When the Jets released Muhammad Wilkerson in March, it left Leonard Williams as the lone pass-rushing end on a 3-4 defense in need of disruptive forces. Heading into another week of the offseason program and the rookie minicamp, the way to find a viable replacement remains uncertain.
Free agency didn’t provide the Jets with a solution, but general manager Mike Maccagnan drafted Connecticut defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi in the sixth round to play end.
The Jets also made a trade, getting defensive end/tackle Henry Anderson from the Colts for a seventh-round pick. Anderson, in nine games for the Colts, had 22 tackles and two sacks. Anderson played only nine games before suffering a throat injury that required surgery.
Maccagnan will have to wait for the Jets’ medical staff to clear Anderson before committing to him long term, though he likes his potential.
“He’s going into the final year of his contract, but we liked him coming out of college,’’ Maccagnan said. “He’s an excellent guy from a character standpoint, and we thought for the value, it was a good opportunity to maybe add a guy. We’ll see how he plays for us and he’s potentially young enough to invest in going forward.”
Defensive tackle Nathan Shepherd was taken in the third round from Fort Hays (Kan.) State, and Todd Bowles views him as a defensive end. Bowles said he can play Shepherd and Fatukasi on the line with Williams.
“They can also give Leo a break and they can also play at the nose,” Bowles said. “But we have them both slotted for certain things [depending on] how we want to use them.”
Did the Jets do enough to address their pass-rush problems?
They didn’t have a second-round pick, so possible replacements such as Breeland Speaks from Ole Miss and Kemuko Turay of Rutgers, 3-4 defensive ends/outside linebackers, weren’t available to them.
Before the Jets snagged Shepherd 72nd overall, they left Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard and LSU’s Arden Key alone. Hubbard went to the Bengals at 77 and the Raiders picked up Key with the 87th pick. Key has some undisclosed off-the-field issues but did visit with Jets officials at the Combine.
In the fourth round, the Jets took tight end Chris Herndon of Miami, and Maccagnan hinted he might be the best receiver at his position on the roster. There were two quality defensive ends the team passed on. Dorance Armstrong Jr. (Kansas) went to Dallas at 116 overall, and Josh Sweat (Florida State) went to the Eagles at 130.
The Jets gave up their fifth-round pick after a series of trades with the Colts, and they grabbed Fatukasi at 180. They could have picked up Utah’s Kylie Fitts, who went to the Bears at 181. Fitts had health questions going into the draft, so that might have scared off the Jets.
As possible solutions to the pass-rush problem the Jets have interest in free agents Frostee Rucker and Johnathan Hankins. Rucker, an 11-year veteran who is 34, played for Bowles in Arizona. Hankins, 26, a Giants second-round pick in 2013, has played five NFL seasons.
“I think to be perfectly honest, whether it’s the pro free agency, there are still players out there right now,” Maccagnan said. “If there is something we can do to make this position more competitive, we’ll see how the college free agency unfolds that we’re about to go into momentarily, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule anything out yet. We feel pretty good. We have some good, young defensive linemen and we’ll see how it goes going forward.”