Tennessee’s Jayon Brown is one of the best young linebackers on the market, and an excellent fit for the New York Jets.
Fantastic coverage throughout career
Jayon Brown (six-foot, 231 pounds) has been one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL over the past three seasons, posting some of the stingiest coverage numbers at his position on a yearly basis.
Let’s start with the 2020 season. Over his 10 games in 2020, Brown was as lockdown as usual in the passing game. He earned a coverage grade of 73.5 at Pro Football Focus, which ranked at the 89th percentile among qualified linebackers (200+ snaps). Brown was targeted 53 times over 377 snaps in coverage, allowing 37 catches for 328 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. His average of 6.2 yards per target allowed ranked at the 77th percentile among qualifiers while his average of 0.87 yards per cover snap allowed placed at the 62nd percentile.
Most notably, Brown collected a total of eight passes defended, giving him an average of 0.8 per game that led all linebackers.
Brown’s year-to-year consistency in coverage is what will get him paid the big bucks in free agency. His 2020 season was no fluke – it was his third consecutive season ranking among the league’s elites in the coverage department. Teams can feel extremely confident that he will continue to cover at a high level in the future.
From 2018-20, Brown posted a composite PFF coverage grade of 77.1. That ranked fourth-best among linebackers over that span, trailing only Fred Warner (78.0), Eric Kendricks (78.8), and Lavonte David (84.9).
Brown collected 22 passes defended from 2018-20, tied with Darius Leonard and Cory Littleton for fifth-most at the position over that span, trailing Tremaine Edmunds (24), K.J. Wright (24), Bobby Wagner (25), and Eric Kendricks (25).
Over the past three seasons, Brown dropped into coverage on 1,306 snaps and was targeted 176 times, allowing 121 catches for measly numbers of 1,028 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Here are how some of those numbers compare to the 2020 league averages among linebackers:
- Brown 2018-20: 5.8 yards per target. 2020 LB average: 7.3
- Brown 2018-20: 82.3 passer rating. 2020 LB average: 106.0
- Brown 2018-20: 0.79 yards per cover snap. 2020 LB average: 0.96
- Brown 2018-20: 1.0-to-1 touchdown/interception ratio. 2020 LB average: 3.3-to-1
- Brown 2018-20: 1 touchdown allowed every 435.3 cover snaps. 2020 LB average: 187.1
That’s a three-year, 40-game sample, and Brown obliterates the positional standard in every category. He’s for real.
After starting out his career as a backup and sub-package piece, Brown developed into an every-down linebacker for the Titans in 2019. Removing games he left early due to injury, Brown participated in 96% of the Titans’ defensive snaps in his average outing from 2019-20.
Brown has a track record of top-notch production as a pass rusher. Back in 2018, he picked up 6.0 sacks (actually seven, as he had two half-sacks) and tied for eighth among linebackers with 18 total pressures. The Titans utilized him heavily as a blitzer that season, as his total of 103 pass-rush snaps ranked 13th at the position.
Tennessee oddly dialed back on its usage of Brown as a blitzer after that standout season of production, dropping him from 6.4 rushes per game in 2018 to 4.9 in 2019 and 3.5 in 2020. He remained decently efficient over the smaller volume with 16 pressures over 103 rushes from 2019-20, a 15.5% rate that beats the 2020 positional average of 14.3%.
For his career, Brown has 42 pressures over 247 rushes, a solid rate of 17.0%.
Brown owns a career missed tackle rate of 9.6%, slightly below the 2020 positional average of 10.7%. He improved over the past two seasons, whiffing on only 8.6% of his tackle opportunities from 2019-20.
On the 26th of February, Brown will turn 26 years old. He’ll be approximately 26.5 years old on September 1, making him the fourth-youngest unrestricted free agent linebacker that played at least 200 snaps last year.
Brown doesn’t seem to be a terrible run defender, but he has generally performed at a mediocre level in this phase from a grading standpoint. Here is where he has ranked among qualified linebackers (200+ snaps) in PFF’s run defense grade throughout his career:
- 2020: 49.6 grade, 64th of 102 (38th percentile)
- 2019: 66.5 grade, 37th of 104 (65th percentile)
- 2018: 62.2 grade, 59th of 98 (40th percentile)
- 2017: 49.7 grade, 94th of 102 (8th percentile)
Brown’s run defense has not been bad enough to have a drastic effect on his overall impact, however. Even with lackluster grades against the run, PFF still has him as one of the league’s best overall linebackers throughout the past three seasons. His composite overall PFF grade of 73.6 from 2018-20 ranked seventh-best among linebackers over that span:
- Bobby Wagner (83.3)
- Lavonte David (83.3)
- Demario Davis (81.1)
- Eric Kendricks (79.1)
- Darius Leonard (77.8)
- Alexander Johnson (74.8)
- Jayon Brown (73.6)
Some durability concerns have arisen for Brown over the past two years. From 2017-18, he appeared in all 34 of Tennessee’s regular season and playoff games. Since 2019, he has played in 26 of 35 games (74.3%).
In 2019, Brown officially missed 3 games (including the playoffs) but he essentially missed 5.5 games. He went down with a groin injury just five snaps into Tennessee’s Week 6 game against Denver and then missed the team’s Week 7 game against the Chargers. He returned the week following the Chargers game, although he only played one full game until he went down halfway through the next game due to the same groin problem, and he went on to miss the game after that. So, that’s only two official missed games, but he actually missed about a full game-and-a-half in addition to those.
In the 2019 playoffs, Brown left Tennessee’s Wild Card matchup with the Patriots after only 10 snaps due to a shoulder injury, which kept him out of the team’s Divisional clash with the Ravens. He returned for the AFC Championship battle with the Chiefs.
This past season, Brown was unhindered until a dislocated and fractured elbow in his 10th game landed him on season-ending injured reserve.
One thing that Jets linebackers simply have not been able to do over the past few years is cover the deep areas of the field. Players like James Burgess and Neville Hewitt were brutally exposed when asked to handle any responsibilities that carried them further than 5-10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Brown can be trusted to cover effectively all over the field. He is a rangy athlete and has a natural feel for positioning, knowing where he needs to be in order to make things as difficult as possible for the quarterback and the receiver.
There have been many plays in recent memory where Jets linebackers were burnt trying to run up the seam with faster players. On the play below, Brown shows off a textbook example of how to cover the seam from a middle linebacker alignment.
In a Tampa-2 look from Tennessee, Brown flips his hips outside and turns to run up the seam with JuJu Smith-Schuster. Brown gets on top of the route, beating Smith-Schuster to the spot. He then reads Smith-Schuster’s eyes, getting his hands up to play the ball when he sees Smith-Schuster look back for it. Brown successfully deflects the ball into the air, and his teammate (Amani Hooker) picks it off. Outstanding stuff – and something we have not seen from a Jets linebacker since C.J. Mosley‘s season-opening showcase in 2019.