NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Can the Jets survive without an edge rusher?
With the offseason departure of Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets are awfully thin up front. The lack of an experienced guy to get after the quarterback is going to put a lot of pressure on Leonard Williams, who is more of an all-around defensive lineman than sack specialist. The third-year end out of USC is excellent against the run and, if nothing else, a player that can disrupt an opponent’s passing game.
But a 15-sack guy? The Jets haven’t seen it yet.
While the Jets appear vastly improved in the secondary and have athletic linebackers that can get from sideline to sideline, none of that may matter if they don’t thwart drives by getting to the quarterback. Let’s not forget, even with Wilkerson they finished 28th in the league in sacks last year with just 28. In 2016 they were 29th in the league with 27.
So, head coach Todd Bowles has himself a bit of a problem.
“Well we don’t have the name guy. We don’t have the Lawrence Taylor, so to speak, but we have guys that work hard and are very tough at the point of attack,” Bowles said. “You don’t need a name guy, you just need a guy with production and the production will make the name. Disrupting the quarterback is the big thing as well as setting the edge. We have certain guys that can do a lot of things right now. We’re mixing and matching to get a feel for what guys can and can’t do right now in the second week of training camp [like] we’re supposed to.”
The Jets’ current by-committee approach looks like it will consist of some guys who have a lot to prove. Namely, rookie Nathan Shepherd and veteran Henry Anderson. Shepherd is a monster at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, but he’s probably better suited to be a tackle in the NFL. Anderson looked like he was going to be the real deal with the Indianapolis Colts, before a freak throat injury derailed his career. He’s healthy now and the Jets are hoping he fills the pass-rushing void.
As for outside linebackers who could step up in Bowles’ 3-4 scheme, the Jets have given Lorenzo Mauldin chances during his first two years, but inconsistency and injury have plagued his progress. Jordan Jenkins, Josh Martin, a favorite of OLB coach Kevin Greene, and David Bass are also getting extensive looks during camp.
The last time a Jets outside linebacker notched double-digit sacks, you have to go all the way back to 2013, when Calvin Pace had 10.
As for the possibility of a trade, the Jets reportedly have interest in Oakland standout Khalil Mack. However, the Raiders have yet to declare that he’s on the block. Mack, who has 40.5 sacks in 64 career games, is in the final year of his rookie contract and is slated to earn $13.8 million. However, he’s locked in a holdout, presumably in an effort to get a deal that resembles what the Denver Broncos are giving Von Miller.
The Jets are likely willing to pay a big price to get a talent like Mack and have cap space to sign him to a big contract, but there’s no guarantee the 27-year-old former No. 5 overall pick would put pen to paper.
Other names general manager Mike Maccagnan could consider pursuing, according to reports, are Denver’s Shane Ray, Jacksonville’s Dante Fowler or Philadelphia’s Brandon Graham. However, for the time being, the Jets seem determined to stay the course with the guys they have and see who, if anyone, rises to the challenge.