Predicting the New York Jets' 53-Man Roster: Defense
This is the second of three articles that will break down my predictions for the Jets 53-man roster. First up will be the special teams and practice squad, followed by the defense on Monday and the offense on Tuesday.
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Defensive End - Shaun Ellis, Marques Douglas, Mike DeVito, Zach Potter
Shaun Ellis is the longest tenured player in the franchise. He has been with the Jets since they drafted him 12th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. He has played in 140 games at left defensive end and accumulated 465 tackles and 61.5 sacks over the course of his nine seasons in the league.
Some thought Ellis would have a tough time making the transition from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 defense end, but Ellis has responded with a pair of five-sacks seasons followed by an eight-sack season last year to lead the team.
Ellis is a leader on this Jets defense and leads by example. It will be interesting to see how Rex Ryan uses Ellis. He will be 32 years old to start the season and the Jets have played with the possibility of using Kris Jenkins at left defensive end with Sione Pouha in at nose tackle on several plays to give the defensive line more beef.
The Big Katt will be a fixture on the defensive line this year and with his past success as a pass rusher, it will just be another toy for Rex Ryan to play with when he creates his blitzing schemes.
Marques Douglas was another ex-Raven that joined Rex Ryan in New York. He signed with the Jets on March 13, 2008 to give the Jets some depth at defensive end.
Little did he know, he will likely be called upon to start for the Jets this upcoming season at right defense end. Why? Because former starter Kenyon Coleman was dealt to the Cleveland Browns in the trade that sent the No. 5 overall pick to the Jets in which they used to select Mark Sanchez.
None the less, Douglas knows Ryan's defense well as he spent four years with the Ravens between 2001 and 2004 and once again in 2008. The Jets are counting on him to fill the void that Coleman left.
Mike DeVito is an interesting player. Despite going undrafted during the 2007 NFL Draft, the Jets brought him in and tried him out. DeVito did so well proving himself to the coaching staff that he won a roster spot over established veterans Bobby Hamilton and Kimo von Oelhoffen.
Ever since, DeVito has established himself as one of the first players off the bench when a defensive end is needed. In 16 games last season, DeVito registered 24 tackles with 0.5 sack.
DeVito is quietly doing a good job in providing depth behind an aging defensive line. With a change in scheme to come under Rex Ryan, it is possible that it could benefit him in the long run and possibly take over as a starter a year or so down the road.
At this point, I'll gladly take him as a solid player on my defensive line depth any day.
The Jets were so depleted at tight end that they have attempted to convert defensive end Kareem Brown to offense and use him as a blocker. While the process is still under evaluation, I don't think it will be a success.
So at this point, we will continue to deem him as a tight end. However, his success at tight end could hinge on the dream of another young player.
Zach Potter was projected to be a mid-round pick in this year's NFL draft. It was quite shocking to see that a player of his caliber was available on the free agent wire following the conclusion of the seventh round.
At 6'6" and 280 pounds, he has a big enough frame to give the Jets what they need as a defensive end. He replaced former Nebraska Cornhusker Adam Carriker as the starting defensive end in 2007. In his two years as a starter, Potter recorded 92 tackles, eight sacks, and 27 tackles for a loss in 25 games (24 starts).
He has all the makings to be a good player in the NFL and under the right tutelage and scheme, there is no telling how far he could go.
Nose Tackle - Kris Jenkins, Sione Pouha, Howard Green
Perhaps the biggest acquisition of the previous offseason, both physically (349lbs.) and from a team standpoint. Kris Jenkins has given the Jets the key component that they have lacked since they made the switch over to a 3-4 defense.
Despite questions and concerns over the conversion from 4-3 to 3-4 for Jenkins, as well as weight issues, he overcame it all and became the key to the Jets successful run-stopping defense.
His motor, athleticism and size up the middle prevent many running backs from breaking through for a big gain and he also managed to inherit multiple lineman, which is needed in the 3-4, to open up the pass rush that came from the linebackers behind him.
There is no doubt that his workload was over what he was capable of handling and that he faltered down the stretch of the season, but with a strong pair of backups like Sione Pouha and Howard Green, Jenkins should remain and have as strong a season as ever.
