The New York Jets have accumulated an extensive amount of depth at the ILB position. In the 2019 offseason, the Jets inked C.J. Mosley to one of the richest deals for a linebacker in the league’s history. The former first rounder immediately was deemed a staple of the Jets defense. However, after one game he went down with a groin injury that plagued the entirety of the season. The Jets old regime handed the 4 time pro bowler a rich deal in what some viewed as a last ditch effort for Mike Maccaganan to salvage his job, expecting him to lead the defense for 5 years.
Mosley’s running mate was presumed to be Avery Willamson. The consistent linebacker was coming off a career year with 120 tackles, 6 TFLs, 3.0 sacks and a FR. Willamson and Mosley were expected to be one of the top linebacker duos in football.Prior to the season, Williamson went down with a torn ACL that ended his season before it even began. The injuries stung the team and the Jets had to resort to lesser known commodities like Neville Hewitt, James Burgess and Blake Cashman to fill in for the injured vets. Those depth players delivered and now the Jets have a situation on their hands for the upcoming season. Not only that, but they brought in Patrick Onwuasor to add more of an interior pass rush. With all this depth, who makes the squad?
Starters: C.J. Mosley & Avery Willamson
As previously noted, Mosley was brought in to be an immediate difference maker. Despite his injuries, the team still performed very well on defense. In a brief showing against Buffalo, Mosley was the glue holding the defense together. If Mosley can be the difference maker he was brought in to be, he can bring the entire defense to another level. Mosley is being counted on for a big year and he will likely be a captain on the team.
As for Willamson, the fan favorite is expected to be a starter IF he is still a Jet come 2020. Although it would be a surprising release, the Jets could cut Willamson. He would free up $6.5 million if released. Although he had an impressive 2018, the Jets current regime was not in charge then. Not only that, but recency bias could lean in some of the other linebackers favor. The Jets depth and other needs could make Willamson a victim of cap casualty or trade if he’s outperformed by Hewitt, Burgess or Cashman. At this time, he is the presumed starter barring a move.Backups: Blake Cashman, James Burgess and Patrick Onwuasor
Blake Cashman was a 5th round selection in the 2019 draft. Cashman was expected to contribute on special teams, but the lack of depth at linebacker put him in a spot for meaningful reps. He had 40 tackles, .5 sacks, 3 TFLs and a FR. Why does he make the team over Hewitt? Age. Hewitt is 27, Cashman is 24. Cashman has the upside to be a quality linebacker for the future, although he wasn’t a pick in the current Douglas regime, Cashman is a prototypical Gregg Williams linebacker and I would expect him to make the team. James Burgess and Neville Hewitt had very similar numbers. With 80 tackles, .5 sacks, 1 INT and 8 TFLs. Burgess was impressive last season, and although he is 26, he is. year younger than Hewitt which could be more appealing.
Onwuassor was brought in to establish a more prominent interior pass rush. In Baltimore over the past 2 years, Onwuasor has 8.5 sacks and 13 TFLs. He has had consistent pressure as well with 18 QB hits in that span as well. Onwuasor could bring an interior rush the Jets lack. That pass rush ability makes him more valuable than the other options and a likely member of the 53 man roster.
Cuts: Neville Hewitt & B.J. BelloNeville Hewitt had 75 tackles, 6 TFLs and 2 INTs. Hewitt is 27 going up against younger competition for a roster spot. Hewitt and Burgess could be a toss up based on coach preference. I believe Hewitt and Burgess would be preferable over Burgess and Cashman, based on Hewitt’s production, but the age of Cashman could play a factor in terms of potential. The Jets may make that point irrelevant if they decide to only carry two backups linebackers anyways. Hewitt deserves a shot somewhere, but it may not be in New York. As for Bello, he has yet to play meaningful football and on a team with a load of depth, he likely won’t make the team.
The Jets have loads of depth at this spot. Although the best guys will play, age and money are always factors. One thing is for sure after last season, no matter the player, Williams is able to navigate the circumstances to have consistent production from his linebackers.