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The recent offensive line additions made by the Jets have earned the most attention, and with good reason. Four of the six new additions so far are offensive linemen, as were the recipients of all four of the multi-year deals given out to new or re-signed players.
However, the Jets also brought in two defensive backs on one-year deals. Former Rams safety Marqui Christian and former Colts cornerback Pierre Desir should bring an injection of talent into the secondary. Let's consider how these two players could fit into Gregg Williams' defense.
Desir was recently released by the Colts with two years still remaining on a three-year, $22 million contract despite having started 23 games in the past two seasons. Could signing him give us a clue as to how Williams will operate his secondary next season?
Looking back on 2019, the Jets originally sought to operate in a scheme based on man-to-man coverage with Trumaine Johnson and Darryl Roberts as the starting cornerbacks. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistent play forced Williams to shuffle to pack.
With less experienced players moving into the starting lineup, the Jets simplified things on the back end and primarily operated out of a basic Cover-2 zone. Surprisingly, this had a good effect with players like Bless Austin and Arthur Maulet holding up well on the outside. Therefore, in 2020, Williams must decide whether to revert to a man-based scheme and restock his secondary with people who can handle it, or perhaps coach up players like Austin and Maulet to play in that system.
Desir is regarded as a player who excels in zone-based systems and he had a career year in 2018 after the Colts switched from a man-based scheme to a zone-based scheme under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Desir intercepted a career-high three passes in 2019 but he struggled overall, although there were good reasons for this. Part of the problem was that he was reportedly never 100 percent healthy, but he also had a couple of his worst performances in games where the Colts deviated from their usual zone-based approach.
In an upset-win over the Chiefs, the Colts surprised Patrick Mahomes by playing man-to-man. However, despite the win, Desir struggled in that role as he gave up a season-high 109 yards on five catches. Then, later in the season, he got burned for two touchdowns while playing man-to-man against the Texans.
Another interesting aspect is that the Jets acquired Nate Hairston from the same system last season. The book on Hairston is that he's better off in man-to-man and struggles in zone coverage and his struggles in 2018 were mainly attributed to the fact the Colts had changed to more of a zone-based system. With the Jets, Hairston didn't get much playing time once they reverted to more zone coverages, so he may not be considered a good fit if that continues.
To make the best use of Desir's skillset and his instincts in zone coverage, the Jets may be planning to continue to operate out of zone coverages, although these perhaps won't need to be simplified as much as was the case in 2019. They may yet seek to add a shutdown corner too, so that they have someone to match up with the elite receivers they'll face next season.
Christian is a player who brings positional versatility, athleticism and special teams abilities. While he's only started once in his career so far, Christian saw plenty of regular action as the Rams' third safety over the past two seasons. In 2018, he primarily played in the box or matched up in the slot within that role, but in 2019 he also saw plenty of action in center field.
Williams is familiar with Christian because he was on the Rams' staff for Christian's rookie season. While the Rams didn't draft Christian, they picked him up once he failed to make the Cardinals' roster. However, he was almost exclusively used on special teams so we can't really glean any clues as to how Williams might use him in 2020.
With Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams entrenched as the starters, three-safety sets were not something the Jets used very often last season, but that might be because they lacked the personnel. Matthias Farley, Rontez Miles and Blake Countess played less than 25 snaps between them last season and, of the three, only Farley remains on the roster to compete with Christian at this time.
If Williams views Christian as a player he can fit into his sub-packages, it could add another potential layer to his defense. This, coupled with the Desir signing and more moves to come, could enable him to mix up his coverages a lot more next season.