For years the New York Jets have boasted one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. While they lost one of the best nose tackles in the game in Damon Harrison, they were able to lock up Muhammad Wilkerson on a five-year contract. With Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and the newly signed Steve McLendon, the Jets defensive line came into the 2016 with much promise.
New York Jets Defensive Line End of Season Review
Wilkerson’s 2015 season ended with a lower right leg fracture in the Jets infamous loss to the Buffalo Bills which kept them out of the postseason. This made a difficult contract situation even worse for Wilkerson. In the end it worked out as he signed his new contract just in time before the 4 p.m. EDT deadline where franchise players can sign new contracts.
But Wilkerson still had the challenge of recovering from the leg fracture which is never an easy thing to do. He did recover however, and started Week one. Furthermore, he did a terrific job as he had 1.5 sacks, five tackles, and two assisted tackles in that game.
Unfortunately that was perhaps his best performance of the season as his 1.5 sacks and five tackles were season highs for any game. He finished the season with three passes defended, one forced fumble, 4.5 sacks, 33 tackles, and 25 assisted tackles in 15 games and 14 starts. That was a far cry from his 2015 Pro Bowl season where he had seven passes defended, three forced fumbles, 12 sacks, 39 tackles, and 25 assisted tackles.
Wilkerson clearly took a step back in 2016 and that is not what the organization wants to see after giving him the five-year deal.
McLendon was added in free agency to ‘replace’ Harrison. While McLendon was a solid starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even he made it clear that he couldn’t properly replace Harrison.
“I’m not filling anybody’s shoes,” McLendon said according to the NY Daily News. “Me and Snacks are two different type of people. Two different players, not the same guy. I am not here to step in and replace him.”
Indeed McLendon didn’t truly replace Harrison, but he did produce one of his better seasons. In 11 games and 10 starts McLendon tied career highs in tackles (20) and forced fumbles (one). He also had a career high 3.5 sacks, however they all came in two games.
McLendon injured his hamstring after Week 12 and ended up missing the last five games of the season. Overall he wasn’t outstanding, but he did slightly exceed expectations in the time he did play.
Richardson started the season with a one-game suspension due to his 2015 off-season arrest. He ended up having a poor, confusing, and controversial season.
Regarding his production, Richardson wasn’t as dominant as he was in his 2014 Pro Bowl season. It’s debatable whether he produced better than he did in 2015 when he played in 11 games. He finished the season with two passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, 38 tackles, 24 assisted tackles, and a career low 1.5 sacks in 15 games and 14 starts. Nonetheless, he was still one of the Jets best players and was named a fifth alternate to the Pro Bowl because of his play. Being named a fifth alternate may not sound impressive, but only Williams and he were named alternates on the Jets.
What was most confusing about his season was why the Jets stuck him at linebacker. This is part of the reason why his sack numbers were down in 2016. He did play at the linebacker position a little bit in 2015 due to injuries. However, injuries were not the reason why the Jets decided to play him there again in 2016. Richardson was fine with it though as he felt the versatility would make him more valuable when the time comes for his second contract.
“I think it’ll give me more money, just to be honest,” Richardson said according to NJ.com.
The controversial aspect of his season was his behavior. He was benched for tardiness and had a profanity-laced Snapchat video which drew negative reactions from the organization and fan base alike. These are just a few of the off-field problems that has surrounded Richardson since the beginning of his NFL career.
The defensive line was not dominant as expected in 2016. While most of the defensive line underperformed, Williams did the opposite and over performed.
He took a step forward in his second season as he had two forced fumbles, seven sacks, 36 tackles, and 32 assisted tackles in 16 game (all starts). He improved in all those statistical categories from 2015 except assisted tackles.
As mentioned before, Williams was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl like Richardson. Unlike Richardson however, he was named as a first alternate and later made the Pro Bowl when Khalil Mack opted out with an undisclosed injury.
Deon Simon and Jarvis Jenkins played on the defense for 19.69% and 11.58% of the season’s snaps, respectively. Both saw some time on special teams as well. Their defensive work came primarily on the defensive line as Simon is a nose tackle and Jenkins is a defensive end.
Simon got more playing time at the end of the season after McLendon injured his hamstring. He had 1.5 sacks, 12 tackles, and 11 assisted tackles in 16 games (no starts). While that’s obviously not game-changing, it’s nice to have as many sacks as a Pro Bowler like Richardson.
The Jets signed Jenkins in the off-season to a two-year, $7 million contract. He had seven tackles and two assisted tackles in nine games (one start). He was cut after Week nine and spent the rest of the year on the Kansas City Chiefs.