Jets 2024 Position Breakdown: Defensive line expects to dominate, despite personnel changes

Heading into the 2024 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 position group. This time, we’ll go in-depth at the defensive line positions…

Projected depth chart

Starters: DEs Haason Reddick and Jermaine Johnson, DTs Quinnen Williams and Javon Kinlaw.

Backups: Micheal Clemons and Will McDonald at DE, Solomon Thomas and Leki Fotu at DT.

Key additions/losses: Acquired Reddick from the Eagles via trade, signed Fotu and Kinlaw in free agency. Bryce Huff signed for the Eagles and Quinton Jefferson signed for the Browns in free agency. John Franklin-Myers traded to Denver.

Top Performers in 2023: Johnson was named to the Pro Bowl after recording 55 tackles, 7.5 sacks and an interception, which he returned for a touchdown. Williams was also named as a Pro Bowler after racking up 62 tackles and 5.5 sacks.

2023 ranking via PFF: Williams 3rd out of 142 qualifying defensive tackles.

What Jets’ defensive linemen have going for them

The Jets’ pass rush generates plenty of pressure as Robert Saleh targets disruptive, attacking linemen for his system and operates a rotation that seeks to get multiple players involved and keep everyone fresh.

When Huff, who was one of their best players at generating constant pressure, departed in free agency, the Jets responded by acquiring Reddick, who has more sacks over the past four seasons than any other NFL player. Reddick will pair with Johnson to give the Jets a pair of pro bowlers as their starting ends.

Williams is the key to the defensive line, though, and he has been working on expanding his game ahead of the 2024 season, so we could see him playing all along the line this year. Despite seeing his sack count drop from 12 in 2022 to just 5.5 last season, Williams was still dominant and earned Pro Bowl recognition for the second year in a row.

Key concern for 2023: Run defense

Franklin-Myers’ departure means the Jets are losing one of their best run defenders and Reddick’s listed weight is almost 50 pounds less, so the Jets could struggle to hold up in the trenches if he’s a direct replacement on running downs.

The Jets will be hopeful that they’ll lead a lot of games this year, forcing opposing teams to pass the ball. They also made sure to add some bulk to their interior rotation by signing two 325-pounders in Fotu and Kinlaw.

It’s possible that Thomas could get some reps on the strong side on running downs, as he’s played on the edge in the past and is a similar size to Franklin-Myers. Clemons could play a key role here, too.

Player who must step up in 2024: McDonald

One of the downsides of having such a deep defensive line was that the 2023 first-round pick was that McDonald struggled to get on the field and was even a healthy scratch a couple of times. Huff’s departure could free up some more reps on passing downs for McDonald, who has said he has bulked up during the offseason which should help him to be more effective against the run.

When he did get on the field, McDonald flashed some pass-rushing potential, recording three sacks and putting up pressure percentages that were better than Johnson posted in his rookie year. The Jets will therefore hold out some hope that he can make a similar jump in year two.

Biggest camp battle: Kinlaw vs. Thomas vs. Fotu

The starting role alongside Williams is up for grabs and Thomas should have a good chance at an increased role having done a solid job as a reserve over the past two years. The Jets are paying Kinlaw over $7 million this season, though, which indicates they have a big role in mind for him.

Fotu is renowned as a run-stopper, so there could even be a situation where he’s typically deployed on early downs, which could mean he starts games, even if Thomas and Kinlaw typically get more reps than he does.

Overall 2024 outlook

The Jets will expect their defensive line to be dominant once again and they could be even more productive in 2024 if the team is playing with a lead more often. With multiple possible pro bowlers and some young players with the potential to develop further, the Jets have ensured that there is a pipeline in place and this unit should remain dominant for years to come.

If Reddick can play like he has over the past few seasons, this could elevate an already good defensive line to new heights. It’s expected that he’ll be given an extension soon, too, which will make a statement that he’s part of the core rather than just a one-year rental.