New York Jets: Linebackers Not Named Ingram or Upshaw

Chris Gross breaks down linebackers the New York Jets could target in the NFL Draft, not named Courtney Upshaw or Melvin Ingram

Previously at Turn On The Jets, we have evaluated the Safeties the New York Jets could target if they opted to pass on Alabama’s Mark Barron and draft one of the many DE/OLB prospects that they so desperately need. But what if the Jets do end up taking Barron, and pass on the chance to land Mark Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, Quinton Coples, Chandler Jones, etc? Although the value of these players will be extremely high in the first round, this is certainly a scenario that could play out. If the Jets do opt to take Barron, there are still several quality prospects that could be the answer to New York’s desperate need for an outside pass rusher.

Recent TOJ Draft Coverage

Nebraska’s Lavonte David is a popular sleeper on many boards, but at just over 6’0 230 lbs, he is much more suited as a 4-3 OLB and not the DE/OLB hybrid the Jets need in their 3-4 scheme. Andre Branch is certainly a possibility, but if the Jets are interested in him, they will most likely have to trade back into the 30-40 range. Branch has superlative size for the DE/OLB position at 6’4” 260 lbs. Although his strength is not ideal with only 19 reps on the bench, his speed is certainly adequate for his size with a 4.70 40-yard dash. Branch also has the explosiveness that you look for in evaluating a pass-rushing prospect, as he showed at the combine with his 10’ broad jump. The production is there as well. Branch posted 10.5 sacks last season including 4 against Virginia Tech, a game in which he also had 11 tackles, including 8 solos. If the Jets were to take Barron in the first round, Branch would certainly not be a bad consolation prize to losing out on Ingram or Upshaw, assuming that they could get him in the second.

Perhaps the most intriguing name to keep an eye on is West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin. With 22.5 sacks in his past two seasons at WVU, Irvin has proved to be one of the top pass rushers in the nation during his time as a Mountaineer. He also blew scouts away with his speed and agility posting a 4.5 40 yard dash and a lightning quick 4.03 short shuttle at this year’s combine. At 6’3 245 lbs, Irvin doesn’t have ideal size, but his talent and production help him overcome that.
So, the obvious question is, how could such a productive prospect not even be discussed as a possible first round selection?

The answer is character issues. Irvin is a former high school dropout who already has more than one arrest on his resume. This has been hanging over him for his entire collegiate career, despite his immense production, and he unfortunately did nothing to ease the minds of NFL teams on this issue after he was arrested following his pro day this year. Irvin’s character issues will almost certainly cause him to fall to at least the third round, where based on production and potential alone, he would be an absolute steal.

However, are his talents enough for the Jets, who are already mending their locker room image, to take such a risk? The answer lies with Rex Ryan. Although Ryan admitted he lost the locker room last season, he is still a coach who prides himself on being able to mold his players into strong characters. If it were up to Rex alone, there is little doubt that the Jets would take a shot on Irvin. However, after the events of last year, Rex will have to convince Mike Tannebaum to select the immensely skilled, yet controversial pass rusher. If Rex believes that he can aid Irvin to overcome the issues that have haunted him for so long, he may be able to talk Mike T into taking him, in the event that he is available in the later rounds. This could be a very interesting scenario to keep an eye on as the draft plays out.