The linebacker corps of the New York Jets been in need for a face-lift for some time. They have struggled the last couple seasons both in coverage and reaching the quarterback, but with offseason and draft acquisitions, the Jets may have new life in 2016…
Something had to be done following the 2015 season to help this unit. The Jets had waived former-first-round bust Quinton Coples on November 23rd and were set to see Calvin Pace and Demario Davis hit the free agent market at the end of the season.
Coples would play the final six games of 2015 with the Miami Dolphins, only to be cut following the season. He signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams. As for the free agents, Davis signed a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns and Pace remains available (and old, so so old).
Taking a quick look at the depth chart from the start of training camp, nine-year veteran and the glue of this defense David Harris and Erin Henderson will be the starters inside, leaving Bruce Carter and first-round selection Darron Lee in backup roles. Lee should play behind Henderson in sub-packages until he’s ready to start. How long that takes is up to Lee, though the coaches may find it suits all parties better long-term to keep him in the situational role they start him in, just as they did outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin.
He is not your typical inside ‘backer in size, built more like a safety/linebacker hybrid, but could add some mass over time. Lee’s skills are undeniable though, bringing speed, quick feet, athleticism, flexibility, side-to-side range, and coverage ability to the field. He is also smart, diagnosing the game as it unfolds. Look for his versatility, confidence and the speed in which he learns the inside position to be his keys to success; all of which seem to be well on the right track at the moment.
On the outside, it seems like Mauldin is the guy penciled in on the Jets’ depth chart for one side. Head coach Todd Bowles expects him to make a “big jump” in being a full-time player and is optimistic that Mauldin can be a “major player” for the Jets in 2016. Despite Bowles’ optimism, not even Mauldin himself is a sure bet for New York. Sure, he’s shown flashes in the latter part of 2016, but he spent the majority of his rookie year as a situational pass rusher which limited his time on the field. Unfortunately, the Jets need him now, so he will need to improve in coverage, setting the edge, understanding offensive techniques, and needs to add pass-rushing moves to his repertoire in camp and on-the-fly this season.
Front-runners for opposite Mauldin (assuming he starts) have to be CFL standout Freddie Bishop and the Jets’ third-round selection Jordan Jenkins.
Jenkins is the kid taking New York by storm right now, being deemed a “monster” and “hell on wheels” so far through camps. He looks to be the favorite and is a great fit for the Jets having played a 3-4 scheme at Georgia. He reminds people of a younger Pace – a physical player who can set the edge and be a great run defender. Bishop is an interesting prospect as well. In his last two seasons in the CFL, he played a “stand-up defensive end,” posting 60 tackles and 14 sacks (11 in 2015) over 28 games.
Other options for the Jets would include Trevor Reilly, Deion Barnes, Taiwan Jones, Josh Martin, and Julian Stanford.
Reilly has played two seasons in New York, has shown improvement and could get a chance for some playing time this season. Barnes and Jones were undrafted free agents who made the Jets’ practice squad in 2015, and like Martin and Standford, are likely practice squad players, or special teams guys at best for the 2016 season.
With this group of versatile players, added speed, youth, and a defensive line fully intact, I expect big things on defense this season. On paper, their ability to blitz, stuff the opposing rush, and get to the quarterback should excite fans in New York heading into September.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com