What Jets’ surprise 3-4 defense means for NFL draft, Leonard Williams

Many things about the Jets defense will change under new coordinator Gregg Williams, but one thing is surprisingly remaining the same.

Contrary to speculation, the Jets will still operate out of 3-4 base defense, according to sources.

Williams ran a 4-3 base for the Browns and the Rams before that, which led people to speculate the Jets would be switching. But the Jets feel a 3-4 is the best choice for them and best fits their personnel. One of the things that appealed to new coach Adam Gase and the Jets about Williams was his ability to adapt his scheme to his personnel.

The significance of what base defense a team runs has decreased in recent years as teams have run more hybrid fronts and operated out of their sub-packages more and more to combat spread offenses. So the Jets still will run four-man fronts often, just as they did under former head coach Todd Bowles.

Where the 3-4 versus 4-3 choice does hold the most weight is on the edge, where 3-4 outside linebackers play in a two-point stance and are usually smaller, quicker athletes versus 4-3 defensive ends, who operate out of a three-point stance and are bigger.

The Jets have been a 3-4 team since Eric Mangini replaced Herm Edwards in 2006. Rex Ryan and Bowles both operated out of 3-4 base defenses as well.

Williams told reporters in 2017, when he was hired in Cleveland, that he has dozens of different packages of defense and can use the 3-4 and 4-3 in the same game.

“I have 42 packages of defense,” Williams said at his introductory press conference with the Browns. “Now everywhere I go, I don’t do them all. What it is, coaches sit in a room and we waste so much time wondering what the word is. I have the words already. I’ve been doing it for so long. So boom, this 11 guys, boom this 11 guys trot out there. Then, what you will all see is, how much we play those types of schemes or packages is based on the AFC North. It’s based on what the offenses are pulling out there and we have to play defense on.”

For the Jets, the choice to remain a 3-4 base defense will play a significant role in the upcoming draft. The Jets are in the market for a pass rusher with the No. 3 pick. A player such as Kentucky’s Josh Allen is viewed as a perfect fit for the 3-4 as an outside linebacker. Michigan’s Rashaan Gary, who is 280 pounds, would be seen more as an interior player in the 3-4.

The decision to stick with the 3-4 also has an effect on defensive lineman Leonard Williams. It means he will remain in a similar role as he played in Bowles’ defense. He can line up anywhere from over the center to over the tackle, but won’t be moved exclusively inside to the 3-technique in a 4-3.

One change under Williams is the desire for smaller, quicker defensive linemen to play a more attacking style. The decision to let nose tackle Mike Pennel go this week is a reflection of that. The Jets no longer are looking for big players to clog up the middle of the defense.

Another player who could benefit from the Jets sticking with the 3-4 is Henry Anderson, a pending free agent. The Colts traded Anderson to the Jets last year after Indianapolis switched to a 4-3 and he was not seen as a fit. If Williams likes what he’s seen from Anderson, who tied for the team lead with seven sacks last year, he could be back in 2019.

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