New York Jets' Defensive Line Depth Could Be Tested Early in Regular Season

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer ISeptember 1, 2015

New York Jets' Leonard Williams gestures before a preseason NFL football game against the New York Giants Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015  in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

The New York Jets have one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL. If their recent string of bad luck continues, though, they may change "have" to "had" in that previous sentence.

We already know Sheldon Richardson will be absent for at least the first four games of the regular season due to a suspension for violating the league's policy on substance abuse. His suspension could be extended after being charged with resisting arrest in a July 14 run-in with the law

Muhammad Wilkerson was absent from practice from August 2-24 while dealing with a hamstring injury, but he returned to practice and started in the Jets' third preseason game against the New York Giants

But just in time for Wilkerson's return, rookie defensive lineman Leonard Williams was pulled from the game after suffering a knee injury. Of course, with the series of unfortunate events at the Jets facilities, everyone was left expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Fortunately for the Jets, all the news appears to be positive.

That's not just fortunate; that's necessary.

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When the Jets handed in their selection card for Williams at No. 6, it was seen as a luxury pick. They already had one of the most talented defensive lines in football, Williams simply added another layer to that talent. Williams could have easily spent a majority of his rookie season on the bench, and no one would have batted an eye. That's an unprecedented set of expectations for such a high draft pick. 

Now, with Richardson's suspension, the Jets need Williams to be ready to go for the start of the season. His nearest backups are Stephen Bowen and Leger Douzable, both of whom are fits at his position but neither would match Williams' talent.

Leonard Williams backup options
PlayerLeger DouzableStephen Bowen
2014 snaps332243
Source: Pro Football Focus

The injury might also impact the number of linemen kept on the Jets' final 53-man roster. The Jets have four linemen who are guaranteed roster spots: Williams, Wilkerson, Richardson and Damon Harrison. With Richardson's suspension, that makes three linemen who will count toward the final 53-man roster total. Douzable, Bowen and T.J. Barnes make the most sense as backups.

Barnes' ability to spell Damon Harrison as a nose tackle and provide interior presence may have had an upper-hand on Bowen in the battle for roster spots, but Bowen might be the better fit if the Jets want to limit Wiliams' early-season workload. Bowen has nine years of NFL experience, and he has played a mixture of inside and outside alignments. When he's been playing in a 3-4 defense, though, he's been a fixture on the end.

The only other option for backup duty would be Ronald Talley. The former Arizona Cardinals defensive end is well-versed in Todd Bowles' defensive scheme, and came in off the bench in relief duty for Wilkerson at left end against the Giants. He would be lining up as the right end if he were to spell Williams, but he's played that role in his career as well.

Obviously, the Jets' best-case scenario is a speedy recovery for Williams. Failing that, some backups could be asked to step in and fill the void of his absence. The Jets have some options, but none are as intriguing or carry as much upside as the sixth overall pick.

Who knew Williams would be so vital so early?