The New York Jets have had a string of success in recent years in regards to the big-men that anchor the defense. Shaun Ellis, Kris Jenkins, Mike DeVito, Sione Pouha, and now, Muhammad Wilkerson highlight the bunch. Much has been made of the current incarnation of the Jets defensive line that features three first round picks in Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, and Sheldon Richardson. These three will be keys to the Jets success, both defensively and overall, for the foreseeable future. However, Kenrick Ellis, the forgotten man of the Jets defensive line rotation, holds a good deal of the Jets defensive fate in his massive hands.
The Jets spent a third round pick in the 2011 NFL draft on the 6’5″, 346 pound behemoth out of Hampton. A third round pick is not an expense to scoff at and speaks to the Jets’ hopes for Ellis as a cornerstone of the team. Ellis has the ideal measurables for a NFL tackle and is blessed with unnatural speed and athleticism for a man his size. Ellis holds up well at the point of attack and uses his power and quickness to shed blocks and move the pocket. Ellis also has a non-stop motor.
The big knocks on the big man coming out of college were character concerns, a tendency to bite on play-fakes, and pad level. However, most of these concerns seem to have been addressed by the coaching staff and Ellis is set for a big year in the trenches. Ellis’ position and role in Rex Ryan’s defense don’t produce eye-popping statistics but his impact is still evident.
Lets take a look at what Ellis brings to the table:
Play 1 – Strength and Block Shedding: Ellis’ best individual performance so far came in the 2012, week five loss to the Texans. On this play Ellis is lined up as a 0-technique over the center, looking at Justin Forsett in a single back set.
Ellis quickly sheds the the center’s block, pushing him into the secondary.
Ellis is then faced with the right guard, who he promptly bull rushes and knocks to the ground.
The play results in Ellis falling to the ground but, having already penetrated into the backfield, being able to recover and make the tackle for no gain. This play showed Ellis’ ability to shed blocks and control the pocket using his strength and hands. He quickly blew by two blocks into the backfield where he made a tackle for no gain. This ability to sift through offensive linemen is vital in defending the run.
Play 2 – Speed and Athleticism: This next play displays Ellis’ unique speed and motor for a nose tackle. Here, Ellis is lined up over the A gap, shaded just to the left of the center. Ellis is immediately double teamed by the left guard and center after the snap.
Schaub (at the 30) hits James Casey at the Texans’ 40 yard line. Casey then takes advantage of some key blocks and makes a bee line for the end zone. Ellis, aware of the situation, disengages from his blockers here:
He then sprints down field to tackle Casey 50 yards down the field at the Jets’ 20 yard line. Woah.
Play 3 – Agility and Awareness: Kenrick Ellis again shows his ability for defending the run in this play from the red zone. Ellis is lined up just a shade to the left of center, responsible for the A gap.
It is immediately apparent that the Texans are running stretch play to the right and Ellis reacts accordingly by following the pulling guard.
However, Arian Foster quickly cuts back in an attempt to hit the hole that the Jets’ defensive line has just vacated. Ellis is immediately aware of this.
Ellis is than able to use his quickness and agility to leap back into the hole and arm tackle one of the best running back’s in the game for a one yard gain.
Play 4 – Push and Backfield Penetration: In the last game of the 2012 season the Bills ran all over the Jets, but don’t blame Kenrick Ellis. On this play Ellis begins lined up over the B gap.
Ellis is immediately double teamed by the tackle and guard. However, Ellis holds strong at the point of attack and is immovable.
Though it is hard to capture in a still image, Ellis first watches the play develop. He then disengages his blockers by splitting them, knocking the guard to the ground and slipping by the tackle into the backfield.
Once past his blockers Ellis has a straight shot at CJ Spiller, wraps him up, and takes him to the ground.
On this play, Ellis was able to push the pocket while being double teamed, shed said double team, and make a tackle for a loss.
Play 5 – Difference Maker: So far, we have seen Ellis quickly penetrate the backfield, sprint half the field for a tackle, shed blockers, and quickly fill holes. On this play, Ellis shows his ability to force the turn over. Ellis starts this play against Miami from the traditional nose tackle spot, looking at an I-formation.
Ellis is lightning quick off the snap and forces the right guard to hesitate and take a step back.
Ellis engages the guard and uses his momentum and monstrous strength to push the guard into the backfield, disrupting any run attempt to the right.
Ellis, while still engaged with his blocker, wraps up the Daniel Thomas and violently takes him to the ground.
During the tackle, Ellis forces a hand into Thomas’ grip knocking the ball loose. Ellis is able to track the ball and recover it inside the scrum.
These five plays show Ellis’ ability and value to the defense. He shores up the middle of the line and is able to move the pocket at will. One thing that became clear through watching tape on Ellis was his propensity to command double teams. If the trend continues, this would leave fewer blockers for the likes of Wilkerson, Coples, and Richardson. Ellis (even when double teamed) can shed blocks, disrupt the pocket, and make tackles for a loss. His presence helps to produce a much more formidable run defense and allow pass rushers to run free.
Don’t let the stat sheet fool you. Ellis’ first season was hampered by the lockout and his second by missing training camp and injuries. Though he missed camp to serve a short jail sentence, the troubles that put him there seem to be a thing of the past and the circumstances of the initial crime itself are foggy. Ellis’ tendencies to bite on play fakes and play with improper pad level also seem to no longer be such looming issues when examining his tape. WIthout any further impediment to his learning and repetitions, Ellis is poised to make a major impact on the Jets’ defense.