With the regular season approaching rapidly, and the second round roster cuts having just taken place, who has set themselves apart in the battle for the starting Jets Safety position?
Jets Current Safety Group
As it stands the Jets have six players listed on the Safety depth chart after the second round of cuts:
With the exception of free agent addition Jordan Whitehead not much is certain about what the Jets’ plans are for Safety.
So far this off-season it’s been hard to tell who has put themselves in a position to take the second starting safety position. The smart money would be on the veteran, Lamarcus Joyner to take the spot; but is there anyone else who’s challenging him for it?
Lamarcus Joyner is currently the Jets de-facto starter at Free Safety – image courtesy of USA Today
Joyner was a good safety when he was with the Rams, and had one great season in 2017. Despite being misused at the Raiders when they tried to move him to corner, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he hasn’t played at a safety now in 3 seasons. In truth the Jets don’t know what they’re getting when he steps onto the field if he starts against the Ravens in 3 weeks time.
Who’s Making The Cut
Last season the Jets carried four Safeties into the regular season; two at each spot, which is probably what we can expect this year. It would be staggering if Whitehead and Joyner didn’t make the cut, and quite surprising if recent 5th round draft pick Pinnock didn’t make the 53 either. That really only leaves one spot for the other four to fight over.
Davis, Parks and Riley (cut this last week) were all on the team in 2021, with Adams being added this year as an UDFA. Joyner was around in 2021, having been brought in during free-agency, but suffered an injury in game one of the regular season and didn’t see the field again. The team brought him back for 2022, giving him a guaranteed $2.1 million deal. He’s not been particularly active during training camp, being rested by the coaches as he comes back from the 2021 injury, which would suggest he has little to prove to the coaches to secure his spot on the roster.
Will Parks has been making the most of his reps this offseason for the Jets – image courtesy of USA Today
Parks and Riley both flashed during training camp, and Parks had himself a nice game against Philadelphia with some solid tackling and good coverage. Riley found himself cut this past Tuesday, perhaps slightly surprisingly given the fact that the started a great deal last season, which thinned the field somewhat for the others.
While Riley found himself cut, Ashtyn Davis has survived to the final rounds of the pre-season, although why is anyone’s guess. He has been missing in action pretty much since May and his play to date hasn’t been good. It’s not hard to understand why the Jets took him in the 3rd round of the 2020 draft. His athletic upside is obvious and the team would have been betting on that upside like teams do with so many prospects. But his skills in coverage, and the horrible angles he takes on tackles in the open field haven’t gotten any better and he’s done nothing in pre-season to suggest it will.
The possible wrinkle in all this is Jason Pinnock. Pinnock was drafted in the 5th round of the 2021 draft by the Jets as a CB. Behind Bryce Hall and an emergent Bradin Echols he didn’t see the field much when they were both healthy, although he did show flashes of ability later in the season when he stepped in at safety due to the Jets’ many injuries at the position which had given some hope to him being able to make the transition to safety this year.
With the coaching staff thinking that Pinnock has potential at the position, as well as being a recent draft pick, I’m comfortable saying that he has a serious shot to stick on the roster; likely competing with Davis for the final spot, which is a battle he should win. Adams they will likely try to stash on the practice squad and see how he develops for next year. Davis will probably end up being cut if they can’t find someone to trade for him.
Everyone should expect that Whitehead will start at Strong Safety, and smart money at the start of the off-season would have been on Joyner starting opposite him at Free Safety. That was almost by default though; there simply wasn’t anyone else on the Jets roster who you could see as a legitimate threat to him. But to be clear, Joyner shouldn’t be considered someone the Jets cannot bench or cut as soon as they have a better option.
Coming into camp the possibility of Pinnock making a push for a starting safety role was brought up a lot as one of the things to watch. The problem is, it hasn’t materialised. I expect him to make the roster though as the coaching staff probably still want to see what he has but he’s not shown enough these last few weeks to demonstrate that he should start for this team.
The one to watch for me is Will Parks. After another solid outing against the Falcons in the second pre-season game, he’s put himself in a prime position to challenge Joyner for the starting Free Safety role. Against Atlanta all Joyner did was play himself out of the starting spot. A blown coverage in the 1st went for a big gain for the Falcons, and Joyner just looked lost for the limited time he was on the field.
In comparison, Parks kept up the good play in the second preseason game against Atlanta. The tackling was well timed and hard with Parks flying round the field making plays in coverage and the backfield. To my mind Parks has done enough to earn a chance to start against the Baltimore Ravens in week 1.
For now we’re looking at this group and essentially debating over which is the best of a thin field of options; similar to the Corner group in 2021, the Jets staff are going into the 2022 season with what the have at Safety. If the 2023 off-season were to happen tomorrow Safety would be in the conversation as one of the team’s biggest needs (Antonio Johnson in the 1st, anyone?), and us Jets fans will likely spend all of February to April arguing over the value of drafting Safety or Linebacker in the 1st round.
But it is what is it is. We went into last season in despair over our corners and what a disaster it was going to be, but the young players ended up surprising us. With Whitehead in one safety spot the situation isn’t as dire as it was at corner, and it’ll be interesting to see if Parks or Pinnock can develop into a longer term option as the season goes on.