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Monday, February 11, 2013
Positional analysis: Defensive line

By Rich Cimini

This is part six in a nine-part analysis of the Jets -- a position-by-position breakdown as we head toward the scouting combine and free agency:

DEFENSIVE LINE

2012 depth chart: Muhammad Wilkerson (starter), Mike DeVito (starter), Sione Po'uha (starter), Quinton Coples, Kenrick Ellis, Damon Harrison.

Overview: This is one of the few areas in recent years where the Jets have drafted well -- specifically, we're talking about their last two first-round picks. Wilkerson is a stud, already one of the top young 3-4 ends in the league. Statistically, he enjoyed one of the best seasons for a defensive lineman under Rex Ryan. Coples has more athleticism than Wilkerson, but he's lagging behind in strength, technique and intensity. He flashed playmaking ability (a team-high 5.5 sacks), but it's all about consistency with Coples. The coaches expect a significant jump in Year 2. The concern with the line is, the top run stuffer -- DeVito -- is a free agent and the nose-tackle position is muddled because of Po'uha's back injury and Ellis' slow development.

Free agents: DeVito.

2013 personnel preview: Ostensibly, the Jets drafted Coples to replace DeVito, but DeVito proved his value to the team and should be re-signed. He has scheme versatility, and his ability to play inside shouldn't be under-estimated, especially with Po'uha's balky back. Plus, is Coples ready to be an every-down player? If they re-sign DeVito, who could draw interest from AFC East foes Buffalo and New England, the Jets can return with their top five linemen. This will be a make-or-break year for Ellis, a former third-round pick hasn't made the team's scouts look smart.

Salary-cap situation: They have a tough decision to make with Po'uha, who signed a three-year contract last year. He has a $6.2 million cap charge, and they can save $3.8 million by releasing him. When healthy, he's the ideal anchor in the 3-4. He's also a positive locker-room presence. On the downside, he's 34 with a back issue -- although it appears he will avoid surgery. Because of the growth of spread offenses, requiring defenses to play in nickel, the nose-tackle position no longer is an every-down gig. The Jets must decide if it's cost-effective to keep Po'uha. They should make every effort to do so, because he still has value and they can't trust Ellis.