NFL teams are already well into training camp, so you know what means: The 2019 season is right around the corner.
As we inch closer to football's return, we here at CBS Sports are diving into all 32 teams as part of a summer-long look at some of this year's most important camp battles.
In this edition, we highlight a pressing competition in New Jersey: The New York Jets' pass rush.
You can find all our training camp battle stories.
Why this battle is key
The Jets have been searching for a premier pass rusher for what seems like a decade, in part because, well, a solid pass rush is arguably the most important aspect of a defense in today's NFL, and in part because they've just been really bad about drafting talent off the edge. The end effect appears to be an emphasis on -- or resignation to -- making the interior their true source of any push to the pocket thanks to the steadiness of Leonard Williams as a 3-4 defensive end in their system.
There's nothing inherently wrong with building from the inside out so long as the inside is actually disruptive. A pass rush is a pass rush, no matter where it comes from. The fact of the matter, however, is that 3-4 DEs aren't designed to be the only ones getting after the quarterback because they've got far more responsibility to the run than, say, the outside linebackers. All that to say, it's clear that if the Jets are going to put an end to their long-lackluster pass rushing woes, they're going to need production from every facet of their front seven.
As the Jets look to confirm themselves as an up-and-coming defensive power under big-name coordinator Gregg Williams, here's a look at the biggest names looking to headline the pass rush in 2019:
Players in the mix
The former sixth overall draft pick has failed repeatedly to live up to his personal sack goals, registering a career-high seven take-downs during his 2016 Pro Bowl season and logging no more than five since then. But that's not to say Williams is a slouch. If anyone's going to captain a turnaround from the Jets' pass rush, in fact, it's going to be him -- especially now that he's supported by his most promising nose-tackle running mate to date (see: next player on the list). Williams doesn't need double-digit sacks to be respected, but if he has help alongside him, that's an easily attainable jump.
You never want to put the burden of reviving the most important piece of a team's defense on a 21-year-old rookie, but Williams has so much upside it's hard not to daydream. By nose tackle standards, the No. 3 overall pick is comparatively slender, and yet he's got the short-area skills to be an interchangeable stud for years to come -- interchangeable meaning more than capable of relieving Williams, rushing opposite him at DE, or lining up right in the middle at NT. If Leonard is the glue of the D-line, then Quinnen is easily the X-factor. If he clicks, lanes will open up.
He's another perfect example of the Jets' philosophy here considering his best fit is on the inside, either as a 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT, but that's not to diminish his potential as a change-of-pace rusher opposite the Williams duo. "Change-of-pace," of course, isn't necessarily what New York is now paying him to be after a three-year, $25 million extension, but Anderson thrived in a limited role in 2018, registering a career-best seven sacks despite making just three starts. If he can just replicate his push from a year ago in 2019, that'll go a long way in fortifying the unit now that there are two Williams' alongside him.
If you're not a Jets fan, there's a reasonable chance you've never heard about Copeland. The former undrafted Penn Quakers product spent time with three different teams in his first three seasons in the NFL, and he entered 2018 with exactly one start under his belt. After a surprising turn in the Jets' OLB rotation, however, he can't be ruled out as part of the pass rush, even if Gregg Williams also deploys him in a role similar to that of a 4-3 'backer. The ex-Detroit Lions reserve had five sacks and an underrated rush grade from Pro Football Reference as a 10-game starter, and he figures to at least get some exotic runs at the QB.
Like Copeland, it's not necessarily fair to classify him strictly as either a 3-4 or 4-3 LB in terms of his every-down responsibilities. But there's no denying he's got a big role on the defense, and after a 2018 season in which he matched Copeland's seven sacks, a career high, who's to say he won't spark Gregg Williams' interest in a similar light? Jenkins has even more experience as a starter and in New York's system, and after a breakout off the edge in '18, he could be primed for even more opportunities.
Quinnen Williams cannot be robbed of the X-factor label, but if we could crown two, Polite would be the obvious second choice. No one screams boom or bust quite like him. While there isn't enormous pressure on him to shine out of the gate because of his third-round status, the Florida product seems like the kind of prospect that'll either explode as the Jets' long-awaited presence off the edge or fizzle out in dramatic disappointment, mainly because he enters Year 1 after just one year of serious production.