New York Jets: Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis
Training camp usually signals the true beginning to the upcoming season, and the New York Jets will kick off training camp in just 17 days.
It's been a busy offseason in the Big Apple, as New York signed a multitude of prized free agents and used a league-high 12 draft picks.
But have all the additions improved upon a roster than won eight games a year ago?
Let's take a look if that's the case on the defensive side of the ball, which is Rex Ryan's bread and butter.
Click through to see a complete position-by-position breakdown and analysis for the Jets' depth chart on defense.
Final Projected Defensive Depth Chart
The Jets have nearly double this many players on their current depth chart, but with just 53 players due to make the team, many will be sent home. Here are the players I see sticking around for the 2014 season.
LDE: Muhammad Wilkerson, Leger Douzable
RDE: Sheldon Richardson, Tevita Finau
DT: Damon Harrison, Kenrick Ellis
LOLB: Calvin Pace, Garrett McIntyre
MLB: David Harris, Demario Davis, Nick Bellore, Jeremiah George
ROLB: Quinton Coples, IK Enemkpali
LCB: Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson, Ellis Lankster
RCB: Dimitri Patterson, Darrin Walls, Dexter McDougle
FS: Antonio Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett
SS: Calvin Pryor, Dawan Landry
Left Defensive End
Starter: Muhammad Wilkerson
Backup: Leger Douzable
The defensive line is widely considered the Jets' best positional unit, and it's not hard to see why.
It begins with Muhammad Wilkerson, who has quickly emerged as one of the most complete and dangerous defensive ends in football.
The 2011 first-round pick showed promise in his rookie season. In his sophomore campaign, he thrived at stopping the run, and just last season, he added double-digit to sacks to his credentials
The 24-year-old should only improve in his fourth season. He should be considered a serious contender for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award if he can stay healthy for all 16 games.
Douzable doesn't have the immense physical talent of Wilkerson or the other talented youngsters in Gang Green's front seven, but he's a hard-working and capable player.
He's a fine backup on the defensive front.
Right Defensive End
Starter: Sheldon Richardson
Backup: Tevita Finau
Opposite Wilkerson is another young superstar in Sheldon Richardson.
After being drafted with the 13th pick in last year's draft, Richardson put together one of the finest rookie seasons in recent memory.
The Missouri product claimed the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and recorded an impressive 78 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a forced fumble, as he emerged as both a fantastic run stopper and a solid pass-rusher.
Expect Richardson to make even more strides in his sophomore year, and with Wilkerson form one of the league's best pair of defensive ends.
Finau is a lot like Douzable in that he lacks elite athleticism and size, but he's a hard-nosed, tough player who is capable of making an impact with minimal snaps.
Starter: Damon Harrison
Backup: Kenrick Ellis
While Wilkerson and Richardson were both highly ranked prospects coming out of college, the third member of the "Sons of Anarchy" wasn't on anyone's radar prior to last season.
Harrison went undrafted out of William Penn in 2012, and he made a limited impact in his rookie year.
However, after the departure of Sione Pouha in free agency and an offseason injury to Kenrick Ellis, Harrison was given a chance to start in 2013.
Harrison made the most of his opportunity, as he recorded 66 tackles and sack and established himself as one of the game's best run stoppers.
The 25-year-old could be a household name after this season if he puts together another impressive campaign.
Ellis was originally supposed to be the heir apparent to Pouha, but injuries and inconsistency have limited his production.
The former third-round selection is still a talented player with formidable size and strength, so he makes for a fantastic backup regardless.
Starter: Calvin Pace
Backup: Garrett McIntyre
Prior to last season, the Jets faced some serious concerns about how they would generate sacks from the outside linebacker position.
Calvin Pace was regressing seemingly every year and was getting up into his mid-30s, so there was little hope that he would be the answer.
However, Pace proved doubters wrong and put together an incredibly productive campaign, as he recorded 10 sacks. Pace's performance earned him a new contract this offseason, and a stranglehold on the starting job at strong-side linebacker.
The 33-year-old undoubtedly benefits from the amount of attention the young guns on the defensive line receive from opposing blockers, but as long as he continues racking up sacks, Rex Ryan needn't worry.
McIntyre has been one of New York's most consistent backups since 2011, largely due to his on-field smarts and determination. The 29-year-old should see himself in that role once again in 2014.
Starters: David Harris, Demario Davis
Backups: Jeremiah George, Nick Bellore
After a couple subpar years, David Harris once again established himself as one of the game's most productive middle linebackers in 2013.
Harris' terrific bounce-back campaign included 124 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble.
With over 750 tackles, 27.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and six interceptions in his eight-year career, the Michigan product has proven time and time again that he is a capable of doing it all on the field. The 30-year-old will be the leader of the team's linebacker corps once again, and he will continue to be a staple in Rex Ryan's defense.
Davis had some bumps in the road in his first season as a starter, but the former third-round pick put together an altogether impressive year. The 25-year-old went over 100 tackles, and he added an interception and a sack. Davis is undersized, but he's speedy for a linebacker, and he gives it his all on every play. There's no reason why he shouldn't improve with more experience.
