5 Jets defensive players who will need to step up during 2021 NFL season

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C.J. Mosley treated art
C.J. Mosley treated art

The Jets spent nearly $30 million in this year alone on five players they believed would probably all be on their starting defense. All five of them were out when the Jets started their joint practices with the Eagles this week. One of them is out until the bye week. Two of them are out for the year.

No matter how they try to spin it, that’s all been an enormous blow to what they hoped would be a surprising defense this season. The good news is that defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (knee) returned to practice Wednesday and safety Lamarcus Joyner (back) should be back next week. But losing middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) for the first five weeks of the season will hurt, and the loss of defensive end Vinny Curry (blood clots) for the season won’t help their beleaguered pass rush.

The loss of defensive end Carl Lawson (Achillies) is, of course, a crushing blow and it might be impossible for the Jets to replace him.

So what can the Jets do to make sure their defense doesn’t fall apart? A lot of that will fall on Robert Saleh’s scheme and the ability of him and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to get the most out of the players left. But at some point it does come down to those players.

Here are five players on defense that the Jets will desperately need to step up:

LB C.J. Mosley

He reported to camp 20 pounds lighter (231) and looking and feeling faster than ever. His plan was to use that newfound speed to be better in coverage and provide the occasional pass rush too. And now the Jets need him to do that and more. He was the best player on their defense two years ago when he injured his knee two quarters into the season, and he needs to be the best player again now. He’ll be the leader on the field, but he’s also the best bet to be a playmaker. With Lawson out, the Jets need to find at least one player whom offensive coordinators try to avoid. Mosley could be it.

DE Bryce Huff

The Jets seem to really like this former undrafted free agent out of Memphis. He had two sacks as a rookie last year while playing only about 20 snaps per game. The plan was to increase that workload this year and make him a valuable part of the defensive line rotation – maybe a hidden gem among more accomplished players. Of course, with Lawson out and Curry not coming back either, they need him to play a much bigger part. He may lead that defensive end rotation. They’ll be counting on his speed to put some pressure on the quarterback. Between Huff and John Franklin-Myers, one of them has to emerge as a dangerous, pass-rushing threat.

DT Quinnen Williams

In many ways, Williams is the last, great hope of the Jets’ pass rush. He had a good season last year (seven sacks in 13 games) but hasn’t yet shown the greatness he once predicted for himself. With Lawson on the outside, many thought Williams would show that this year. But now he won’t have the outside help he was counting on, which means more double-teams for him in the middle. That can’t matter, though. He needs to provide that interior push and become a double-digit sack guy. He doesn’t need to be Aaron Donald, but he needs a player who can dominate games at times. And he’s going to have to do it without much help.

S Marcus Maye

One big reason why the Jets haven’t given him a long-term contract yet is that they don’t see Maye as the kind of game-wrecker that Jamal Adams was. His play is good, but not spectacular. It’s hard to think of a game where he truly impacted the outcome by himself. This season they’ll need him to do that. He is the back end of a very young secondary with extremely inexperienced cornerbacks in front of him. And now the pass rush that was supposed to provide cover fire may not be there. That puts more pressure on the back end and for players like Maye to make game-changing plays. He should get help from Joyner, but if his injury lingers Maye will still have to do it by himself.

LB Jamien Sherwood

The Jets loved Davis’ fit as a middle linebacker in Saleh’s scheme and felt he would thrive after being misused in Detroit. They’ll have to wait for that now, and instead they’ll accelerate the growth of Sherwood, a rookie, fifth-round pick, who appears to be the front-runner to take Davis’ spot. Complicating things is that Sherwood was a college safety, learning a new position. So far, it’s all been good for him. The Jets’ coaching staff has been impressed with how quickly he picked up the playbook and the nuances of his new position. He’s good in coverage and everyone seems enthralled with his communication skills. But there’s no more time for learning and he won’t be hidden in a rotation. He’s got a chance to win a starting job, and he might be expected to hold it for most of the first half of the season.