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Muhammad Wilkerson Climbs the Fantasy Ladder

Kind of ironic that New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was running with the bulls this past week. Considering this is a guy who is used to bull-rushing opposing quarterbacks not running from the opposition. Ryan may be a love-him-or-hate-him kind of coach, but, one thing for certain is that the man knows how to coach a defense.

The defensive mastermind bull rushed his way to a No. 1 and No. 3 overall defensive ranking during his first two years with the Jets. His defense led him to two straight AFC championship games. In 2011, he handed over the controls to a certain degree to defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine. The result was a two-year decline of defensive production and a defense that was no longer feared by opposing teams as it once was.

In Ryan’s first two years, he dialed up blitz packages in one shape or form half the time. That’s an astonishing percentage of blitzes. Under Pettine, that number fell to around 33 percent in 2011 and 2012. In this so-called make-or-break year for Ryan, expect those blitz packages to be hot and heavy as he aims to cause chaos and confusion for opposing offenses.

The New York Jets have been loading up on defensive talent the last couple of drafts to add to their veteran squad. Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Demario Davis, Kenrick Ellis, along with the newest additions of Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson, all have three years or less experience. Now plug in Pro Bowlers David Harris and Antonio Cromartie, and you have a defense that is primed to return to the elite ranks of the NFL.

Ryan has already made it clear that the Jets will be returning to form in 2013 via a hybrid 3-4 scheme that involves a barrage of exotic blitz packages. The hide-and-seek tactics that Ryan employs keeps offensive coordinators guessing and lessens the frequency of double teams on his interior lineman. If he’s not blitzing half the time, he’s giving the illusion of blitzing. Eight men in the box may result in a three-man rush. This cat and mouse game he will play with offensive coordinators will be fun to watch. I believe the biggest benefactor will be Muhammad Wilkerson, who is coming into his third season.

In his first two seasons, Wilkerson has been everything the Jets have hoped he would be. Last year in Pettine’s defensive scheme, Wilkerson quietly crept into the top-10 for defensive ends in solo tackles, forced fumbles and passes defensed. He leapt into the top-3 for total tackles behind only the almighty J.J. Watt and Anthony Spencer. Very impressive considering the fact that Wilkerson dealt with double teams week-in and week-out under Pettine’s defense.

Now I don’t expect double teams to go away entirely, as this would be foolery on the part of opposing coordinators. However, I expect the frequency of double teams to go down, as they will have to account for Ryan’s exotic blitzing schemes. By freeing up Wilkerson more, it will benefit him to a great degree. I forecast his sack totals to approach or exceed the double-digit mark and you can expect an increase in all statistical categories across the board. That’s a lofty prediction considering he is already in the top-10 among defensive ends in the NFL in most categories.

Now you may not be running with the bulls like Ryan, but my advice to you guys in IDP format leagues is to take the bull by the horns and set your sights on Muhammad Wilkerson on draft day. He will make that jump to elite status for defensive ends by year’s end. Now whether you love him or hate him, Ryan will have his defense back on top and Muhammad Wilkerson will be one of the biggest reasons why.

Editor’s note: No bulls were harmed in the writing of this article.

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