Jets’ investment in secondary paying tremendous dividends

The Jets were 30th in the NFL in pass defense last year, which is why general manager Joe Douglas made such a huge offseason investment in the secondary.

The general manager signed D.J. Reed to a three-year, $33 million deal to start at one boundary corner spot. He then drafted Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner at No. 4 overall to start on the other boundary.

At safety, Douglas signed Jordan Whitehead to a two-year, $14.5 million deal. He also re-signed Lamarcus Joyner after he played only nine snaps for the Jets in 2021 (season-ending triceps tear in Week 1).

The goal to build a talented secondary was clear. And months later, these investments are surely paying off.

The corners. Reed and Gardner were upgrades over Bryce Hall and Brandin Echols even before they took the field in Florham Park. But seven weeks into the regular season, the two starters are still turning heads.

Quarterbacks are targeting Gardner six times per game but the young rookie isn’t letting them accumulate any notable production. Gardner is allowing a 52.4% completion rate and 63.7 passer rating when targeted. As he further grows at the professional level, quarterbacks won’t be looking his way too often. But for right now, he’s making plays when they do – Gardner leads the NFL with 12 pass breakups.

The first-round pick has established himself as a true CB1. Reed would assume that role on numerous other NFL rosters though, because he’s certainly playing like one. Quarterbacks have completed 62.2% of throws with just a 64.4 rating when targeting Reed. The veteran has also shown his play-making abilities with an interception, five pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

With the Patriots (twice), Bills (twice), Vikings, and Dolphins still on the schedule, the Gardner-Reed tandem must continue what’s been a strong start to the year.

The safeties. Joyner missed nearly the entire 2021 season. So it was a bit of a head-scratcher when the Jets were so quick to retain the veteran on another one-year deal.

It seems Douglas made the right decision though. Any great defense needs a playmaker, and Joyner has been that for head coach Robert Saleh and coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s unit.

Joyner has a team-leading three interceptions to go with five pass breakups and a pair of quarterback hits. His physicality stands out as well – with 30 combined tackles, the veteran hasn’t missed a single tackle this year.

Most importantly, Joyner has stayed healthy following last year’s lost season. He’s played every single one of the team’s defensive snaps through seven games.

Whitehead looks a tad bit better in coverage, however. The fifth-year player has allowed quarterbacks to complete just 60% of throws when targeted while Joyner has allowed a 61.1% completion rate. Whitehead has allowed a 96.0 passer rating as opposed to the 102.5 rating Joyner has allowed.

What has this done for the pass rush? The strong secondary has combined to let up only 209.4 passing yards per game through seven weeks (13th in the NFL).

This success in coverage has helped unleash a pass rush the Jets have heavily invested in. New York is currently 12th in the league with a 43% pass rush win rate. Quinnen Williams is also tied for first among NFL defensive tackles with 5.0 sacks.

Taking care of business in the deep part of the field has allowed the front seven to effectively pressure the quarterback, and has ultimately played a role in the Jets starting 5-2. The defense must sustain this level of success over the next few months though, and possibly in the playoffs.

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