On day three of the draft, the Jets opted to trade a seventh-round pick for former Colts defensive lineman Henry Anderson. However, this move has flown under the radar somewhat with the focus on the players brought in via the draft.
Prior to the draft it was widely acknowledged that the Jets needed an experienced starter on the interior defensive line and, although there are high hopes for draft picks Nathan Shepherd and Foley Fatukasi, Anderson is the most likely candidate from the new additions to fill that role if healthy.
At the same time, the Jets did little to address their need to upgrade their pass rush this offseason. In 2017, the Jets totaled just 28 sacks, the fifth-lowest total in the league and only half as many as the league-leading Steelers. Barring a late move like the one the team made for Jason Babin in July 2014, they'll be relying on some young and/or unproven players to step up. However, is it possible the Anderson move could pay dividends in this area?
Anderson's pass rush numbers don't exactly jump off the page, as he has just three career sacks in three years and hasn't generated pressure at a particularly outstanding rate. However, he had two in just eight starts last season and showed an ability to be a disruptive pass rusher in his final year at Stanford with a career-high eight sacks and some of the best pressure numbers in the nation.
Listed at 301 pounds last year, Anderson's primary role both with the Colts and in college was as a 3-4 defensive end. Therefore, if he could win a starting job with the Jets, he'd merely be seeking to replace Muhammad Wilkerson rather than providing the necessary upgrades on the edge.
However, Wilkerson had the ability to create pressure off the edge as well as inside. If Anderson can do the same to good effect, that might mitigate a lack of depth at the edge rusher positions, by alleviating the need for two linebackers to rush off the edge.
Anderson lined up outside semi-regularly in 2017. He was outside the tackle at the snap on approximately a quarter of his pass rush reps, which amounted to 8-10 times per game on average. That was a marginal increase over 2016, but this is something he's done at times in the past.
On those plays, Anderson didn't create a great deal of pressure himself. He had a couple of pressures in the Seattle game and then again in the Houston game, but in each case, was exploiting some of the weakest starting tackles in the league. Nevertheless, he's so powerful that it's almost impossible to stop him getting upfield and he's going to collapse the pocket eventually, which will create opportunities for his teammates cleaning up, even if he's not creating pressure himself.
Anderson would align himself on the outside in both base and sub-packages. The Colts operate out of a 3-4 base, but the weakside outside linebacker would come off the opposite edge, effectively creating a four-man front. In sub-packages, they'd often have only two down linemen. The Jets operate out of similar packages, with someone like Jordan Jenkins coming off the weakside or extra defensive backs coming into the game. They even have the personnel to run a more conventional 4-3 now.
Pro Football Talk reported last month that Anderson had lost 15-20 pounds in preparation for the Colts converting to a 4-3 system, which he acknowledged would require him to play quicker and faster. Moving to the Jets may have put that plan on hold since they are widely considered as a 3-4 team. However, the flexible nature of the Jets' defense might require Anderson to play more of an attacking role anyway, so he doesn't necessarily have to bulk up to 300 again. Recent indications were that he was back up to about 290 pounds.
Anderson is extremely athletic for a man of his size and his measurables would no doubt improve if he cut a significant amount of weight. While it seems unlikely he'd continue to reinvent himself for a full-time edge rusher role with the Jets, this remains an area where he can potentially contribute.
Against the run, Anderson can certainly contribute at defensive end. He's graded out well in each of his first three seasons as a run defender. Unfortunately, all three have ended prematurely due to a season-ending injury. If he can stay healthy with the Jets, Anderson should boost the rotation and is a viable option to start. While we perhaps shouldn't expect too much out of him in terms of pass rushing production, hopefully his presence can still have a positive impact in that area.