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The Jets haven't had a difference-making edge rusher since John Abraham was traded almost a decade ago. With new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams renowned for his attacking defenses, who will step up and produce off the edge in 2019? …
Projected Starters: Jordan Jenkins, Brandon Copeland
Projected Backups: Jachai Polite, Frankie Luvu
On the Bubble: Tarell Basham, Kyle Phillips, Justin Alexandre, Bronson Kaufusi, Harvey Langi
Departures: Josh Martin, Jeremiah Attaochu
The Jets were expected to address their need for an edge rusher in the offseason, but they came up short on some attempted big-money deals. In the end, they re-signed Brandon Copeland and drafted Jachai Polite, but otherwise didn't make the big splash they were expected to.
This time last year, Copeland was regarded as a journeyman with an outside chance of even making the team, but he ended up starting 10 games and racking up a career-best five sacks. Polite has some excellent pass rush potential but questions over his work ethic and athleticism caused him to drop to the third round. He's probably not reliable enough against the run yet to earn a starting job but could thrive in a situational role.
The other starter, Jordan Jenkins, is also back as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Jenkins also posted a career-best seven sacks in 2018 but it came at a cost, as he was a lot less disciplined against the run than he had been in his first two seasons.
The other main returning contributor from last year is Frankie Luvu, who showed some promise as an undrafted rookie and registered three sacks.
There aren't many well-known names on the bubble, but the fact that the journeyman Copeland and undrafted rookie Luvu carved out big roles for themselves last season shows that any of them could step up and take a role.
Bronson Kaufusi and Tarell Basham are also former third-round picks that have yet to reach their full potential. Could that happen in Williams' attacking system? Kaufusi could also play inside in some packages whereas Harvey Langi - another player who hasn't reached his potential - might also compete for a role as an off-ball linebacker. Two more undrafted rookies round out the competition in Justin Alexandre and Kyle Phillips.
Biggest question heading into camp
The missing element from the Jets' defense for many years has been an edge rusher that can routinely threaten to post double digits in sacks and create chaos by generating constant pressure off the edge. The Jets have a platoon of players that might rack up some sacks in volume by cleaning up but nobody who can win one-on-one matchups or draw regular double-team attention. Could such a player develop from this group?
The player with the most upside is undoubtedly Polite, who racked up 11 sacks playing in the SEC last season. Can he live up to his potential at the NFL level though? After a woeful combine workout and an even worse pro day, he slid down draft boards because of concerns over his maturity and professionalism. His film is tantalizing, though; especially the high points.
Players like Copeland and Jenkins seem like they are probably closer to their ceiling but could potentially blossom under Williams. None of these players are established enough to block any of the lesser-known players on the bubble if they make waves in training camp though.
After failing to land a big-ticket free agent edge rusher and then having another top defensive tackle fall into their laps in the first round, the Jets have once again shifted their defensive focus towards building around their interior line. This can create havoc upfront which will lead to opportunities for the edge defenders to generate some statistical production.
As was the case with Todd Bowles' defense, the Jets can continue to create pressure from a variety of sources with creative pass rush packages and by collapsing the interior. Williams will bring some fresh ideas and an intense, attacking mindset to the defense so the team can find ways to scheme their pass rushers into the backfield.
However, it won't be until the Jets have an elite edge rusher that their defense can reach its full potential and that player probably isn't currently on the roster. Or, if he is, he's probably a year or two away from fully establishing himself as the kind of difference-maker the Jets have coveted for so long.
If a top pass rusher becomes available like Khalil Mack did last year, that might be something Joe Douglas finds hard to resist, but either way he's likely to keep watching the waiver wire for potential upgrades.