TOJ Roundtable – New York Jets Outside Linebacker Edition

The TOJ Roundtable discusses what the New York Jets depth chart will look like at outside linebacker in 2016

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What will the New York Jets depth chart look like at outside linebacker when the season opens? Furthermore, what are your expectations for second year player Lorenzo Mauldin?

Joe Caporoso – Currently the Jets depth chart at outside linebacker is Lorenzo Mauldin and a bunch of question marks and ironically Mauldin remains a bit of a question mark himself. It makes sense the Jets would have faith in the second year player after an encouraging rookie year where in only 24% of the defensive snaps he racked up 4 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery along with a head turning consistency of putting pressure on the quarterback. You want to build from within and the staff is betting on him being able to be a full time starter but that still needs to be proven out by him. If the defensive line remains a strength and the Jets get somebody competent across him, Mauldin should be a 7-9 sack guy who is capable of setting the edge against the run.

Beyond him? Calvin Pace is always available to set the edge on first and second down and provide my Twitter account easy age jokes. Mike Catapano flashed a bit last year but expecting him to be anything more than a situational player is probably overly optimistic, the same goes for second year UDFA Deion Barnes, newly signed CFL star Freddie Bishop and Trevor Reilly. If you are putting odds on a position the Jets will select in the first round, outside linebacker and offensive tackle would be leaders in the clubhouse. Both Noah Spence and Leonard Floyd could fit and neither would be a surprise selection, personally I think Spence could thrive in this system and provide an ideal long term building block opposite Mauldin.

Dalbin Osorio –  I’m tempted to write in Calvin Pace as starting at OLB for what feels like the 77th year in a row. The Era of Pace never dies, word to the Boltons. I do think this is the year the Jets deviate from that somewhat.

I think come September the Jets OLB depth chart lists Lorenzo Mauldin and second round draft pick Kamalai Correa as the starters, with Mike Catapano, Calvin Pace, and Trevor Reilly as the primary backups. I think Bruce Carter gives the Jets flexibility because he has played OLB in the past, so the Jets don’t need to carry 6 there. I think Correa is the pick in round 2 as a perfect fit for the Jets 3-4. He is fast, mean, and has a very high ceiling.

He’d be opposite Lorenzo Mauldin, who is poised to take that next step this year. He had 4 sacks his rookie year in limited playing time, and will now be asked to play more snaps with hopes that he can provide more off the edge as the Jets try to get faster. My expectation for him hinges on what’s around him at two key positions that the Jets currently have unanswered questions at.

If they draft Correa and slot him in opposite Mauldin, then Mauldin won’t draw a lot of double teams since he won’t be the only edge rusher on the field. If the Jets decide to pass on an edge rusher in the draft and start Catapano, then Mauldin is the only edge rusher and he won’t be nearly as productive. The other question comes with what do the Jets do with Mo Wilkerson. He commands double teams on the DL, and if he’s traded and replaced by Leonard Williams then Simba hasn’t earned the respect of receiving double teams so it limits Mauldin’s one on one opportunities. Once those two things get sorted out, you’ll get a better gauge of Mauldin’s potential next year. If Wilkerson is gone and they don’t draft an edge rusher, Mauldin’s ceiling is 4-5 sacks. If Wilkerson is back and they don’t draft an edge rusher, Mauldin’s ceiling is approximately 8-9 sacks. If Wilkerson is back and they do draft an edge rusher, Mauldin could be an 11-12 sack guy next season.

David Aitken – The two most important questions here are: at what point in the draft do the Jets draft an OLB, and at what point in the preseason does it become evident Calvin Pace will be starting again?

It is no mystery that the starting OLB position is a huge hole right now, and there has been so much talk about who will be starting opposite Lorenzo Mauldin that there hasn’t really been a dialogue about how ready Mauldin is for the major jump in responsibility. What’s especially interesting about that is there really isn’t any major contingency for Mauldin on the roster right now either, thus belief in him internally seems pretty high.  As a rookie Mauldin wasn’t really employed as anything more than a situational pass rusher, but it’s a role he showed some real promise in, having probably his best game in the pivotal showdown Week 16 against New England. Admittedly I am a little skeptical of his ability to jump right into an every-down role, but I think his pass rush potential can cover up some cracks. I think he could be an 8-10 sack player in 2016.

Across from Mauldin, expect OLB to be a position the Jets try to address within the first two rounds. I think Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence is a prime candidate in round one, but there is enough depth in the first few rounds to expect an OLB pick even if Spence is unavailable or (unlikely) passed over for another prospect.  As for the depth, I have the feeling this is a place the Jets are serious about a youth movement. That means Mike Catapano and Trevor Reilly should get a shot at more playing time, and 2015 practice squad player Deion Barnes will have a good opportunity to make the roster. Don’t forget the Jets also dipped into the CFL market early this offseason too with Freddie Bishop. In a major upset, Calvin Pace also finds his way back into camp, and then you know it’s only a matter of time.

