Are the New York Jets a Top-3 Defense Heading Into 2023?

Can the New York Jets field a top-three defense in 2023? Gang Green was elite last season and is returning the majority of its key contributors.

The New York Jets‘ defense was the lifeblood of their team in 2022. Despite fielding arguably the worst quarterback play in the NFL, the Jets managed to post a 7-9 record in a competitive conference and division. With Aaron Rodgers now under center in New York, the defense’s job might get a little easier. Can Robert Saleh’s unit repeat its production from last season?

The New York Jets’ Defense Was Elite in 2022

By almost any metric, the Jets’ defense was one of the NFL’s best in 2022. New York led the league in yards allowed per play (4.8), gave up the fourth-fewest points, ranked third in Football Outsiders‘ weighted DVOA, and finished sixth in expected points added (EPA) per play.

While the Jets were above-average against the run, they were dominant against the pass. General manager Joe Douglas hit two home runs at cornerback during the 2022 offseason, first signing ex-Seahawk D.J. Reed to a three-year deal before using the draft’s fourth overall pick on Sauce Gardner, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year and is already perhaps the NFL’s most impressive CB.

The Jets didn’t face the most challenging quarterback schedule last season, but they routinely stifled high-functioning offenses like the Bills, Lions, and Jaguars. After Week 3, New York’s defense only allowed one opponent — the Vikings in Week 13 — to score more than 23 points in a single game.

MORE: Who Is on the Jets’ Coaching Staff? 

The unit’s first three weeks of the year — in which they gave up 81 combined points to the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals — stand out like a sore thumb. If we take out that rough start to the season, the Jets ranked first in pass defense DVOA and second in total defensive DVOA.

Pro Football Network’s Arif Hasan placed the Jets first in his 2023 NFL defense rankings. Can New York keep it up next season?

Defense Is Unpredictable, but the Jets Are a Good Bet in 2023

Defensive performance in the NFL is inherently volatile. Even when a team was outstanding the year prior and brings back nearly all its significant contributors (like the Jets), it’s worth wondering whether the unit’s output will be sustainable.

In 2019, FiveThirtyEight’s Josh Hersmeyer found that many defensive metrics — such as DVOA, sacks, and interceptions — often have little to no correlation year over year. Impactful plays like turnovers often turn out to be the least reliable.

MORE: New York Jets 2023 Schedule

However, the Jets’ defensive production wasn’t inherently luck-based in 2022. They didn’t create an absurd number of takeaways — they ranked 29th in the league in turnovers and 28th in turnover rate. And they ranked better in more stable metrics like quarterback knockdown rate (first) and pressure rate (third).

Moreover, New York’s defense should benefit from the addition of Rodgers and the prospect of an improved offense. Gang Green’s offense regularly put their counterparts in poor positions by failing to move the ball or manage extended drives. Last year, New York’s opponents’ average drive started at their own 29.9-yard line, tied for the second-worst mark in the NFL.

The Jets will bring back nine of 11 defensive starters next season, including edge rusher Carl Lawson — thought to be a cut candidate before agreeing to a pay cut — and linebacker Quincy Williams, who re-signed on a three-year deal. New York also enjoys continuity on the coaching staff, where Saleh will call plays for the third consecutive season while Jeff Ulbrich serves as defensive coordinator.

But the Jets didn’t rest on their laurels, often a fatal flaw of accomplished teams or units. Douglas drafted another edge rusher to add to his front, selecting Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV with the 15th overall pick. New York also replaced safety Lamarcus Joyner — arguably the weak link of the Jets’ 2022 defense — with trade acquisition Chuck Clark, who should represent an immediate upgrade.

While there are a lot of talented defenses in the NFL, the Jets have as good of a chance as any team at posting a top-three unit in 2023 — and there’s a decent chance they’ll emerge as the single-best defense in the league.

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