The New York Jets have a lot of decisions to make this offseason. Here’s a look at their current linebacker corps heading into 2017.
Much has been made of the linebackers corps of the New York Jets this offseason. Fans were disappointed with their performance in 2016 and some would have you believe that the team needs to start over at the position.
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I’m not counted in with those fans. I believe the Jets have tools to work with at the position and that there is no reason to totally rework the group. With the recent signing of Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, I believe this group is well on its way to becoming a strength of the team’s defense.
Starting with Darron Lee, the Jets got younger and faster within the group. Despite his struggles adjusting to Todd Bowles defense in his rookie campaign, the upside to this young man’s game is far too great to ignore. Lee has legitimate speed, running a 4.43 second 40-yard dash at last year’s combine.
In two years at Ohio State, he amassed 11 sacks and added 3 interceptions to go along with his team-leading 146 tackles over the same two years. Keep an eye on Lee in 2017, he showed development as the 2016 season went on and with a year of development under his belt, next season promises to be exciting.
The Jets also added Jordan Jenkins in last year’s draft. Jenkins is another young talent who played himself into significant playing time in 2016. The 6’3″/259-pound linebacker is better known as a run stopper but did manage to post 2.5 sacks in his rookie campaign.
To go along with his sack total, Jenkins managed one forced fumble and two pass defenses in his rookie campaign. Year two promises to be a fun watch for Jets fans as Jenkins settles into his NFL role.
Lorenzo Mauldin is another young linebacker the Jets have high hopes for. He’s been a little lackluster in his first two years with the team, but injuries slowed him in 2016, and the hope is he can take the next step in 2017.
The Jets have gone to the Canadian Football League to acquire linebackers in the past two years. Last season brought the signing of Freddie Bishop, and this offseason the signing of Frank Beltre. Both of these players come to the Jets with youth and a desire to make their NFL dreams come true.
Bishop is 26 years old, he stands 6’3″ and tips the scales at 256 pounds. He spent the 2016 season on the Jets practice squad but promises to be in the mix this summer at camp. In 2015 he posted 14 sacks, one forced fumble, and a pass defense while playing for the Calgary Stampeders.
Frank Beltre is a 6’2″/250-pound linebacker who spent time on the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders practice squads before heading north of the border. While it’s not clear what the Jets plans are for Beltre, he was an integral part of the Calgary Stampeders special teams unit on their way to the 2016 Grey Cup.
Erin Henderson and David Harris are the veterans on this squad and both are under contract for the upcoming season. Harris has been the anchor to the Jets linebacking corps for many years and will likely return for another go in 2017. Harris will have a reduced role, but there is no doubt his leadership will be a valuable tool for Greene to utilize. Henderson was brought in to bolster the Jets pass rushing capabilities, unfortunately, he spent most of 2016 on the injured reserve list. If healthy he still could provide a pass rush in a situational role for the team.
The Jets have gotten younger and quicker at the position in the past two seasons and many believe they will draft another edge rushing linebacker via the 2017 NFL Draft. While no one truly knows the future of these players, they certainly have promise.
Bowles has a talented front and is building a younger, faster linebacking corps. The combination sets the Jets up for success going ahead defensively. Greene inherits a young group with a bit of a veteran presence as well. If he can develop them into a cohesive unit this summer, the Jets defense will be that much closer to becoming a force in the AFC.