Sione Pouha was one of the few holdovers from the Herm Edwards era that Eric Mangini inherited. His size and success gave the Jets another option up the middle that was used to his advantage when the team switched over to a 3-4 defense.
Pouha subbed in for Jenkins on several packages during the course of the 2008 season. As I have stated above, Rex Ryan has attempted an offensive line that consisted of Kris Jenkins moving over to play defensive end with Pouha playing nose tackle.
I am anxious to see how well that bulky defensive line would do in-game.
Howard Green was a sixth-round pick by the Houston Texans in their inaugural season during the 2002 NFL draft. While he spent time during the offseason in Houston, he also spent time during the 2002 season with the Ravens under then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.
Since then, Green has bounced around the league and spent time with the Seahawks, Dolphins, Saints and Vikings but is now joining the Jets. He brings another big body and depth for the Jets on the defensive line.
Outside Linebacker - Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, Vernon Gholston, Kenwin Cummings
Another one of the Jets many 2008 offseason acquisitions, Calvin Pace joined the Jets last year to give them a much needed pass rusher from the outside linebacker position. Prior to Pace, the Jets only managed 19 sacks from their two starting outside linebackers during Eric Mangini's tenure as head coach.
Pace provided stability to the position last season and managed 80 tackles, 7.0 sacks and five forced fumbles. He is a pivotal player in this team's future as it stands right now with Rex Ryan at the helm. Using Ryan's blitzing schemes, Pace has the ability to put up career highs in every category.
Bryan Thomas was drafted by the Jets in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft. After failing to live up to his first-round status, the Jets moved him to outside linebacker when Mangini took over the team and switched to the 3-4 defense.
With his hand out of the dirt, Thomas broke out for a career high 8.5 sacks and 77 tackles. The Jets rewarded him with a long-term contract.
Thomas' success was short-lived and he only managed to come up with 2.5 sacks in his second year as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
With Pace on the opposite side of him, Thomas rebounded with 5.5 sacks and 58 tackles in 2008.
It's unclear at this point how the Jets intend to use Thomas. He has talent and could be a major contributor as a pass rusher, but there is a fellow named Vernon Gholston sitting behind him on the depth chart waiting to break out.
Speaking of Vernon Gholston, the Jets sixth overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft had a miserable rookie campaign. One in which he did not even reach the field as a starter, despite being highly regarded as a premier pass-rusher out of Ohio State.
It was evident that through last summer, Gholston was having trouble making the conversion from a 4-3 defensive end in college to a 3-4 outside linebacker at the pro level. He managed a putrid 13 tackles and no sacks.
When Rex Ryan took over as head coach of the Jets, the media asked him about Vernon Gholston and if there was anything he could do to help him get his NFL career on track. Ryan compared Gholston to Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was deemed a bust early in his career, but under Ryan became a Pro Bowl player.
As early as this past week, Gholston was impressing the coaching staff, and specifically defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
There has been talk that the Jets could use him as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in different packages. It would give opposing offenses different looks and make it harder to read the defense. Look for Gholston to possibly make his mark on the NFL under Ryan this year.
Kenwin Cummings joined the Jets last year as an undrafted rookie free agent. He took the Jets by storm and had a solid preseason finishing in the top 10 in tackles in the AFC with 19 and also added on a sack against the Browns in the first week.
Cummings should provide solid depth to the team at the linebacker position and is versatile enough to play both outside and inside.
Inside Linebacker - Bart Scott, David Harris, Jason Trusnik, Marques Murrell, Larry Izzo
Bart Scott, the Mad Backer, signed a six-year, $48 million deal with the Jets this offseason.
One of the most interesting stories I have ever heard was how Rex Ryan recruited him by sitting in his driveway until the clock struck midnight when it was legal for teams to start pursuing free agents.
Negotiations went on and in the end the Jets had themselves a new leader on defense and he has already brought the swagger that Rex Ryan has been preaching onto this team.
Scott was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie free agent following the 2002 NFL draft. For the next three seasons, Scott was limited to backup duty and special teams work.
When Ray Lewis went down with an injury during the 2005 season, Rex Ryan called upon Bart Scott to replace Lewis. He would go on to make 10 starts and have a breakout season in which he registered 92 tackles and 4.0 sacks.
