Realistic Predictions for New York Jets Projected Defensive Starters
The New York Jets begin the 2014 NFL season with legitimate playoff aspirations but need their defense to improve upon an 11th overall ranking from last season in order for the team to achieve its ultimate goal.
The Jets face vast uncertainty in the secondary, especially at cornerback, where multiple injuries have depleted an already talent-hungry unit. That said, the Jets have one of the best front sevens in all of football.
For the Jets to overcome relatively adverse odds to claim a playoff spot, their defense essentially needs to match its 2013 performance against the run (3.4 yards per carry allowed). Gang Green must also improve upon a pass defense that ranked 22nd overall in 2013 and enabled opposing quarterbacks to register an 86.5 QB rating.
On paper, it doesn't appear as though the Jets are capable of improving their pass defense. The Jets' severe lack of depth in the secondary will compel opposing offensive coordinators to resort to a pass-heavy game plan, especially considering how good New York's run defense is.
The D-line and linebacker corps will anchor the Jets defense in 2014. The following slideshow makes predictions for each projected starter on the New York defense.
Muhammad Wilkerson (DE)
The Jets flaunt one of the best front sevens in all of football, in large part because of Pro Bowl-snub Muhammad Wilkerson, who was flat out dominant in a breakout year in 2013.
The former first-round pick recorded 63 combined tackles with a team-high 10.5 sacks. He also recorded three passes defensed and forced a pair of fumbles.
According to ESPN's NFL Player Rankings, Wilkerson is the 31st-best defensive player in the league, and also ranks as the 12th-best defensive lineman.
At 24 years old, the former Temple standout has yet to reach his full potential. Expect Wilkerson to continue climbing the ladder in 2014 and record career highs in every category.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 48 solo tackles, 13.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles
Damon Harrison (NT)
Damon Harrison was the most noteworthy feel-good story of the Jets' 2013 season. His emergence as one of the most capable nose tackles in the NFL sparked New York's pass rush and helped clog running lanes.
The man dubbed "Big Snacks" has overcome odds to become someone for whom opposing coaches around the league must game plan. The 350-pound run-stuffing machine wasn't on the radar before the 2013 season, though.
In September of last year, Rich Cimini of ESPN New York documented Harrison's unlikely trek from high school water boy to overnight stock boy before his unanticipated explosion at Jets training camp. Harrison beat out former third-round pick Kenrick Ellis to win the starting nose tackle job last summer, and he didn't disappoint during the regular season.
"Big Snacks" started all 16 games for the Jets last season, recording 66 combined tackles with one sack and two passes defensed. His familiarity in head coach Rex Ryan's defense should lead to an even greater performance in 2014.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 44 solo tackles, 2.0 sacks, three passes defensed, one forced fumble
Sheldon Richardson (DT)
They call them the "Sons of Anarchy," and not just because of the suffix tagged to each of their last names. The Jets' front three is a dominant force. 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of Year Sheldon Richardson is a big reason for that.
According to CBSSports, some Jets fans were displeased when Gang Green selected Richardson with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
The former Missouri standout steadfastly turned doubters into believers, recording seven combined tackles and one-half a sack in his NFL debut in New York's thrilling 18-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of last season.
In total, Richardson recorded 77 combined tackles with 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 16 games during his rookie season. According to ESPN's NFL Player Rankings, Richardson is the 39th-best defensive player in the league, ranking one slot ahead of New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
At 23 years old, the ceiling is very high for Richardson. Expect another tremendous season from the former first-round pick.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 45 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles
Quinton Coples (OLB)
Defensive lineman-turned-linebacker Quinton Coples has yet to have a breakout season for the Jets, but the former first-round pick is gearing up for a big year.
According to Seth Walder of New York Daily News, Coples has slimmed down and honed in on refining his burst off the snap, which will ideally enable to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and pressure opposing quarterbacks.
It's a good thing that Coples is confident in his ability, but it remains to be seen whether the North Carolina product has truly taken strides toward becoming the player the Jets want him to be.
As an outside linebacker, Coples recorded 10 sacks over his first two seasons, including (4.5) last year. His steady development should ultimately result in better all-around numbers in 2014, but don't expect Coples to suddenly become one of the best edge-rushers in the league.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 36 solo tackles, 6.0 sacks, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles
Demario Davis (ILB)
Demario Davis excelled as the Jets WILL linebacker in the 3-4 base defense during his second season as a pro in 2013, recording 107 combined tackles with one sack and one pass defensed.
For the Jets defense to rank as a top-five unit statistically in 2014, Davis needs to work on his pass-coverage ability, and he's demonstrated some improvement in that area in training camp, according to Seth Walder of New York Daily News.
Davis has totaled seven tackles with one sack and one pass defensed in preseason action. Improved play from Davis in pass coverage will allow the Jets defense to be more dynamic.
This season has the potential to be big for Davis. If he continues to ascend, the Jets are only going to become increasingly difficult to score upon.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 75 solo tackles, 3.0 sacks, five passes defensed, two interceptions, one forced fumble
David Harris (ILB)
Veteran inside linebacker David Harris, along with outside linebacker Calvin Pace, helps solidify the Jets youthful defense.
