Michael Nania reviews Tarell Basham’s breakout 2019 season. Can he play a key role in Gregg Williams’ defense?
Career recap: A native of Rocky Mount, Virginia, Tarell Basham attended one year of military school before committing to Ohio University, where he played four seasons from 2013-16.
Basham recorded 11.5 sacks in his senior season at Ohio and was named Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts. The following April, Basham was selected by the Indianapolis Colts with the 80th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
In his rookie season, Basham played a rotational role at EDGE for the Colts. Over 15 games, Basham played 222 defensive snaps (14.8 per game) and recorded 12 pressures (two sacks). He also had significant responsibilities on special teams, appearing on five of the six special teams units and ranking ninth on the team with 164 total snaps (10.9 per game).
The following year, Basham was waived by the Colts just five weeks into the season after participating in only one game. He was claimed off waivers by the Jets and would appear in each of the team’s final 10 games. Basham did not get much playing time on defense, recording 90 defensive snaps (9.0 per game), but he slid right into a decent-sized role with Brant Boyer‘s special teams unit. From Weeks 7-17, Basham ranked 16th on the Jets with 95 special teams snaps (9.5 per game), getting the majority of his work with the kickoff coverage, kickoff return, and punt return units.
2019 expectations: The Jets came into 2019 with as little talent as ever on the edge. Jordan Jenkins was set to start for the fourth consecutive season, but that is about the only thing that Gregg Williams could hang his hat on.
A deep competition was held for playing time on the outside. Basham competed with players such as Kyle Phillips, Bronson Kaufusi, Harvey Langi, Frankie Luvu, Jamey Mosley, and third-round pick Jachai Polite for a roster spot.
In the preseason, Basham recorded seven pressures, tying Phillips for the team lead. Basham put on a show in the team’s Week 2 exhibition trip to Atlanta, recording five total pressures, three of which were knockdowns on Matt Ryan. On this play, Basham lines up at left defensive end and swims over the right tackle with his outside arm, shooting through the B-gap for a hit.
Basham made the Week 1 roster, starting the season in a rotational role.
Positives: Basham was elevated to the first-team in Week 2, and remained there throughout the season. He led all Jets edge defenders with 590 defensive snaps (36.9 per game), which ranked seventh on the team.
The season started out rocky for Basham. From Weeks 1-3, Pro Football Focus had Basham ranked 62nd in overall grade (48.3) out of 64 qualified edge defenders. As he got more acclimated, Basham began to make some huge strides. Over the final 14 weeks of the season, Basham earned the 17th-best overall grade (79.2) out of 64 qualifiers.
While Basham only recorded two sacks and four quarterback hits in the box score, he was quietly making a solid impact as a pass-rusher throughout the season. He led the Jets with 39 total pressures, 34 of which were hurries. Basham’s pass-rush productivity (per-snap pressure rate with greater weight to sacks) score of 7.0 placed him in the 51st percentile at the position. His PFF pass-rush grade of 67.1 landed him in the 52nd percentile.
Basham’s best trait as a pass-rusher is the quickness with which he can get through the interior when rushing from the outside. Here, Basham stands up as a 4i-technique, and loops inside to the A-gap. He side-steps the right guard and slips through to create pressure on Gardner Minshew, forcing a quick release.
Basham stands up on the outside and runs a stunt with Leonard Williams. Williams does a good job creating penetration. Basham sells the outside rush, stops on a dime, and slices inside to force Carson Wentz into an errant throw.
Basham runs another stunt with Williams, but this time, Williams is the looper. Basham crashes down and creates pressure himself. He squeaks through the B-gap as he rides the momentum from the left guard and left tackle straight into Baker Mayfield. Williams received official credit for the quarterback hit on this play, but Basham is the one responsible for the pressure here.
Basham lines up in a four-point stance as a five-technique. He rushes inside, swats the right guard’s inside hand, and rips underneath to get home and create pressure. Mayfield is forced to scramble and nearly throws an interception.
After a poor start against the run (more on that later), Basham wound up enjoying a solid season in that phase. He ranked at the 54th percentile among his position in run defense grade (67.5) and the 73rd percentile in run stop percentage, as he recorded a stop (run tackles that constitute a negative value result for the offense) on 7.8% of his snaps against the run.
