The New York Jets came up just short of the playoffs in 2015, but it was through no fault of the defense. In his first season as head coach Todd Bowles’ defense thrived, ranking fourth in the NFL in total defense, second in the league against the run and ninth in points allowed.
It’s a defense that’s loaded with talent from the front to the back, whether it’s their loaded defensive line or a deep and talented secondary.
It’s also a defense with no shortage of options for IDP owners, from an elite defensive lineman to a steady Eddie linebacker and a couple of potential value plays at defensive back.
Number in parentheses denotes 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
There isn’t a defensive line in the National Football League with more talent than the Jets, and it all starts with end Muhammad Wilkerson (DL3) — he of the $86 million contract extension. Wilkerson’s career year in 2015 was cut short by a broken leg, and he told Brian Costello of the New York Post that between that injury and his fat new paycheck he’s eager to get back after it this fall.
“We were talking during walk-through that having all of us on the same field is going to be fun,” Wilkerson said. “With the defensive staff we’ve got — Todd [Bowles] and Kacy [Rodgers] — dialing up blitzes and creating mismatches, I know offensive coordinators are going to have a difficult time scheming us up. You can’t double everybody.”
That “us” Wilkerson is referencing is contract-year end Sheldon Richardson (DL53) and second-year pro Leonard Williams (DL42), who the Jets drafted sixth overall in 2015. Richardson’s coming off a down season last year and will serve a one-game suspension to open 2016, but he told Kimberly Martin of Newsday he agrees that the Jets line has a chance to be special this year.
“It’s a lot of guys who communicate well with each other, get along with each other, and it shows out there on the field,” Richardson said. “And hopefully this season, you guys will really see it. You’ll see a lot of guys who are enthusiastic, with a lot of energy and happy for each other. And that’s what makes a good group.”
Williams, who may well have been the most talented prospect at any position in last year’s draft, racked up three sacks in a rotational role as a rookie. As Connor Hughes of NJ.com reported, the Jets have tinkered with lining him up at nose tackle this summer to get him more snaps — a move that could portend DT eligibility in IDP leagues at some point.
For fantasy purposes, Wilkerson is an elite DL1, with Richardson landing somewhere in DL2 territory. Given the uncertainties about Williams’ snaps it’s hard to advocate drafting him as more than a third DL, but if he starts getting full-time snaps that asking price could turn out to be a steal.
For nine seasons, inside linebacker David Harris (LB21) has prowled the middle of the Jets defense. In each of the last four seasons Harris has topped 100 tackles. He told The Post’s Mark Cannizzaro that while he’s no spring chicken, he isn’t ready for the glue factory just yet.
“I love being out here with my teammates, playing a sport I’ve been loving since I was 4 or 5 years old,” Harris said. “Every day I wake up and am able to go out and live my dream. Not too many people can say they’re doing that. I still come out here with the passion of a rookie.”
The Jets also looked to the future at the position in 2016, selecting Ohio State’s Darron Lee (DNP) in Round 1. To date Lee has been unable to unseat journeyman Erin Henderson (LB154) to start opposite Harris, but Bowles told Newsday’s Bob Glauber that the youngster is making strides.
“We had some plusses, he had some minuses,” Bowles said. “He missed two tackles. Two times, he was too quick on the trigger and overran some balls. Other times, he was OK. But it’s slowing down for him a little, so he’s playing faster.”’
Until Lee can prove himself more than a subpackage player, his IDP value is restricted mostly to dynasties, although there’s top 15 upside present in a full-time role. Harris is the same thing he’s been throughout most of his NFL career — a low-ceiling, high-floor LB3 who won’t single-handedly win you any fantasy matchups but also won’t cost you any.
Strong safety Calvin Pryor (DB70) has been something of a disappointment since the Jets drafted him in the first round back in 2014, but Bowles told Hughes he thinks the potential is there for a breakout third season in 2016.
“Going through your first two years, some things catch you off guard,” Bowles, a former NFL safety, said. “But as you become a safety, you become more instinctive. You figure out how people attack you, and you figure out certain things by formation, personnel. I think he’s growing into that part going into his third year.”
Costello agrees. “It feels like Pryor is on the verge of becoming a top player at his position,” he said. “If he makes as big of a jump in 2016 as he made in 2015, the Pro Bowl is a possibility.”
If Pryor does indeed take that step forward, then he could be one of the biggest IDP value picks of 2016 in the secondary. Playing behind a less-than-stellar LB corps, there are going to be opportunities to produce. If Pryor takes advantage of those opportunities, it isn’t hard to imagine DB1 numbers — available for a DB3 price tag.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis (DB89) may be the heart and soul of the New York defense, but he isn’t the player at that spot IDP owners should target if their league requires corners. That would be sixth-year veteran Buster Skrine (DB132), who will start opposite Revis. Skrine is everything IDP owners seek in a CB — a strong tackler (65+ tackles three straight years from 2012-2014 ) who is just good enough in coverage to keep his job.
But not so good that opposing quarterbacks will think twice about attacking him instead of Revis.