This is the role the 33-year-old veteran nose tackle Steve McLendon will have entering 2019. The Jets drafted Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams with the third overall pick in 2019 knowing he will be the future of the position – just like they did USC quarterback Sam Darnold in 2018.
That being said, in this edition of the 2019 New York Jets Preview series, let’s take a look at how Steve McLendon will be the leader for a young group of run stuffers.
2019 New York Jets Preview: Interior Defensive Line
The Starter: Quinnen Williams
Quinnen Williams came out of nowhere. In 2018, the Alabama product emerged as one of the top players in the 2019 NFL Draft class. His amazing development across the board to overall athleticism saw him soar up draft boards. His breakout season earned him eighth place in Heisman voting, and he maintained his stock throughout draft season. Upon staying at third overall, Jets fans were excited when the team selected him in the draft.
The 20-year-old stands at 6-3 and 303 lbs., leaving his 4.83 40-yard-dash and overall speed even more impressive. With Leonard Williams on one side, and Henry Anderson on the other, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is going to love having Quinnen as the “icing on the cake” along his line.
To top it off, Williams has already stolen the heart of the fanbase too. From gushing over being on the same team as Leonard Williams to the “bless you-thank you” viral video, it has become impossible to not love the Jets latest top pick. The fanbase has even begun to refer to him as “Big Baby,” in counter to Leonard Williams’ “Big Cat.”
Each rookie has strengths and weaknesses, and Williams is no exception. While Williams is a very well-rounded player, he does need to bulk up more. The added strength to his frame would truly set him apart and allow him to reach that Pro Bowl potential.
Additionally, while his finger surgery following the combine should not be an issue, the calf injury that held him out of OTA’s should be something to monitor going forward.
The Backup: Steve McLendon
For Steve McLendon to easily be referred to as “the backup” is very difficult. It truly discredits the veteran’s ability, despite now being 33-years-old. After an up-and-down first season in green and white, McLendon has an average grade of 79.8 over the past two seasons according to Pro Football Focus. His run defense especially will come in handy for the Jets in short yardage situations.
Given Williams is the clear future starter at the position, it is easy to imagine McLendon being the mentor rather than backup. While he will be on the field more often than McCown was, McLendon is going to be the McCown to Williams’ Darnold. He will be vital to Williams growing into the elite force along the defensive line he can be. With his experience, leadership, and overall respect around the locker room, McLendon is going to have a bigger impact than most people will give him credit for.
The Bubble: Trevon Sanders, MyQuon Stout, and Frederick Jones
Apart from Williams and McLendon, it will be very difficult to carve out a role along this defensive line. Gregg Williams loves aggressive players and being able to move guys around. That being said, players such as Nathan Shepherd or Folorunso Fatukasi will have an edge over these three because they can easily move from the outside to inside of the line.
This leaves Trevon Sanders, MyQuon Sout, and Frederick Jones competing for the Jets’ practice squad. Sanders is undrafted out of Troy, similarly to that of Steve McLendon. At 6-2 and 327 lbs., Sanders is a natural power-rushing nose tackle who can be a nice rotational piece if he can make the roster. Sout is only 6-1 and 285 lbs., which already is a concern. The Appalachian State product never gives up, which jumps out on both passing and rushing downs. Last but not least is Jones, the nephew of Jets great Marvin Jones. Jones only started 10 out of his 46 games as a Seminole, although do not be discouraged. His size, strength, and hands show why he is so good at penetrating against the run. Something that will come in handy as a rotational piece if he were to make the roster. Each player has a case to be a rotational piece, but in the end, it will come down to the value Gregg Williams puts on having a second natural nose tackle to McLendon.
Last Word on the 2019 New York Jets Preview: Interior Defensive Line
Quinnen Williams will become a yearly Pro Bowl player. Like McCown was with Darnold, a big thanks will have to be given to veteran Steve McLendon for his mentorship. This could be a strong group for the Jets, and a reliable one too. That is if they remain healthy. If Williams or McLendon went down, the inexperience will become a major problem for Gang Green.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2019 New York Jets Preview series with Gang Green’s linebackers!
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