Look for NY Jets to target these free agent DTs

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By: Michael Nania

The New York Jets should try to improve their second-string DT duo

Recently, I published an article that revealed my findings from a study in which I graded every run-defense snap from the New York Jets in 2022 after rewatching the film of each play. It revealed that two of the Jets’ worst run defenders were Nathan Shepherd and Solomon Thomas, the backup pair of defensive tackles behind starters Quinnen Williams and Sheldon Rankins.

Shepherd and Thomas are set to become free agents. If I were the Jets, I would let both of them go and focus on adding a pair of backup defensive tackles who can stop the run. The Jets have plenty of pass-rush juice on their defensive line, but their lack of interior run-stopping behind Williams and Rankins was a sneakily problematic issue in 2022. It’s one of the main reasons the Jets were only a “good” run-stopping team rather than an “elite” one.

With better run-stopping talent on the second string of their defensive tackle depth chart, the Jets could take the next step and become an elite run defense in 2023.

Since we’re talking about backup roles here, it’s not as if the Jets will be spending a lot of money to solve this issue. They need to find players who are affordable but can still offer the skills they were not getting from Shepherd and Thomas.

Here are some intriguing options on the 2023 free agent market.

Chris Wormley, Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Age: 29.2

Chris Wormley was a rotational defensive tackle for the Steelers in 2022, playing 40% of the defensive snaps. He was an active run-stopper as he recorded 14 run stops on 144 run-defense snaps, a rate of 9.7% that ranked 13th-best out of 139 qualified defensive tackles.

Wormley weighs in at 300 pounds and recorded a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 9.74 back in 2017 when he was coming out of Michigan, so he fits the Jets’ preference for athletic defensive tackles.

Look for the Jets to focus on this type of defensive tackle: athletic run-stoppers. They covet defensive tackles who are more athletic, making them a fit for Jeff Ulbrich’s aggressive, one-gapping defense, but the Jets need to find guys who fit that bill and still have a knack for stopping the run. Shepherd and Thomas are good athletes but they are unable to combine their athleticism with adequate discipline, fundamentals, and play strength, making them weak run defenders.

Trysten Hill, Arizona Cardinals

  • Age: 24.8

A second-round pick of the Cowboys in 2019, Trysten Hill has been a disappointment in his career but he could be worth a flier based on the run-stopping production he flashed in 2022. Hill recorded 9 run stops on 107 run-defense snaps for a run stop rate of 8.4%, placing 27th out of 139 qualifiers. He was an efficient finisher, making 11 total tackles against the run without missing any tackles.

This was a continuation of Hill’s brief 2021 season when he posted an 8.7% run stop rate (6 stops on 69 run defense snaps) in 6 games. Hill did not have any missed tackles against the run in 2021, either.

Hill earned a RAS of 9.53 when he was coming out of UCF in 2019, which came largely on the strength of his 35-inch vertical jump and 115-inch broad jump. Since Robert Saleh came in, the Jets have tended to value players on the offensive and defensive lines who thrive in those particular drills as they showcase explosiveness, which is necessary for both the Jets’ wide-zone running scheme on offense and their attacking 4-3 scheme on defense.

With players like Quincy Williams, Jarrad Davis, and Solomon Thomas, the Jets have shown a willingness to take in former high draft picks who failed to reach their potential. Hill would continue that trend.

Hassan Ridgeway, San Francisco 49ers

  • Age: 28.2

A former Colt and Eagle, Hassan Ridgeway joined the 49ers in 2022 and played 39% of their defensive snaps over 12 games. Ridgeway had 10 run stops over 124 run-defense snaps for an 8.1% run stop rate, placing 36th out of 139 qualifiers.

In total, Ridgeway made 28 tackles against the run and did not miss a single tackle. This gave him the third-most tackles against the run without a miss among defensive tackles.

Ridgeway, who weighs in at 305 pounds, earned a RAS of 7.19 in 2016. His RAS was dragged down by low numbers in some areas but he thrived in the vertical jump (32 inches) and broad jump (113 inches), the two drills that seem to translate most directly to the traits the Jets covet in their defensive linemen.

There are a lot of ties between Ridgeway and the Jets. The 49ers connection is an obvious one, making him a clear fit for the Jets’ scheme, although he was not in San Francisco alongside any of the Jets’ current coaches.

More notably, Jets general manager Joe Douglas the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel when Ridgeway was acquired by Philadelphia in a draft-day trade on the third day of the 2019 NFL draft. Finally, Jets assistant general manager Rex Hogan was the Colts’ vice president of player personnel during Ridgeway’s final two seasons in Indianapolis.

Next Article: Was the NY Jets’ LB unit a positive or negative in 2022? 

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