The Jets MIKE linebacker is entering his eighth season has a pro. He's been healthy throughout his career, starting all 86 regular-season games during Ryan's tenure as head coach.
The balance between youth and experience on New York's defense makes them it of the most well-rounded units in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Harris ranked as the 18th-most effective inside linebacker among 55 players who recorded enough snaps to qualify for a rating.
Harris' dependability drew praise from Ryan at the onset of training camp, according to Manish Mehta of New York Daily News. That's not a surprise, considering Harris recorded 124 combined tackles with two sacks last season.
Expect similar numbers from Harris in 2014.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 65 solo tackles, 2.0 sacks, one pass defensed, one forced fumble
Calvin Pace (OLB)
Pace, a 12-year veteran, is coming off a remarkable season that almost didn't happen. The 33-year-old pass-rusher was released by the Jets last offseason before signing a one-year "prove it" deal before training camp.
Pace rose to the occasion, surging to a career-high 10.0 sacks while starting all 16 games. Pace's excellence from a season ago earned him a two-year deal worth $5 million, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York.
Cimini notes that Pace was in on just 79 percent of Jets' defensive snaps in 2013, which was down from 89 percent in the season prior.
Pace is unlikely to record back-to-back seasons of double-digit sacks, considering his age and what could be a further decline in playing time in 2014. Nonetheless, he remains an important component of New York's defense.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 33 solo tackles, 7.0 sacks, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles
Calvin Pryor (S)
The other Calvin manning an important role on the Jets defense is former Louisville smash-mouth safety Calvin Pryor, who has yet to officially claim a starting role but has demonstrated the ability to make a difference in Gang Green's depleted secondary.
Pryor was monstrously impressive in his NFL debut in the second week of the preseason against the Cincinnati Bengals, recording a team-high seven combined tackles, including one for loss, with two passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
In total, Pryor has posted 12 combined tackles (eight solo) with three passes defensed.
The hard-hitting defensive back is going to be a staple in the Jets defense for years to come, and he could claim a starting job by default if safety-turned-cornerback Antonio Allen is asked to man the outside.
Stat Predictions: 15 starts, 77 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, 11 passes defensed, three interceptions, two forced fumbles
Dawan Landry (S)
Dawan Landry was mostly solid for the Jets in 2013, recording 100-plus tackles for the second straight season. He also notched seven passes defensed, one interception and one sack.
The nine-year veteran could experience a decrease in playing time this season if Antonio Allen transitions back to safety, which depends on a variety of factors, namely Dee Milliner's return from a high-ankle sprain.
Landry's ability to provide coverage help to the Jets cornerback conundrum will be tested in 2014. He recorded more passes defensed last season than he had in the three previous years while with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, but his role remains undefined, according to Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger.
If Allen begins the season at cornerback, Landry will resume his starting role, potentially for the entirety of the season if the former seventh-round pick Allen impresses.
Stat Predictions: 16 starts, 54 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, six passes defensed, one interception
Dee Milliner (CB)*
The Jets No. 1 cornerback got off to a solid start in Gang Green's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts, recording one tackle with two passes defensed.
Unfortunately for New York, that's about the only action Milliner could see until Week 2 of the 2014 regular season. According to Dom Consentino of The Star-Ledger, Ryan remains hopeful that Milliner can play in the Jets' opener, although his status with a high-ankle sprain remains unclear.
Milliner will be a key part of the Jets defense when he reclaims a leadership role in the secondary. The second-year player recorded 56 combined tackles with 15 passes defensed and three interceptions in 13 games during his rookie season.
All three of Milliner's picks happened during final two weeks of the 2013 season. The Jets need Milliner to take his game to the next level in order to become a playoff team this year.
The former Alabama standout expects to be up to the task, given his remark about being the "best" cornerback in the NFL, as reported by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News.
Stat Predictions: 15 starts, 58 solo tackles, 19 passes defensed, five interceptions
Antonio Allen (S/CB)
The Jets experiment with Allen at cornerback appeared to be going mostly well until the true safety suffered a concussion just 11 minutes into Gang Green's eventual 35-24 preseason loss to the rival New York Giants, according to Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News.
Allen recorded two combined tackles with one pass defensed while playing sparingly in three preseason games.
He was beat badly for a 35-yard gain by Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green in his first action at cornerback against the Bengals, but would have likely had the chance to impress against the Giants if he hadn't succumbed to a head injury.
Allen will undergo standard NFL concussion protocol before returning to the practice field, creating opportunity for Darrin Walls, who could start in place of either Allen or Milliner in the Jets' opener.
Veteran offseason acquisition Dimitri Patterson was a projected starter at the onset of camp, but he is reportedly displeased with the Jets' pecking order at cornerback and recently disappeared from the team for approximately 48 hours, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN NewYork.
Stat Predictions: 15 starts, 32 solo tackles, nine passes defensed, two interceptions