The last two Jets to make the Pro Bowl and are still on the roster are trending in opposite directions.
Defensive end Leonard Williams, a 2016 selection, is recovering from a concussion but his season has been going well with 45 total tackles, two sacks, 23 quarterback hits and one interception. Although Williams had no sacks in the first eight weeks, he did have 11 quarterback hits. In the last three weeks he has produced nine tackles and four quarterback hits.
The other defensive end is Muhammad Wilkerson, a 2015 Pro Bowler whose time with the Jets is getting short. He was suspended for last week’s game in New Orleans for being late to a meeting — his second such offense this season — and coach Todd Bowles wouldn’t commit to him long term when asked if he would practice on Wednesday.
Wilkerson started the season without touching the quarterback in any way for the first six weeks of the season. He also had no sacks for the first seven weeks. In the last three games, Wilkerson has 1 ½ sacks, 16 tackles and two quarterback hits.
He also has had health issues that started in Week 2, when he needed two injections in his shoulder because of a sprained AC joint. Wilkerson also has been playing with a broken toe for most of the season.
The shoulder and toe issues sapped his ability to make plays, though the Jets remained patient with him. For the season, Wilkerson has only 3 ½ sacks, 46 tackles and four tackles for loss while playing 699 defensive snaps. He hasn’t been listed on the injury report in nearly two weeks, and refuses to talk about his health.
When Wilkerson was a Pro Bowl performer, he was eighth in the NFL with 940 defensive snaps.
But his playing time has decreased along with his production. He had 845 defensive snaps last season and it’s doubtful if he’ll reach the 900 mark again, given his uncertain status with the team.
“It’s an internal thing,” Bowles said when asked about Wilkerson’s situation. “We’re still working through some things and we’ll go from there.”
There is nothing to work out with Williams, whose stock is rising with the organization. He’s played 851 defensive snaps this season, sixth highest among NFL defensive linemen, according to Football Outsiders.
But as the Jets enter the final two games of their season, Wilkerson might be sitting at home watching Williams, which hasn’t been lost on his teammates.
“Anytime you’re missing a guy on the field no matter who it is, you’re always going to feel it,” defensive tackle Steve McLendon said. “It’s still a sport that’s played as a game with 11 men on the field and we still had an opportunity [to beat the Saints last week]. We understand no one gave us a chance. But all we can ask for is an opportunity to go out there and showcase our gifts.”