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Over the last few weeks, we've been breaking down each position in terms of which players are fighting for those final roster spots. Who is in danger of being cut? Who has a chance to earn themselves a bigger role? We conclude with a look at the defensive line position.
Probable roster locks
The Jets are counting on Leonard Williams to bounce back from a disappointing and injury-plagued 2017 campaign and also to adopt more of a leadership role now Muhammad Wilkerson is gone. Williams will be looking to ramp up his statistical production as he was less dominant last season and has only recorded three sacks in his last 25 games.
Also providing leadership will be veteran Steve McLendon, who was invaluable in that role last year. McLendon is expected to start and take most of the reps at nose tackle in the base defense but can also contribute at defensive end.
Todd Bowles is apparently planning to operate a deep defensive line rotation this year, so there should hopefully be plenty of room for the three players acquired during the draft. Provided all three are healthy, third-rounder Nathan Shepherd should compete for a starting role with Henry Anderson, who was acquired via trade. Sixth-rounder Folorunso Fatukasi should also be expected to be featured regularly.
There was some pre-draft speculation that Shepherd might not be ready to contribute for a year or two, but his performance at the Senior Bowl seemed to suggest he was a lot better than expected technically. The Jets have been giving him plenty of first-team reps, so they obviously feel good about his chances of contributing right off the bat.
Anderson brings solid experience and has produced well when he's been healthy. Unfortunately, that has not been the case very often in his career so far, but he could be a bargain if his season isn't cut short this time around.
Fatukasi had four years of top-level production at UConn, so the expectation is that he should be able to handle a rotational role. He'll probably be more effective against the run early on, but needs to work hard on his play recognition.
In the competition
The addition of Courtney Upshaw after mandatory minicamp certainly shakes things up. The former second-round pick began his career as an edge defender but has bulked up in recent years for a role on the interior. His ability to perhaps also fill in on the edge on running downs might give him a better chance than some other players with roster spots at a premium.
Other than Upshaw, three players from last year's team will also compete for a spot. Veteran Mike Pennel signed a decent-sized contract, so he is probably earmarked for a role. Midseason addition Xavier Cooper and 2015 draft pick Deon Simon face more of an uphill climb.
Pennel signed a three-year deal with $4.5 million guaranteed after a season that saw him start three games and register a career-high 35 tackles. However, many Jets fans will associate him more with penalties after he had a couple of costly ones down the stretch.
Cooper is a former third-round pick who has so far failed to live up to his potential, though the Jets gave him plenty of playing time at the end of last year when Wilkerson was inactive.
Simon has shown flashes of being a useful run stuffer at the nose tackle position but spent most of last year on the practice squad. He has only really seen any significant action in one of his three seasons so far and is surprisingly the third-oldest defensive lineman on the team behind McLendon and Upshaw, who is only seven months older than him.
The long shots
With so many players ahead of him, undrafted rookie Mych Thomas seems the most likely player to be earmarked for a spot on the practice squad. Thomas was a good run defender at Texas Tech and projects best as a nose tackle. He could be a good developmental project to potentially add depth in 2019 and beyond with McLendon's contract set to expire at the end of the season.
Finally, if fullback Lawrence Thomas makes the team again, then the possibility of using him on the defensive line in an emergency may arise again. However, he told the media he is "all-in" at fullback, so that may not be an option.