From that point on, Scott was a starter in the Ravens defense and would work out of both the inside linebacker and outside linebacker positions.
He would go on to record 103 tackles with 9.5 sacks and 2 interceptions in 2006, also receiving an invitation to the Pro Bowl for his efforts. In 2007, Scott made 93 tackles along with 1.0 sack as well as 82 tackles and 1.0 sack this past season.
The Jets will call upon Scott to lead this defense and to help the conversion process of the move from Eric Mangini's 3-4 scheme to Rex Ryan's defense.
David Harris turned out to be an outstanding pick by the Jets in the second-round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He took the world by storm when he was summoned to replace the injured Jonathan Vilma in week eight against Buffalo during his rookie year.
He responded with 17 tackles and one sack. The following week Harris made an astounding 24 tackles against the Washington Redskins. He finished the season with 127 tackles and five sacks.
In his sophomore season, Harris missed five games due to injury, but still managed 76 tackles and one sack. Look for Harris to have a rebound season under Rex Ryan.
Jason Trusnik was signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio Northern following the 2007 NFL draft. He has been a very solid contributor on special teams and has given the Jets depth at inside linebacker.
In two seasons, he has recorded 18 tackles in 13 games (six special teams tackles in 2007), including a career high five tackles in the final game of the 2008 season.
Marques Murrell, the younger brother of former Jets running back Adrian Murrell, joined the Jets in November of 2007 when he was signed off the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.
Murrell provided nice depth for the Jets at inside linebacker after Jonathan Vilma went down with an injury and continued to do a good job both as depth and on special teams last season.
Lastly, Larry Izzo was signed by the Jets this offseason to contribute solely as a special-teamer. A 13-year veteran, Izzo has played for the Dolphins and Patriots throughout his career, most recently spending his last eight years with New England.
Last season, Izzo led his team in special teams tackles with 14, marking the eighth time in his career that he has done so. Izzo has averaged 1.4 special teams tackles in his career. He has recorded 257 special teams tackles in 188 regular season games.
The Jets welcome Izzo and he will join Mike Westhoff's always great special teams unit.
Cornerback - Darrelle Revis, Lito Sheppard, Dwight Lowery, Donald Strickland, Drew Coleman, Ahmad Carroll
“We've got some linebackers, got a free safety that's a ball hawk, and to me the best corner in football. That's a pretty good starting point."
That was Rex Ryan's introductory press conference in which he deems starting cornerback Darrelle Revis the best corner in football. How is that for praise from your new head coach?
Revis has done all the right things and has made the plays to back up that very statement. It's hard to believe he's only been here for two years, because he plays like a six or seven year veteran.
During his rookie season in 2007, Revis managed 87 tackles to go along with three interceptions. He followed that up with a 58 tackle season and added five picks, including one run back. Revis made the Pro Bowl last season and made an amazing interception while covering Anquan Boldin in the end zone.
Heading into his third season in the NFL, it's hard to argue with Ryan in that he is one of the top five cornerbacks in the league right now, if not the best. Not to mention, he managed to do this with a revolving door of cornerbacks on the opposite side of him.
Can you imagine what he could do this season when he has a former Pro Bowl cornerback in Lito Sheppard covering the opposite side?
Lito Sheppard joins the Jets after seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Unhappy in Philly after being demoted to a backup when the team signed Asante Samuel, Lito finally got his wish and was sent to the Jets for a fifth-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft and a conditional pick in 2010.
Though injuries have always plagued him, when healthy Sheppard is as good as they come. He can give you Pro Bowl numbers as such like he did in 2004 when he recorded 56 tackles and five interceptions and in 2006 when he made 30 tackles with six interceptions.
The Jets have gone through many cornerbacks over the past couple years, such as Justin Miller, Dwight Lowery, Drew Coleman, Hank Poteat, David Barrett, Ty Law, and Andre Dyson. The Jets are looking for stability opposite Darrelle Revis and I think they will be happy with what they get in Sheppard.
Dwight Lowery was the Jets fourth-round pick last season. He was thrown into the fire in his rookie season in week one as a starting cornerback, but after a few weeks, it was clear that it was too early as he was having trouble covering NFL corners.
