The Jets starters on their defensive line are a talented group, especially at the 5-technique spots at defensive end. The line as a whole is far from deep. Losing longtime Jet Mike DeVito to the Chiefs and current Jet Quinton Coples to the linebacking core hurt the depth of the line. DeVito is one of the best run stopping 5-techniques in the game and Coples was among the most versatile. I would imagine Rex Ryan would think about moving Coples back to defensive end if one of the starters were seriously injured, but that's far from quality depth.
One thing the team needs is depth. Take the last two Super Bowl participants: The Ravens had plenty of depth in their front seven. Paul Kruger was used to playing second fiddle to Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, but Kruger stole the show notching two sacks of Colin Kaepernick. Courtney Upshaw, who was a rookie and started out the season as a backup, forced a key fumble in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Aldon Smith and Justin Smith were of gas because of injury and the fact they played the entire season and had no viable backups to give them breathers or replace them when need be.
The Jets won't be hosting the Super Bowl but their defensive line will have moments of brilliance this season.
I see two major problems with the Jets defensive line. The first is what I just mentioned a lack of depth. The second is New York will be starting a talented but raw rookie Sheldon Richardson. I equate Richardson to a raw piece of filet mignon. Eating the steak as is may taste good but you're going to wish you hadn't rushed the process.
With DeVito gone and Ryan moving Coples to linebacker, the Jets will be forced to start the unfinished product that is Richardson. Richardson's favorite thing to do on the field is to shoot the gap. The problem is that he likes to do this on nearly every single play. And many times he finds himself out of position and overpowered in the run game. Richardson does possess the necessary power to become one of the league's best defensive lineman but for now he's mostly one trick pony.
Muhammad Wilkerson is a stud. Both Joseph Haas of the HaasStyleInterpretaions.com and I are predicting Wilkerson to make the Pro Bowl this season. Wilkerson has a plethora of skills. He can bat balls down at the line. He can deal with double teams when defending the run. My favorite thing about Wilkerson is his impressive ability to get past a block to then collapse the run and make the stop on the running back. Wilkerson was second to the great J.J. Watt in tackles made by 3-4 defensive ends, in 2012. Wilkerson moves very quickly for a man of his size, which also helps him rush the passer.
If Richardson's game grows like the Jets front-office and coaching staff hope it does, I believe Wilkerson and Richardson will eventually become one of the better position duos in the league.
Kendrick Ellis hasn't proved to be much more than a space-eater (But that's OK). He fits in as the team's starting nose tackle. With Ellis using his power against offensive linemen, it will give Wilkerson and Richardson more room to make plays. Ellis has shown some skills at holding the point at the 5-technique as well. Backup Damon Harrison, being very inexperienced and failing to notch a tackle in his short NFL career, the Jets may not be inclined to trust Harrison at the nose that often. Harrison can certainly provide power, at 350 pounds, he’ll hold his own at the nose… but he struggles to get off the block in order to go after the ball carrier.
Antonio Garay is nothing more than an aging big body. In his prime he was able to play end and on at the nose. He was also able to get a pass rush by using his power, but his sack numbers have dipped in each of his last two seasons. This is another reason why the Jets need their starting defensive linemen to stay healthy. With all that being said, in football… staying healthy is easier said than done.