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Over the last week or so, we've been taking an in-depth look at the rookie season for each of the Jets' 2019 rookie class. We conclude today with a look at defensive lineman Kyle Phillips, who was an undrafted free agent signed in May.
Phillips was one of three undrafted rookies to see action with the Jets this season, but he was the only one to make the opening day roster. In fact, the other two - cornerback Kyron Brown and wide receiver Jeff Smith - each played just one game before suffering a season-ending injury.
After being inactive on opening day, Phillips was active for every other game and finished the season with 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He was also credited with one pass defensed.
Phillips was considered a long-shot to make the roster despite the Jets obviously being weak at the edge defender positions, but when third round pick Jachai Polite turned out to be a bust, the Jets opted to cut bait and put Phillips on the roster instead. He had been productive against the run throughout preseason and then really helped himself by registering two sacks in the final preseason game against the Eagles.
The former Tennessee Volunteer made his debut in week two and would go on to play at least 25 snaps in every other game for the rest of the season.
Phillips was at his most impressive against the run. He held up well at the point of attack and made a bunch of plays cleaning up. His motor and relentlessness stood out when fighting off blocks or pursuing downhill and in space and he started to successfully shed blocks more and more as the season progressed. He officially ended the year with seven tackles for loss, which ranked fifth on the team.
He was also a consistent tackler all year and his ability to play reps on the interior as well as on the edge proved valuable, although he has typically held up better in the trenches when lined up outside.
He wasn't quite as productive as you'd like as a pass rusher, as he didn't record his first full sack of the year until the penultimate game of the season. Ironically, Phillips didn't even rush the passer on that play. Instead, he dropped into shallow zone coverage but then came up to bring down the quarterback when he got flushed from the pocket. That was emblematic of the kind of hustle play Phillips had been making all year.
Despite only ending up with 1.5 sacks, Phillips did get close a few times. His six quarterback hits placed sixth on the team and there were at least three plays where he got to the quarterback as he was in the process of being brought down and easily could have been given credit for a half-sack.
Nevertheless, Phillips will need to work on some of his physical traits and sharpen up his technique so he can win more one-on-one matchups to create early pressure in future, rather than relying on effort to get to the quarterback late in the play.
If he's to continue to play on the edge, Phillips also will need to continue to work on his coverage drops. He dropped into coverage a few times a game but rarely did anything more than just occupy a shallow zone underneath. Also, he was burned on a wheel route for a big gain against the Eagles when he got isolated in coverage on a running back.
The Jets have needed a difference-maker on the edge for a long time but Phillips is not really that kind of player. Instead he's more of the reliable but unspectacular type. Therefore, if the Jets use a big money contract or a high draft pick to acquire such a difference-maker and put them into a full-time role, this could eat into Phillips' playing time next year or even threaten his roster spot.
However, the Jets will likely see the value in a low-cost player who can provide them with reliable contributions and brings useful versatility and the potential to improve as he gains more experience.
Expectations are that Phillips will have a good chance of making the roster and being part of next year's rotation once again. Finding him has already somewhat softened the blow of the Polite pick not working out, so any additional contributions he can bring going forwards will be an added bonus.