Jets 2021 Position Breakdown: Marcus Maye headlines versatile safety group

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Jets' Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis Treated Image
Jets' Marcus Maye and Ashtyn Davis Treated Image

Heading into the 2021 season, the Jets have made a series of moves to improve the state of their roster and overall depth, but are they ready to compete for a playoff spot?

In this series, we’ll break down the depth chart for every Jets position group. This time, we’ll go in-depth on the safeties…

Projected Depth Chart

Free Safety: Lamarcus Joyner, Ashtyn Davis
Strong Safety: Marcus Maye, JT Hassell
Depth: Elijah Campbell, Bennett Jackson, Jordyn Peters

- Key additions/losses: Signed Joyner. Franchise tagged Maye. Didn’t re-sign UFAs Bradley McDougald and Matthias Farley.

- Top Performer in 2020: Marcus Maye - 88 tackles, 11 passes defensed, two sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions.

- 2020 end of season rank (via PFF): 25th (for the secondary as a whole).

What Jets safeties have going for them

Maye had the best season of his career in 2020, although the Jets would still like to see more impact plays from him as he had no sacks and just one interception in the last 10 games. They’ll look to set up their secondary in such a way as to enable him to get such opportunities.

The Jets are confident that Joyner will perform well as he moves back to free safety after a couple of inconsistent seasons playing in the slot for the Raiders. There’s also some built-in flexibility here because Joyner can step up and cover a slot receiver or tight end in man coverage and Maye will be able to drop deep.

Key concern: Depth and long-term outlook

Two things jump out from looking at the team’s depth chart. First of all, the two projected starters are currently only under contract for the 2021 season. Signing Maye to a long-term extension would solve this issue, but agreeing to terms won’t be easy as the Jets probably won’t want to commit large amounts of money in a deal that extends into Maye’s 30s.

Secondly, there’s a serious lack of experience behind the first two. Davis started six games as a rookie, but if there’s an injury or two, the team will be forced to rely on unproven talent. It’s also possible they’ll need to use Joyner at slot cornerback if the need arises.

The team brought in three rookie linebackers who played safety in college, so perhaps it’s not impossible one of these could move back to the safety position or play there in certain packages or situations.

Player who must step up in 2021: Ashtyn Davis

The Jets drafted Davis in the third round in 2020 and he showed some flashes of athleticism and potential in place of the injured McDougald before going down himself with an injury. However, he seemed like a forgotten man during the offseason as the Jets brought in Joyner, presumably to start alongside Maye.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the current coaching staff doesn’t have plans for Davis, though. His athleticism and versatility make him exactly the sort of player Robert Saleh’s defenses have made good use of in the past, so they may still have a role earmarked for him in the long term.

Whether he competes with Joyner for the starting job, sees a lot of action in three-safety sets or has to wait for an injury to get an opportunity to start, Davis should have a role to play in 2021. If all else fails, maybe they could get him to bulk up and convert him into a linebacker too.

Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets safety Ashtyn Davis (32) is upended by Buffalo Bills strong safety Dean Marlowe (31) on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 13, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets safety Ashtyn Davis (32) is upended by Buffalo Bills strong safety Dean Marlowe (31) on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Biggest camp battle: JT Hassell vs. Elijah Campbell vs. Bennett Jackson vs. Jordyn Peters

While the top three safeties are locked in, you’d expect the Jets to carry at least four and there is no obvious candidate to win this final spot. It may come down to special teams as to who brings the most value and if nobody steps up, the team might end up scouring the waiver wire for reinforcements.

It’s an inexperienced quartet. Peters is an undrafted rookie, while the other three have played less than 50 defensive snaps between them during regular season action.

Overall 2021 outlook

The safeties are going to be important for the Jets in 2021, especially given how inexperienced they are at the cornerback positions. Joyner is a good fit to pair with Maye in a role similar to the one Jimmie Ward played for Saleh in San Francisco. However, the team may be hoping that Davis will have surpassed him by the end of the season, so they can move ahead with him locked into one spot for the rest of his rookie deal.

Maye’s long-term future remains uncertain but now that he’s earning big money on the franchise tag, hopefully he’ll respond by taking his game to the next level and becoming the veteran leader this secondary needs.