Not everything has gone well for the New York Jets this season, but second-year defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has been a bright spot all season long. His performance on Sunday against the Jaguars was dominant and arguably the difference in the game.
He recorded one sack in the effort, but his impact goes far beyond the stat sheet. Wilkerson's position as a 5-technique defensive lineman does not give him many opportunities to make "splash" plays that make the SportsCenter highlight reel, which is why Wilkerson does not get the recognition that other great defenders have received this season.
Here is a breakdown of just how dominant Wilkerson was against the Jaguars and why he is the best player on the Jets roster (with Darrelle Revis out, of course).
Quickness and Strength
Wilkerson is listed at 315 pounds, but he flashes the movement skills of someone 60 pounds lighter. Take a look at the move that he puts on the guard to cause Chad Henne to get rid of the ball before he wants to.
Wilkerson is lined up in his usual 5-technique spot. When the ball is snapped, he does not engage the guard with his hands; instead, he puts on an inside move to draw help from the center. Notice how Wilkerson's feet are in motion, and the guard's feet are stationary, putting Wilkerson at a distinct advantage.
Wilkerson now uses his power and leverage to get close to Henne. The center comes in to help, but Wilkerson is so quick to the backfield that he has already split the two. Henne winds up completing a checkdown, but Wilkerson clearly affected the play.
Wilkerson's ability to move as quickly as he can at his weight is a testament to his incredible athletic ability.
Use of Hands
All great pass-rushers know how to use their hands effectively and gain leverage. Wilkerson has great length and is able to get a lot of space between him and his blocker.
Here, Wilkerson is lined up at his 5-technique spot once again.
Getting off the snap quickly, he pulls off a textbook "club" move to shove the blocker aside, embarrassing the guard to the point where he is left bent over looking at the ground. The guard does not even get a hand on Muhammad.
Now, the running back, who is usually used to help with edge protection, has to block Wilkerson on his own. Had the Jets gotten a pass rush from one of their edge rushers, this would have been a sack, because the back is now occupied helping a player that he doesn't usually have to help very early in the down.
The running back valiantly tries to cut-block Wilkerson, but Wilk deals with him easily. Once again, Wilkerson gets pressure on Henne and forces another lineman's attention, but the play is all but over at this point, and the ball sails incomplete.
If there wasn't a running back left to block Wilkerson, this play would have been over in about two seconds with Chad Henne on his back.
Eye Use and Discipline in the Run Game
Here is a counter-run play that is designed to fool the backside defender (Wilkerson) into over-pursuing and to take advantage of an aggressive defensive line.
Mo, however, never takes the bait. Notice how he keeps his eyes in the backfield and uses his length to pass off the tackle and keep from getting engaged.
After breaking free, Wilkerson now has to shed a fullback and make the tackle. he winds up carrying the fullback into the runner, stopping the play for a measly three-yard gain. He is even able to get both hands on the runner to drive him back after the play.
This play may only look like a routine running play to the average viewer, but Wilkerson displays awareness, discipline, power and length, all in a matter of seconds.
Only three plays were broken down here, but Wilkerson has been making these kinds of plays all season. It is unusual for a 5-technique defensive lineman to have such an enormous impact on the game, but the Jets have themselves a player with a unique combination of power, length, quickness, play recognition and discipline in Wilkerson.
Coming out of the 2011 draft, Muhammad was viewed as raw prospect with great measurables that would translate well in the pros, just like Jason Pierre-Paul, who is much more well-known to the general public.
Wilkerson does not get the same recognition because his sack numbers are not quite as impressive, but he has been equally as dominant considering the position that he is put in. With Revis out of the equation, Wilkerson is, by far, the Jets' best player and the biggest reason why they are still in the top 10 in total defense this year.
Mike Tannenbaum has come under plenty of fire this season, but so far, his selection of Wilkerson late in the first round two years ago is paying dividends.