Lowery has a ton of talent and will likely develop with time to become a solid corner, but is best suited as a nickelback at this point.
Last season, he recorded 68 tackles and one interception.
It is going to be a treat to watch him develop into the player that we all know he can be. Having him behind a duo of Lito Sheppard and Darrelle Revis is not a bad thing.
Donald Strickland joined the Jets this offseason as a free agent. A third-round pick by the Colts in 2003, Strickland's career hasn't lived up to what he was thought to be during his rookie season. As a first-year player, Strickland recorded 48 tackles and hauled in two interceptions in 11 games. He hasn't recorded another interception since.
The past couple of seasons he has spent with the San Francisco 49ers and has appeared in 27 games (7 starts) in the last two years.
Overall, what you are getting is a reasonable cornerback that will likely contribute as a special teamer while also filling the void sometimes in dime situations. Nothing more.
Drew Coleman was the Jets sixth-round draft choice in the 2006 NFL Draft. With injuries and just overall inconsistency at the cornerback position, the Jets gave Coleman four starts in his rookie season. Misplays and misfortunes sent Coleman back to the bench before long.
In 2007, Coleman saw less playing time with the addition of Darrelle Revis to the mix, but managed seven tackles and one interception. He played in even less games in 2008 (nine), but came out with 23 tackles and a sack to show for it.
Coleman is what he is. He won't wow you with his numbers, but he is a good bottom of the depth chart cornerback to have on your roster.
Ahmad Carroll was a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2004. Inconcistant play led to him being released after week four of the 2006 season. He joined the Jacksonville Jaguars later on that month, but was waived by the team after he was arrested on drug and gun charges.
After spending the 2007 season out of football, Carroll decided to get his career back on track while he was still only 24 years old. He joined the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League and spent the 2008 season there before the Jets signed him prior to the start of the 2008 NFL season.
Carroll did an amazing job contributing on special teams for the Jets last season and was tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with 26. The Jets rewarded him and he was re-signed by the team earlier this offseason.
Safeties - Kerry Rhodes, Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith, Emanuel Cook
Kerry Rhodes has been stellar since his arrival on the NFL scene in 2005. In his rookie season, Rhodes finished third on the team in tackles with 106 and added 1.0 sack and one interception.
Under Eric Mangini, Rhodes became an all-pro in 2006, recording 99 tackles with four interceptions and 5.0 sacks. One season later, Rhodes made 68 tackles with five interceptions and 2.0 sacks. Somehow, he still did not manage a Pro Bowl appearance through all of this.
Last season, Rhodes numbers fell off, coming down with 84 tackles, 1.0 sack and just two interceptions.
Never the less, he has drew praise as a ball-hawking safety by Rex Ryan who may look to use Rhodes in the same way, shape and form that he used Ed Reed in Baltimore.
I am expecting a big year from Kerry Rhodes this year in this new defense.
Jim Leonhard is another player that joins Rex Ryan in New York. He absolutely fits the bill of a player that New York fans tend to kind of rally around. A hard-nosed, good attitude safety, Leonhard spent last season in Baltimore after three years with Buffalo.
Under Ryan in Baltimore, Leonhard broke out and had a career high 69 tackles along with one sack and one interception that was returned for a touchdown.
New York Jets fans are going to love this guy. Well, didn't they like that other undrafted, hard-nosed and undersized guy named Wayne Chrebet?
Eric Smith was a third-round pick by the Jets under Eric Mangini in 2006. After spending two season in backup duty, Smith got the opportunity to start for the Jets after Erik Coleman left the team for free agency.
In the middle of the season, Smith suffered three concussions in a five-week span and lost his starting job to Abram Elam mid-season.
Smith will return to the Jets this season in backup duty once again and will likely be the first safety off the bench if an injury were to happened to either of the starters.
Like Zach Potter, Emanuel Cook was a mid-to-late level draft prospect that dropped out of the draft and into the undrafted free agent pool. The Jets swooped in and picked up the 21-year old safety.
Cook will compete with James Ihedigbo for a spot on the roster and to round out the safety position.
Next up: Offense - Tuesday
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