There is not much flashy about what Basham does against the run. He is simply a steady, fundamentally-sound defender who has a good motor and executes his role with solid consistency.
Basham shows tremendous discipline and recognition on this play in Baltimore, as he hangs tight and makes the stop against an option play.
Basham stands up over the A-gap and anticipates the cutback, bringing down Josh Jacobs for a short gain.
Basham trails the play from the backside and makes the stop.
One of the best skills that Basham brings to the table is his ability to effectively drop back and cover. He played 75 snaps in coverage (4.7 per game), which ranked as the 11th-most among edge defenders. Basham ranked in the 69th percentile at his position with a 70.2 coverage grade and allowed only three first downs across 14 targets (21.4% rate – although one would-be first down was dropped).
On this 3rd & 7 play, Basham drops into a hook zone and makes a good tackle on D’Ernest Johnson (with some help from Kyle Phillips) to bring up fourth down.
Taking advantage of a hasty throw created by Jamal Adams‘ pressure, Basham picks off Devlin Hodges for his first career interception.
Basham had an excellent final quarter of the season. From Weeks 14-17, he earned an 89.2 overall grade from PFF that ranked as the third-best among 72 qualified edge defenders over that span. Only Carlos Dunlap (90.3) and Za’Darius Smith (90.4) stood ahead of Basham.
In addition to the interception seen above against Pittsburgh in Week 16, Basham nearly picked up a strip-sack on Matt Barkley, but it was reversed to an incompletion after review. Basham gets his inside hand into the right tackle, pulls, rips through, and whizzes by to strip Barkley as he releases.
Basham was one of the top contributors to a special teams group that ranked fourth in DVOA, appearing on five of the six units (field goal/extra point protection being the exception). He played 246 snaps on special teams, third-most behind Harvey Langi (267) and Daniel Brown (299). Basham was the only Jet to participate in every kickoff rep (67).
PFF awarded Basham a special teams grade of 68.4, good enough for the 62nd percentile among the 199 players to play at least 200 special teams snaps.
The highlight of Basham’s year on special teams was this blocked punt in Baltimore. Basham bulldozes Pro Bowl long snapper Morgan Cox and rejects Sam Koch’s punt. B.J. Bello returns it for a touchdown.
Negatives: Basham was a mediocre finisher, landing at the 39th percentile in tackling efficiency in the passing game and the 47th percentile in the run game. Here, Basham misses on a chance to bring down Nick Chubb for a short gain as he has a tough time shedding the tight end’s block.
That missed tackle against Cleveland was one of a few crucial mistakes that Basham made over the first three weeks of the season. On this play against Buffalo in Week 1, Basham gets moved to the inside by tight end Lee Smith, leaving the edge vacated. Devin Singletary bounces outside for a big gain.
Back to the game against Cleveland in Week 2. On Nick Chubb’s 19-yard touchdown that extended Cleveland’s lead to 13-0, Basham gets moved outside with ease, contributing to the opening of a huge lane. Almost every Jets defender on the field flubbed this play.
In the Jets’ Week 3 trip to New England, Basham gave up a 41-yard catch to Ryan Izzo. Izzo sells the run fake and then releases into a route. Basham fails to recognize it and leaves Izzo wide open.
2020 Outlook: Under contract for a non-guaranteed $777.5K in 2020, Basham is one of the best values on the roster.
The Jets need to work diligently to improve on the edge – Basham’s team-leading 39 pressures ranked 48th among edge defenders, which just won’t do – but Basham has a lot to offer as a rotational piece. He is capable of dropping into coverage, running stunts, creating interior pressure, and defending the run all at an effective level. Not to mention, he brings a positive impact on special teams.
In a perfect world, the Jets would find two new starters on the edge and Basham would play about 15-20 defensive snaps per game. Clearly we do not live in one of those, however. The Jets may only be able to find one legitimate upgrade at the position if they are even that lucky. They may also lose Jordan Jenkins in free agency, who could be vastly overpaid for his average-level production.
Odds are that Basham will playing a featured role once again in 2020. That is plenty fine for the time being. Basham showed in 2019 that he can hold his own in a starting role. If he can have another season in which he performs admirably in a versatile array of areas, the Jets would be thrilled, and Basham would set himself up for a well-earned payday in the 2021 free agency period.