The 2018 Jets have some promising young pieces and intriguing veteran newcomers, but will all these additions be enough to break a seven-year playoff drought? I’ll be revealing my Top 20 players every weekday for the next four weeks.
The list is made up of the 20 players that I believe will make the most impact for Gang Green this season. Past accomplishments don’t guarantee you anything. This is about who will have the best 2018 campaign. We’re not going chalk here. This countdown is filled with surprises.
No. 8: Avery Williamson
Position: Inside linebacker
Age at the start of the regular season: 26
2018 Salary Cap Charge: $6 million (First-year of a three-year $22.5 million contract in free agency)
2017 Season in Review:
Williamson racked up 92 tackles for the Titans’ fourth-ranked run defense, but he did not merit much time on passing downs. In fact, his playing time was slashed from 83 percent of the snaps in 2016 to just 60 percent last year.
“It was a weird situation,” Williamson told the Daily News about his reduced playing time. “Honestly, I don’t know. But they didn’t want me to play certain downs. … I was definitely offended by that all last year. … It wasn’t my decision. Now I’m here and I’m definitely going to get the opportunity. So, I’m glad to be a part of this. It gives me extra fuel to continue to improve my game and become better than I was last year.”
He made his presence felt in the running game in his four seasons in Tennessee. Williamson’s 98 run stops in the past three seasons were third most among inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. His 12.3 run stop percentage in 2016 was tops among inside linebackers.
Williamson, the Titans leading tackler in 2015 and 2016 (with 100-plus each season), added three sacks and two forced fumbles last season. Williamson rejected Tennessee’s low-ball 4-year, $12 million offer before admittedly joining the Jets because they gave him the most money in free agency. New Titans coach Mike Vrabel drafted Alabama standout Rashaan Evans with the No. 22 overall pick to replace Williamson.
Todd Bowles will have his third different “Mike” linebacker in the past three seasons. Williamson will replace Demario Davis, who played every one of Gang Green’s 1,116 defensive snaps last season. Although Bowles downplayed Williamson’s deficiencies in pass coverage, the reality is that Dick LeBeau didn’t feel confident that Williamson could consistently handle coverage on passing situations on third down for a reason. The Jets signed Kevin Pierre-Louis in free agency to handle some of the coverage responsibilities.
Williamson, however, should be a significant piece to the run-stuffing puzzle. Bowles hit the nail on the head by calling the former Titan a “tackling machine.” Williamson, who has 59 career regular-season starts, was as reliable as they come with only 14 missed tackles on 174 tackle attempts in the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. His 8.0 missed tackle percentage was fourth best in the NFL during that span. In other words, when he’s in position to bring a runner down, he typically brings him down.
Williamson will bring a more bruising and physical style than Davis, who signed with the Saints for comparable money in free agency.
The Jets wanted to get younger with Williamson, who is three years younger than Davis. They swapped an every-down linebacker for a two-down run-stopping difference maker. The coaches did a terrific job maximizing Davis’ skills. They’ll have a younger talented to piece to work with in 2018.
“I know I’m a three-down backer,” Williamson told the News. “I know I got the skillset to do anything on the field. Shoot, I feel like I fit in perfectly with this defense.”
Next on the countdown: A tough S.O.B. ready to make an immediate impact.