Depth chart prediction: Mauldin / Spence / Pace / Catapano / Barnes

Joe MalfaOutside linebacker will be a major question mark as we barrel towards the draft, but this question is an interesting one to pose once the dust settles after the draft.

Lorenzo Mauldin showed flashes last year of being that 3rd down edge rusher that can pin his ears back and get to the quarterback. Another offseason to develop will pay dividends for Mauldin, and I expect him to reach the double-digit sack plateau in 2016. Unfortunately, Mauldin is the only lock on the edge at this point.

Muhammad Wilkerson’s status is up in the air as a potential trade looms. If he stays, the log-jam on the line may tempt the coaching staff to use Richardson at OLB at times (though they said they would get away from that). Mike Catapano and Trevor Reilly can work their way into the mix, but there is still a bit of uncertainty surrounding both of them. When the draft rolls around, the Jets may add an edge or two depending on how the board breaks, but we all know how much of a crap shoot the draft can be.

In short, there are only two locks in my mind right now — Mauldin and probably Calvin Pace. I believe Catapano and Reilly can step up, and I trust that Maccagnan will draft well and add a capable OLB.

John Hargaden The Jets have constantly been searching for a pass rush threat at outside linebacker. We go back to the legend Calvin Pace who was signed during the Eric Mangini era and countless times the Jets have searched for that threat off the edge. Going into this offseason, you can tell that Mike Maccagnan has made it clear that they are trying to get speed. The signing of CFL player Freddie Bishop was a intriguing move but it will be tough for him to make the roster. Mike Catapano, a local Long Island guy, had an interesting few games last year before injuring his foot towards the end of the season. According to Rich Cimini, the Jets may put Catapano at OLB and see what he can bring. I do feel that early on in the draft, if their board plays out right, that the Jets will be drafting a OLB within the first three rounds. Ideally, I would love the Jets to draft Noah Spence if he makes it to #20. A potential sleeper perhaps in the 2nd or 3rd round would be Kamalei Correa from Boise State. I really like what he brings to the table, he is a little undersized which does hurt him but he would be a nice addition on day two.

Alex Kaczynski – The Jets need immediate help at OLB this upcoming season. At some point, Bowles needs to be given some weapons to rush the passer. Mauldin is going to be a difference maker in 2016. He did not have stats that jumped off the page last season, but he needed time to start developing into his pro role. Bowles has already commented he would be more involved in the defense this year and possibly become an every down OLB. Mauldin is going to have to step up and be a crucial part of this defense because the need for a solid linebacker has never been more evident. He is young, hungry, and can really make a name for himself this season.

With only 4 sacks last season, I could see him possibly tripling that number if he transitions well into the full time role. Bowles is looking for a player to complement the big men up front and Mauldin can be his guy. In regards to OLB as a whole, there is still a high chance that there is one taken 20th overall. Georgia’s Leonard Floyd is a strong candidate if he is available. Bowles was one of only two head coaches who was at his pro day. He is very fast for a 3-4 linebacker and is extremely athletic. Floyd could be the piece that ties the defense together. I am keeping my hopes high that he will be the choice on draft day but, if we decide to hold off, Kamalei Correa could be a solid pick in the later rounds.

Nikki Charlesworth –  OLB seems to have become a continuing saga each Jets offseason. Had it not been for the unexpected availability of Leonard Williams at six last year, they may have taken a swipe at Vic Beasley from Clemson who was eventually taken at eight by the Bears, or Bud Dupree who went to Pittsburgh.

That’s not to say that taking Williams was wrong; quite the contrary, especially given the Mo Wilkerson situation but it has meant the pass rush problem still continues into this year. Of the players currently on the roster Lorenzo Mauldin looks to be the key man in this position and will need to step up from what was a promising, but not earth shattering rookie year. Todd Bowles has already emphasized how they are relying on Mauldin to make the leap in his second year and be a “major player”, likely moving to OLB full time. However, rookie promise is just that and Mauldin alone is not enough to solve the Jets pass rush issues and provide support for the D-line. Luckily, once again, the OLB draft class is relatively deep. Leonard Floyd could still be available by the time the Jets pick at 20, another possible but risky option is Jaylon Smith, from Notre Dame who saw his draft stock destroyed by serious knee injury. It’d be a brave move by Mike Maccagnan who would risk taking a player with so much uncertainty over his post injury future, despite the huge upside if it works out. However, with the likes of Mike Catapano, Calvin Pace, Trevor Reilly and Freddie Bishop from the CFL contending for depth chart spots, the Jets may be forced into playing the long game when it comes to improving this position.

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Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports