Florham Park, N.J. – Last year, the New York Jets ranked 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and 1st in rushing touchdowns allowed with ONLY four. In 2014, they rank 5th in rushing yards allowed. In 2013, they sat at 3rd in the league in that category. What made the Jets so scary against the run is the depth they have had at the linebacker position.
To start things off with the depth, we should know who they lose: Calvin Pace and DeMario Davis. Pace has been a staple in the Jets defense ever since he came to New York in 2008. In his time with the Jets, he has recorded 426 tackles, 16 forced fumbles, and 46 sacks. However, Pace will be 36 come October. Davis was second on the team in total tackles with 90 and had two sacks. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL, he had 348 total tackles and seven sacks. Davis recently signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Browns.
Now to continue with who the Jets DO have, and they have a deep depth. Heading into training camp, New York has 12 linebackers. They have a young core, as only three players have six or more years of NFL experience.
To start things off, the Jets have David Harris. Harris has been on the roster since 2007 and has been a monster since. He led the team last year with 108 combined tackles while also adding 4.5 sacks. Harris has only had three seasons in which he totaled less than 100 combined tackles. “The Hitman” will continue to dominate come the 2016 season.
Next is some who is slowly emerging as a leader on the defense: Erin Henderson. After getting into legal issues, Henderson was released by the Minnesota Vikings and was out of the NFL completely in 2014. New York gave him a chance in 2015, and he answered with 45 combined tackles. In practice, Henderson is one of the more vocal ones on defense. Head coach Todd Bowles has said during OTAs that Henderson is “feeling more comfortable and he likes to get everybody going.”
After spending time in Dallas and Tampa, Bruce Carter makes his way to New York on a one-year contract. Preseason starter last year, he was bounced from the starting lineup after rookie Kwon Alexander outperformed him in training camp. In three starts, he finished with 47 tackles, two sacks, and two passes defended. Look for Carter to bring a veteran presence to the lineup.
Hoping not to have a sophomore slump is year two linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. The former third-round draft pick had 17 total tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble. With the four sacks, he was fourth on the team. Not the numbers he wanted, but he’s been showing good signs of progress during OTAs and minicamp. He's also versatile in the fact that he can also play defensive end if need be. Once training camp comes around and the pads are put on, it’ll come full circle for Mauldin.
One interesting addition to the linebacker crew is Freddie Bishop III. Why interesting? Well that’s because he hails all the way north of the border, as he spent two seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Calgary Stampeders. Undfrafted out of Western Michigan in 2013, he spent a brief time with the Detroit Lions before heading to Canada. In 2014, Bishop had 16 tackles and three sacks. After getting his feet wet, Bishop had 45 tackles and 11 sacks in 2015. He worked out for seven teams before signing with New York. Bishop isn’t the first to make the transition from the CFL to the NFL, as Cameron Wake made that journey a few years ago. The Jets hope to see similar numbers from Bishop.
Now we move on to the two rookies who have potential to make a splash: Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins. New York took Lee with the 20th overall pick in the NFL Draft while Jenkins was nabbed in the 3rd round. In two years at Ohio State, Lee totaled 146 tackles, 11 sacks, and three interceptions. This shows that he’s able to rush the passer while also having the ability to drop back into coverage. Jenkins spent four years at the University of Georgia and it paid off. He had 204 tackles, 19 sacks, and six forced fumbles. Both have looked good early on in OTAs and minicamp.
Julian Stanford, Trevor Reilly, Josh Martin, Taiwan Jones, and Deion Barnes round out the rest of the depth chart. Stanford was with Jacksonville, Detroit, and Tampa Bay before joining the Jets practice squad in December. He has 28 tackles for his career. Reilly was drafted by New York in 2014 and mainly does his work on special teams. He has 30 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles in two years with Gang Green. Josh Martin is the last of the five to have played in an NFL game. He bounced around with Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Indianapolis before signing on the practice squad in 2015. He has 26 career tackles and one forced fumble. Jones and Barnes have only made it as far as the practice squad.
There is a lot of potential with this New York linebacker crew. Some are hoping to exceed their numbers from last year while others are fighting for a roster spot. At the end of the day, the linebackers are going to play a pivotal role in keeping the Jets in the top five for run defense for years to come.