After finishing dead last in the AFC East with a 5-11 record, the Jets are still in need of help on both sides of the ball. Despite another season without a postseason appearance, Gang Green defied analysts and football fans alike who predicted the team could go all year without registering a win. This, in large part, came from the steady play of veteran quarterback Josh McCown and a quality effort from a defense that would lose former Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis and, eventually, depth at the defensive line.
The upcoming 2018 season is going to come with more expectations than ever following the NFL Draft and free agency. Following an eventful free-agency period, the Jets have added Trumaine Johnson, managed to hold onto Morris Claiborne, and bolstered their linebacker core with Avery Williamson. Arguably the most important addition came in the draft with New York’s third overall selection. By selecting USC quarterback Sam Darnold, they have elected to build a team centered around a new potential franchise-player.
For the rookie to find any sort of success, the Jets must find a way to return their defense to elite stature; keep the opposition’s offense off the field and allow Darnold, or whoever is behind center, to see as many reps as possible. Here are our top three picks for breakout performers on defense for the 2018-19 season.
Jamal Adams, S
This list would be remiss to acknowledge last year’s first-round selection. Jamal Adams showed flashes of greatness in his rookie season even without recording a single interception, which second-round pick Marcus Maye was able to accomplish twice. The LSU product finished the year by playing in all 16 games and recording two sacks to go along with 83 combined tackles. He was also able to record one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries; a total ball-hawk willing to move all around the field. The Pro Bowl third-alternate honor wasn’t enough for the first-year safety.
Where Adams stands out is with his presence on the field and in the locker room. As a rookie, he assumed the role as a leader on defense and is not shy of the media-attention in the Big Apple. If you follow Adams on social media you’d know that he isn’t too happy with not recording an interception. As a matter of fact, the Jets safety seems determined to have a breakout season that’ll put the league on notice. For that reason, Jamal Adams makes our list.
— Jamal Adams (@Prez) April 30, 2018
Avery Williamson, LB
The Jets were willing to let 28-year-old linebacker Demario Davis walk in the offseason to the New Orleans Saints. Davis was able to fetch a three-year, $24 million contract on the open market and, truth be told, New York was never willing to pay him that much (even as their leading tackler). Instead, the Jets elected to go slightly younger by prying 26-year-old Avery Williamson from the Tennessee Titans to a tune of three-years, $22.5 million.
Williamson was more than impressive in the 2017 regular season for the Titans; he finished with 92 combined tackles, three sacks, and two forced fumbles in a full 16-game stint. By the numbers, the former fifth-round pick has hovered around 100 combined tackles over the past three years. Jets head coach Todd Bowles will enjoy Williamson’s versatility and play-making ability at the center of his defense. If Davis was able to find a resurgence in his career at 28, imagine what Bowles can do with his new, younger linebacker in 2018.
Parry Nickerson, CB
Did GM Mike Maccagnan find a gem in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft? The Tulane cornerback runs a 4.32 40-yard dash, is praised for his exceptional ball skills, and recorded sixteen career interceptions in college (six coming from last year). Wait, didn’t the Jets lock up their secondary with Johnson and Claiborne in free agency? We’re not here to argue that Nickerson is going to be starting his rookie season on the outside with the league’s best receivers, at least not yet. Instead, this should be a concern for Buster Skrine as the Jets’ newest corner is coming for his job in the slot.
At 5’10” and 182 pounds, Parry Nickerson isn’t exactly the most physically-impressive prospect, especially for Bowles who prefers bigger corners. However, Skrine’s small stature (5’9”, 185 pounds) and liability in coverage could result in the coach looking elsewhere. New York had a combined 11 interceptions in all of last season, tied for 20th in the league. The Jets are desperate for fast, dynamic playmakers on defense who can get after the football. Enter Nickerson. Our prediction: the Tulane product wins the starting job at slot corner and impresses as a sixth-round selection.