Among the phrases I most frequently utter during a New York Jets game, “We really need a sack right here. When is the last time we got a sack?” is high up on the list. It isn’t just the 2012 version of the Jets who are awful at getting after the quarterback, it has been a recurring trend on the Jets over nearly the past decade. Did you know the last Jets player to register double digit sacks in a season was John Abraham in 2005 with 10.5? The last time the Jets had a double digit sack guy, Brooks Bollinger was throwing passes to Doug Jolley! Since then here are their sack leaders in each respective season -
2006 – Bryan Thomas – 8.5 sacks
2007 – David Harris – 5 sacks
2008 – Calvin Pace – 7 sacks
2009 – Calvin Pace – 8 sacks
2010 – Bryan Thomas – 6 sacks
2011 – Aaron Maybin – 6 sacks
2012 – Bryan Thomas – 2.5 sacks
Wow, that is a depressing list. It is even more depressing when you share the city with the New York Giants and Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora are having 4-5 sack games each season. This list shows the Jets haven’t had anybody anywhere near a feared pass rusher in 7 full years. Why hasn’t this team properly addressed their pass rush in so long?
After Abraham was traded, the Jets had so many other holes to fill (sound familiar) that pass rush was generally ignored. They lucked out and got the most productive season of Bryan Thomas’ career in 2006 and promptly rewarded him with a large contract, figuring he was finally reaching his first round potential now that he was paired with Eric Mangini. Guess what? 2006 turned out to be an outlier/fluke and Thomas was back down to 2.5 sacks the following season.
After 2007, the Jets decided to finally get their needed pass rusher by selecting Vernon Gholston with the #6 overall pick. Swing and a miss! Gholston never recorded a NFL sack and is out of the league. This selection marked the beginning of the end of smart drafts by Mike Tannenbaum, who would add to bust-trophy case with Vladimir Ducasse, Kyle Wilson, and now likely both Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene.
In 2008, the Jets looked to remedy their previous two mistakes by giving big money to Calvin Pace who did get 15 total sacks between 2008 and 2009…good not great. Pace also was suspended the first four games of the 2009 season and missed the first four games of the 2010 season due to a foot injury. Since that injury, he has never been the same player.
2009 and 2010 saw complete ignorance of pass rushers. Many figured Rex Ryan could turn Vernon Gholston into a reclamation project, which never happened. Meanwhile Pace and Thomas’ skills continued to deteriorate while no adequate long term replacements were brought in. Instead they tried a stop-gap help with Jason Taylor in 2010, who ended up being one and done with the Jets.
Even in the 2011 draft when the Jets drafted defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round, he wasn’t taken under the expectation of being a double digit sack guy…ends in 3-4 schemes don’t put up those kind of numbers. The Jets didn’t even bother to spend a middle or late round pick on an outside linebacker. They were fortunate to get 6 sacks out of Aaron Maybin who was brought in off the scrap heap. Instead of looking to the fill the need this past off-season from outside the organization, they decided to be content with just bringing Maybin back and hoping first round pick Quinton Coples could provide an interior pass rush.
Unfortunately, Maybin turned out to be a one trick pony who was cut after 8 games this year. He recorded 0 sacks and 1 tackle in those 8 games. Coples has shown immense talent but is frequently double teamed inside with Wilkerson because nobody respects Pace and Thomas (yes those same two are still here) coming off the edge.
So what happened? The Jets guessed wrong about Thomas being able to sustain his success heading into 2007 season. They guessed wrong with Gholston in the 2008 Draft. They thought a little too highly of Pace in 2008-2010 and gave Maybin too much credit heading into this year. All personnel mistakes and poor self-scouting…a recurring trend with this team.
After this year both starters, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas will be gone, offering the opportunity to fill two long standing positions of need for this team. The Jets MUST find competent pass rushers to get the most out of their first round picks, Wilkerson and Coples, who are on the cusp of being special players but need less attention consistently being given to them. Outside linebacker needs to be addressed once or twice in rounds 1-3 by the team in this year’s draft and in the free agency/trade market. This defense will never reach their potential unless this is handled properly.