FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — In March, the New York Jets signed arguably the top defensive free agent, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, to a record-setting contract. On Thursday night, they made big man Quinnen Williams the highest-drafted defensive player in franchise history. They will join a couple of talented holdovers, safety Jamal Adams and defensive end Leonard Williams.
The Jets, one of the NFL’s worst defensive teams last season, should be much improved in 2019. Now the pressure is on another Williams — defensive coordinator Gregg — to make it work. There will be challenges and, yes, some questions.
Though the additions of Quinnen Williams and Mosley will strengthen the gut of the defense, which should help against the power running of the New England Patriots, it will be interesting to see how Boss Williams fits the pieces together.
The mad-scientist coordinator wants to play a 3-4 base front, but all good coaches adapt their scheme to their personnel. With the Williams duo and Henry Anderson, he has a trio of 300-pound players best suited to interior roles. It will be challenging to get all three on the field at the same time — unless he uses Quinnen at nose tackle to replace the old war horse, Steve McLendon. At Alabama, Quinnen played nose tackle and 3-technique tackle, his best position.
This will take some creativity.
Quinnen, Leonard and Anderson will be counting close to $30 million on this year’s salary cap. You’d hate to make one of them a rotational player, but that probably will happen. This smacks of 2015, when the Jets added Leonard Williams to the established unit of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison. They had one decent season, but the group ultimately never lived up to its potential, as the previous coaching staff struggled to define their roles. Remember Richardson at linebacker? Oh, the horror.
“Any team would like to have a very talented group of players,” said general manager Mike Maccagnan, who chose Quinnen Williams with the No. 3 overall pick. “I like the idea of Gregg Williams figuring out a way to utilize all the pieces we have. To me, it’s not a bad problem to have.”
If Maccagnan wants to recoup a second-round pick, he could try to trade Leonard Williams, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but that doesn’t appear to be the plan. Maccagnan declined to comment when asked if he would consider a trade, but he quickly added, “We like Leonard quite a bit. We actually like the idea of putting all those guys together on the field at the same time. We have the ability, in our minds, to have a very, very strong defensive front.”
On paper, this is a potentially dominating interior. The Jets will win the phone-booth battles, but here’s the thing: The game isn’t played that way anymore. The game is played in space, and every great defense needs dynamic players who can neutralize spread offenses. The Jets are thin at cornerback and they don’t have an elite edge rusher. They passed on a good one in the first round, deciding Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Allen wasn’t worth the third pick. He would have been ideal in their 3-4 scheme, but Maccagnan stuck with his best-player-available philosophy.
You can’t beat him up for drafting an elite talent such as Williams, rated by some teams as the best player in the draft, but he could regret it if Allen becomes a prolific pass-rusher.
Maccagnan fell in love with Williams at the end of the college season, when he started evaluating tape of the underclassmen. He watched five “comp tapes” of Williams — five games against top competition — and he was so impressed that he asked the scouting department if they were highlight tapes. They weren’t.
“Are you guys putting just his tackles on the tape or are you guys putting all his plays on tape?” Maccagnan asked his staff.
Maccagnan said Williams was “very dominant” against top competition. He’s right; Williams, only 21, is freakishly talented at 6-foot-3, 303 pounds. He loves what he can do for the Jets, and vice versa.
“I felt like they had a big interest in me, just knowing I could be paired up with Leonard Williams and the other defensive forces like C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams,” Williams said. “I just know those guys will enjoy a player like me. I think they’re building a huge defense. And you’re building up a massive defensive line up front.”