Haason Reddick latest former first-rounder to join Jets defense

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When Haason Reddick heard he was being traded to the New York Jets, the first thing he did was check out the roster to get a better feel for what he was walking into. He already knew the defense was good; this confirmed how good.

"Dogs on each level," Reddick concluded, spinning that observation into a bold prediction for 2024.

"I don't think anybody's ready for what's about the happen," he told New York-area reporters.

The Jets, who finished third in total yards allowed, will field perhaps a better defense than last season. While they lost team sack leader Bryce Huff in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles, they replaced him with Reddick, the Eagles' sack leader and one of the NFL's most prolific pass-rushers over the last four seasons.

Defensively, the Jets are loaded with draft pedigree. By adding Reddick and tackle Javon Kinlaw this offseason, they increased the number of former first-round picks to eight -- a league high, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In the front seven, they have Reddick, Kinlaw, tackle Quinnen Williams, end Jermaine Johnson, backup tackle Solomon Thomas, backup end Will McDonald and middle linebacker C.J. Mosley. On the back end, they have cornerback Sauce Gardner.

Seven of the eight were top-17 picks, the lone exception being Johnson (26th overall in 2022). Reddick, Williams, Mosley and Gardner have combined for 11 Pro Bowl appearances.

On paper, it looks terrific.

"It's going to be exciting, it's going to be entertaining," Reddick said. "It should already be that way for you guys when you look at the defense, but I know what I bring. I know the juice I'm going to bring, the energy, and, hopefully, it's contagious and rubs off on the guys."

It's not unusual for the Jets to have this many former first-rounders on defense. In fact, this is the sixth time since 2010 that they've had at least eight in the same season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

They've employed mainly defensive-minded head coaches in recent decades, which probably explains why they lean defense in the draft. If one of the picks doesn't work out, they tend to replace him with another team's first-round castoff. And so it goes.

From a leaguewide perspective, there have been only 14 instances in the common-draft era (since 1967) when a team had at least nine former first-rounders on defense. No team has exceeded 10. The Jets fielded nine in 2012 and 2015, neither of which resulted in a postseason berth.

In fact, only four of the 14 made it to the playoffs, with just one reaching the Super Bowl -- the 2002 Oakland Raiders, whose defense included the likes of Charles and Rod Woodson.

It's unusual for so much draft-day talent to be stockpiled into one specific position group -- i.e. the defensive line. The last team to field six former first-rounders on the line was the 2020 San Francisco 49ers. Their defensive coordinator at the time was Jets coach Robert Saleh, who has reunited with two of them -- Thomas and Kinlaw.

Neither player worked out in San Francisco, so they followed Saleh to New York -- first Thomas (in 2022), then Kinlaw (last month). They signed him to a prove-it deal -- one year, $7.25 million.

"I think his career is still ascending," Saleh said of Kinlaw, who made a career-high 3.5 sacks last season. "He's a young guy. Obviously, he had some injuries his second and third year. He was healthy last year. He's still learning the game, so we're excited to get him in here and see what he can do."

Reddick's track record speaks for itself -- 50.5 sacks over the last four seasons, the league's fourth-highest total. If there's a concern, it's that his production plummeted from 2022 to 2023 -- from 16 sacks to 11, from five forced fumbles to none.

His advanced metrics also dipped, with his quarterback-pressure percentage dropping from 17.6% to 13.3%, according to Next Gen Stats. He also generated the fourth-lowest run-stop percentage (5.6) among edge rushers.

Reddick will have to make a subtle transition in changing teams. In Philadelphia, he was a 4-3 outside linebacker who was deployed as a pass-rusher. In New York, he could be listed as a 4-3 defensive end. This might be splitting hairs. The point is, he will be rushing the passer.

"The attack, attack, attack style -- I'm all for it," Reddick said. "I'm all about constantly putting the quarterback under duress. And with the group that we have -- the front that we have -- we should be able to do that really often."