It’s no secret that Jamal Adams wants out of New York—he’s wanted out for a while, and the Jets have acknowledged that desire. In fact, they’ve even begun preparing for that outcome, drafting Cal safety Ashtyn Davis in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft to shore up the short-term and long-term depth at the position.
So if Adams gets traded, Davis steps up into his shoes, and the Jets defense keeps on rolling, right? Neat and tidy.
It’s never that easy in the NFL. Despite being tagged as a safety, the 215-pound Adams took the plurality of his snaps last season in the box, frequently operating as a quasi-linebacker who could fill the C-gap, rush off the edge, or drop in coverage against tight ends. Adams’ best plays of impact came from the box, as he had 6.5 sacks, 10 TFLs, and 13 QB hits last season—all career highs. That sack number was 2.5 sacks higher than the next closest safety in the league: Eric Reid, another quasi-linebacker.
That’s not to say Adams doesn’t also take traditional safety reps—he had 300 snaps at free safety and another 130 at slot corner, emphasizing that he still is part of the secondary. Davis played a similar role for the Golden Bears in his final season, frequently policing the roof of the defense with his range, but also dropping over spread sets to cover receivers in space.
But Davis will struggle to fill the box responsibilities vacated by an Adams trade, which is the most concerning void left in a hypothetical Adams departure. That space likely won’t be filled by a new addition, but rather 2018’s big free agent signing: linebacker C.J. Mosley.
For a brief flash of 2019, the Jets’ linebacker room looked solid. Mosley, fresh off a five-year, $85 million payday in New York, played about six quarters of football and looked like his usual self, the physical thumper with quality instincts and range. His season was lost to groin surgery after trying to fight through a Week 1 injury. Avery Williamson, a holdover from the Todd Bowles era, was lost in the preseason to injury—but Day 3 rookie linebacker Blake Cashman out of Minnesota stepped nicely into his shoes for the first seven weeks of the season, before he was lost for the year with a labrum injury. Three linebackers, from promising rookie to established top-tier vet—all gone.
The play of Adams helped mitigate the losses in New York’s linebacking corps, though there was only so much you could do about covering up Neville Hewitt and James Burgess Jr. Now, with Mosley having finished at-home rehab in June and gotten cleared by trainers to resume full work for training camp, the shoe may be on the other foot, as it’s Mosley’s job to account for the potential loss of Adams.
Mosley’s biggest impact has always come against the run, as he’s been a black hole for ball-carriers between the tackles since his days at Alabama. Never a prolific blitzer or pass defender, Mosley’s biggest wins in pass coverage come when he can trigger and close downhill on underneath breaking routes.
This is not reminiscent of the impact that Adams had, as a blitzer and gap shooter who halted drives with his plays behind the line of scrimmage. Adams had more sacks and quarterback hits last season than Mosley has ever had, despite spending far fewer reps in the box.
Now, Mosley won’t be tasked with the same things that Adams was tasked with, as some combination of Davis and incumbent safety Marcus Maye will see those blitzes and those alignments over the tight end. But when they don’t kill running plays early like Adams did, or generate pressure like Adams did, Mosley and the rest of the linebacking corps will be stressed to win their run fits or control their underneath zones to mitigate the big play opportunities afforded to the offense by Adams’ absence.
As Mosley, Williamson, and Cashman all take reps together for the first time in 2020, with an abbreviated training camp considered, the learning curve will be steep—and the majority of the burden will fall on Mosley, the veteran and undisputed captain following an Adams departure. Immediately, he has a huge void of impact box play to fill, and on a defense without much star power behind him. Perhaps it wasn’t what he signed up for when he landed in New York, but if Adams indeed gets traded, it’s the hand he will be dealt.