MNF Review: Jets' defensive front
October, 8, 2013
By Steve Muench | ESPN.com
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been a game-changer this season.So many intriguing storylines emerged during the Jets' win over the Falcons on Monday night, including the progression of Jets rookie QB Geno Smith under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Atlanta WR Julio Jones working against DC Antonio Cromartie late in the game and TE Tony Gonzalez continuing to defy Father Time at 37 years young were also fun to watch.
There's one storyline that stands out more than the others, though, and it's the way the Jets' defensive front manhandled Atlanta's offensive line.
The Jets have invested three of their past four first-round picks on defensive linemen and those investments are paying off. They took DE Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple with the 30th pick in 2011, they took DE/OLB Quinton Coples out of North Carolina with the 16th pick in 2012 and they took Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri with the 13th pick this year. Let's focus on Wilkerson and Richardson, who shined Monday night.
Wilkerson recorded seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a strip sack. At 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Wilkerson has impressive versatility for a man his size and the Jets moved him all over the front, making it tough for Atlanta to locate him and adjust its blocking schemes to account for him. His 35-plus inch arms, upper body strength and active hands were noticeable regardless of where he lined up. He discarded blockers with relative ease whether he was rushing the passer or defending the run.
The strip sack is an excellent example of how good Wilkerson is with his hands right now. He beat the right tackle with a quick swim move to the inside and knocked the right guard's hands down before extending that long left arm and knocking the ball out of QB Matt Ryan's hands. The way he played Monday night reminded me of Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who was selected 19 picks earlier than Wilkerson in 2011.
Players like Wilkerson and Watt are rare. There is one draft-eligible player who has that kind of frame and upside in this year's class, though. Even if Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt isn't quite as big (as I suspect) as his listed size of 6-7, 322 pounds, he's more than big enough to hold his own on the inside and agile enough to play on the outside. He's an above-average hand fighter who appears to have long arms and shows above-average upper body strength on film. If he can refine his technique and improve his consistency in terms of pad level, he has the potential to be a difference-maker at the NFL level. This is why he projects as a first-round pick.