What should NY Jets do with EDGE Bryce Huff going forward?
Huff’s 2022 was a masterful rushed performance
Heading into the 2022 season, Bryce Huff was listed as an under-the-radar potential cut for the New York Jets.
Ultimately, the Jets gave a three-year, $15 million deal to Jacob Martin, whose skill set was seemingly very comparable to Huff’s. Huff, meanwhile, had shown potential in his first two seasons but struggled to stay on the field.
For the first three games of the season, Huff remained on the inactive list, finally making his debut in Week 4 against the Steelers. It took nine photos to make sure he was no longer inactive.
Huff was perhaps the most impressive rusher in the NFL in 2022. His rankings among the 108 rushers with at least 170 pass rushes include first in pass rush win rate (28), first in pressure rate ( 20.8%), second in true pass pressure set rate (26.5%, dropping screens, play-action passes and other very long or very short plays) and third in QB hit rate (4.6%, behind only Nick Bosa and Trey Hendrickson).
I was asked some non-qualifiers. So here’s roughly where Bryce Huff (green), Azeez Ojulari (blue) and Kingsley Enagbare (yellow) would be.https://t.co/VQiaQAaYmu pic.twitter.com/rggXR5NvXO
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 13, 2023
You’d think such a dominant rusher would play a lot more snaps, but Huff was limited to 173 pass rushes, which was 108th among edge rushers. Why did the Jets limit Huff’s snaps so much and how will that affect his 2023 free agency?
The Jets used Huff as a pass rush specialist and only inserted him in safe pass rush situations. In fact, Huff played just 16 defensive runs in 14 games, including four in one game against Detroit. Since Huff is listed at 6’3″, 255, and is a below-average run stopper, the Jets are afraid to put him on the field in running situations.
Huff’s run defense is difficult to evaluate without watching tape because of those limited snaps. He had no tackles, assists, run stops or lost tackles in those games. Most of the plays were third-and-long draws that didn’t involve Huff at all.
In 2021, in 120 defensive snaps, Huff ranked 66th out of 103 qualifiers with a 5.0% shutout rate. Huff also had a 10% sack rate and 2.6 punt depth average, both of which ranked 46th.
Huff’s primary weakness in the run game mirrors that of many Jets backs: he’s an aggressive downhill runner. In 2022, it sometimes cost him, even though those were pass rush situations. Teams took advantage of the Jets’ general defensive tendency to sell out against the pass.
Even in his previous two seasons, however, Huff had the same problem at times. Of course, if he were to become a full-time runner or see even more at-bats, he would have to get better at recognizing when a run is coming instead of pinning his ears back and it was going full steam ahead.
In Week 1 of the 2021 season against Carolina, Christian McCaffrey was able to run for some big gains because Huff didn’t hold the edge.
However, it is important to distinguish the difference in importance between the run stop and the pass rush. Even though a team would prefer not to have a holding obligation on the field, the NFL is still a pass-first league (even in 2022 when the totals and rushing numbers are greatly increased). The Jets have other great running backs in Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons, but Huff is far from the best running back of the trio. Huff could become a Dwight Freeney type; Freeney stayed in the 3-4% stop rate range from 2006-08 (the first season in which Pro Football Focus tracked such numbers) and dropped to around 1-2% thereafter.
Another interesting thing is that the Jets played Jacob Martin a lot more before his trade to the Broncos. Martin profiles similarly to Huff as an undersized pass specialist who can struggle somewhat against the run. Martin’s stop rate was 3.6% on 54 defensive snaps in eight games with the Jets this season, while he also played roughly the same number of post-rush snaps per game as Huff (12). It’s hard to see why the Jets were OK with Martin playing run defense but not Huff.
Which side of the line?
Huff played exclusively at left defensive end in 2022, meaning he lined up opposite the other team’s right tackle. Unfortunately, so do John Franklin-Myers and Johnson, naturally limiting Huff’s photos. The Jets preferred JFM and Johnson as two-way backs, especially Johnson, who ranked sixth out of 89 cornerbacks (min. 150 defensive runs) with a 9.8% stop rate. (JFM was 44th with a rate of 5.9%.)
However, the right side of the line has less depth in Carl Lawson and Micheal Clemons. Although Clemons is a solid run defender, ranking 15th with a stop rate of 8.1%, Lawson is nothing special, ranking 70th with a 4.6% rate. Additionally, both players were average or below as pass rushers. As we’ve explained, Lawson is the No. 1 jet-cut candidate this offseason due to his lack of dead and generally underwhelming 2022 money.
The question would be whether the Jets see Huff as a natural replacement for Lawson if he played on the opposite side of the line. Fortunately, Huff has played on the right side in the past; he played almost exclusively on the right in 2020-21, including 144 pass rushes on that side in 2021.
If Huff could replace Lawson outright, then the Jets could save a lot of money by freeing up snaps for Johnson and Clemons and not looking for a serious replacement in free agency or the draft. This is an ideal scenario from a financial and football point of view.
Huff is a restricted free agent this season. RFAs are players who have accumulated three seasons in the league and whose contracts have expired. Since Huff was an undrafted free agent, his three-year contract expires this season.
As explained by Anthony Holzman-Escareno of NFL.com, a restricted free agent can be given various qualifying offers (called “tenders”) that come with the right of first refusal or draft compensation if the player signs with another team. Tenders include first round, second round, original round, right of first refusal and others.
Since Huff was a UDFA, he will not be offered an original tender. However, first-round or second-round tenders seem a bit stiff for Huff since as of last offseason, a first-round tender came with a one-year contract worth the greater of (a) $5.562 million or ( b) 110 percent of last year’s player’s base salary and a second-round tender included a one-year contract worth the greater of (a) $3.986 million or (b) 110 percent of last year’s player’s base salary passed.
While those contracts would be a pittance if the Jets see Huff as a starter, the question is whether they do so given his relatively small sample size in 2022. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that any other team would waive him. even from a second-round pick to sign Huff.
An opt-out tender is a one-year contract worth $2.433 million (as of last season). The team has the right to match any offer sheet signed with another team, but there is no draft compensation associated with this tender. (All tender information is as per Anthony Holzman-Escareno’s March 2022 article).
I could potentially see a team going over a tender with the right of refusal, which is a risk the Jets will have to weigh. If I’m the Jets, I put a second-round tender on Huff and give him about $4 million, which would save a net $11 million if the team cuts Lawson. That money could be used to bring back Sheldon Rankins or sign another DT, sign a quality offensive tackle or replace one of the team’s safeties.
Ultimately, it depends on how the Jets view Huff. If they plan to use him the same way next season, there’s a good chance some other team would prefer to give him a bigger role and sign him to an offer sheet to match that view.
The Jets haven’t had a rusher like Bryce Huff in nearly 20 years. It is necessary for both to appreciate and use it properly to maximize the team’s pass rush.