Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
When the Jets drafted Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye with their first two selections in the 2017 draft, one of the most interesting questions was how it would affect the roles of the incumbent starters, Marcus Gilchrist and Calvin Pryor.
We now know the answer to that question as Pryor was traded to Cleveland Thursday, following Gilchrist's release last month. It's evident that the Jets are prepared to move on with the two rookies in prominent roles, but how exactly will they be employed and how easily will they emulate Pryor's contributions?
How was Pryor used?
Pryor had a difficult rookie year, but seemed to have turned a corner in 2015 before regressing once more last season. His improvements in 2015 were attributed to the fact that he was able to play closer to the line of scrimmage.
From my own game charting, Pryor played in the box three times as often in 2015 as he had in his rookie year and lined up in the slot or outside twice as often. In 2016, he played in the box even more often -- almost half the time.
Part of the problem was that Pryor felt more comfortable in the box, but moving him closer to the line of scrimmage was inevitably going to expose him to more direct coverage matchups rather than the coverage support assignments you get when ranging deep. That was always going to test his coverage skills. To his credit, he responded well in 2015, but he wasn't able to replicate that performance last year. This was perhaps because teams started to exploit the fact he was exposed to those situations by playing closer to the line more often.
Looking back at Bowles' defense in Arizona
Both Maye and Adams are capable of playing in the box, ranging deep or matching up in coverage. However, is there a better way to consider their roles than from the perspective of replacing Pryor's contributions?
Rather than look at how Pryor and Gilchrist were employed as a starting point for how the Jets will seek to employ Maye and Adams, it may be more beneficial to go right back to how Todd Bowles ran his defense before he arrived in New York. This was something I previously looked at in detail shortly after Bowles was hired.
Within the defense, Bowles used one of his safeties (Tyrann Mathieu) to range deep in base packages, but then matched that safety up with slot receivers in passing situations. Gilchrist's skill-set was well suited to that role, but Pryor's reluctance to play deep meant they couldn't employ him in that fashion very often unless they went into a three-safety package.
If the Jets want to employ Adams that way, he is complemented by a player in Maye who has excellent range and instincts to man center field. Furthermore, Maye is comfortable in matching up in coverage situations and Adams is perfectly capable of handling the deep role.
The three-safety looks are still an option, perhaps with Adams in the slot and Maye on a tight end or vice versa. With Pryor gone, that third safety role could now go to someone who is more comfortable ranging deep, like Rontez Miles, Doug Middleton, or the newly-acquired Corey White.
It seemed like Pryor wasn't an ideal fit for any of the roles within the defense as Bowles envisaged it, but he was forced to work with Pryor because the Jets had just selected him with their first round pick the year before Bowles' arrival. Therefore, the way they employed Pryor may have placed restraints on how the defense would ideally have operated.
Bowles addressed those limitations directly last month, suggesting that Adams and Maye would add flexibility to the defense because they can be interchangeable. He explained that the defensive system dictated that Pryor would be required to shift to a free safety role in situations where the offense gave them a certain look. However, he implied that the team always felt they had to employ him as the strong safety but that this wouldn't be the case with Maye and Adams on the field together.
Now that they've removed a player from the equation who they don't consider to be an ideal fit for the defense, perhaps the Jets will now be able to run Bowles' defense the way he intended. That seems likely to be healthier than being forced to tweak the system to fit square pegs into round holes.