has that capability. In 2016, Williams led the charge as he accumulated seven sacks (nearly double what any other player on the team had) while also forcing two fumbles (led team) and racking up 36 tackles. In turn, he opened the doors for those in development, such as Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins, and allowed them the space and time to work on their craft, as seen in 2017.
But now with 2018 on the horizon and a possible change-up in terms of who will be starting Week 1, Williams will need to regain that mentality. In a way, he’s the heart and soul of the defensive line. The Jets would prefer to see him pan out vastly different than that of Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, who were selected to abide to the same role in year’s past.
So while the Jets may alter their mindset in 2018 by focusing more on offense, Williams will need to adhere to being the rock of the defense. He certainly has what it takes. With the Jets lurking towards an intriguing cultural reversal, Williams may be put under pressure. He was caged up in 2017, but 2018 screams for the release of the Big Cat.