Jeremiah George and Nick Bellore are two different players who I believe will end up in the same scenario. George was taken in the fifth round of this offseason's draft, and despite being undersized, he has great strength and works hard.
Bellore plays with a mean streak and has a nose for the football. The 25-year-old has appeared in all 48 games for Gang Green over the last three years, and he should add to that number this season.
George and Bellore will rarely see the field on defense because of the presence of Harris and Davis, but they'll both be leaders on the special teams unit.
Starter: Quinton Coples
Backup: IK Enemkpali
Questions lingered last offseason about how Coples would adjust to outside linebacker after moving from end to accommodate the arrival of Sheldon Richardson.
Coples initially struggled, as he recorded just one sack in his first 11 games. Additionally, his open-field tackling and pass coverage needed work.
However, the 2012 first-round selection started to get the hang of it as the season drew to a close. He put up 3.5 sacks in the final five games of the year while improving in other areas.
Coples still needs to improve, and the learning curve is far from over, but the North Carolina product possesses the physical talent to succeed at doing so.
Enemkpali is the kind of player who turns out to be a training camp darling. He's a tough and energetic athlete who exerts maximize effort at all time and occasionally makes big plays as a result.
The Louisiana Tech product was a defensive end in college, but his lack of size means he'll make the move to outside linebacker as a pro.
If he can show signs of developing some pass-rushing moves and contribute on special teams, he should beat out a couple other youngsters, including fellow seventh-round pick Trevor Reilly, for a roster spot.
Starter: Dee Milliner
Backups: Kyle Wilson, Ellis Lankster
Dee Milliner did not start his NFL career well, as he struggled throughout September and October and was constantly beaten by opposing receivers.
However, the first-round pick improved significantly towards the end of the year.
Milliner put together two outstanding performances in the final two games of the season, as he recorded 10 pass deflections and three interceptions in that span.
With a full offseason to adjust to the pros and a year of experience under his belt, Milliner should be able to show us his full potential in 2014.
Wilson will never live up to his first-round billing, but he's emerged as a solid slot cornerback in recent seasons. His physical style of play and speed are perfect for the role.
Ellis Lankster's size prohibits him from excelling on the outside against bigger receivers, but he's also a solid slot man who has good tackling ability.
Starter: Dimitri Patterson
Backups: Darrin Walls, Dexter McDougle
The Jets still have major concerns at the No. 2 cornerback spot after they failed to find a solid replacement for Antonio Cromartie.
The team will likely have an open competition for the job, with veteran Dimitri Patterson, youngster Darrin Walls and rookie Dexter McDougle the likely front-runners to win the starting spot.
Patterson will probably win the job, as he has years of starting experience under his belt. He's prone to giving up big plays at times, but the 31-year-old has a knack for making them as well. He recorded four picks in just six games last year.
Walls should give Patterson all he can handle. The 26-year-old was surprisingly solid when on the field a year ago, and he was given plenty of chances because of Milliner's struggles early on in the season. The Notre Dame product has good size and above-average speed, and he will probably be New York's first option to start on the outside if either Milliner or Patterson get hurt.
McDougle's lack of size make him a question mark to play on the outside, but his blazing speed and good tackling ability make him a serious threat to dethrone Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster as the team's primary slot cornerback.
If the rookie can learn the playbook quickly and put together an impressive training camp, he could see the field quite a bit in his rookie year.
Starter: Antonio Allen
Backup: Jaiquawn Jarrett
Many thought Josh Bush or Jaiquawn Jarrett would emerge as the Jets' starting free safety last offseason, but it was Antonio Allen who instead impressed in training camp and won the role.
Allen was sometimes beaten by opposing slot receivers and tight ends, but he ultimately put together a solid season in which he recorded 63 tackles, seven pass deflections, a sack and a memorable pick-six against the New England Patriots.
The 25-year-old has decent speed and good size, so he can cover most opposing receivers and even some tight ends.
With the hard-hitting Calvin Pryor playing beside him, Allen should be able to make more big plays in his second season in the starting role.
Jarrett may have lost the competition for the starting job last year, but the 24-year-old is still a capable backup. He's a solid open-field tackler and a good cover man against less speedy receivers.
Starter: Calvin Pryor
Backup: Dawan Landry
Calvin Pryor has a lot of hype surrounding him after the Jets opted to take him in the first round of the draft over several highly ranked wideouts and cornerbacks.
Pryor's a hard-hitting, tough player who makes big plays and is a leader both on and off the field. The 22-year-old is already practicing with the first team, and he's impressed the coaching staff so far this offseason.
The "Louisville Slugger" will start from day one, and he has all the tools to be an immediate star on the back end of the defense.
Landry was solid, if unspectacular, in the starting role last year. He struggled in defending bigger tight ends, but he put up an impressive 100 tackles. The veteran's a decent player, but his lack of playmaking ability is the reason the Jets chose a safety in the first round.
However, Landry does make for a very good backup.
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