Safety turned New York Jets linebacker Jamien Sherwood is a kid whose collegiate tape is littered with high-level football IQ reps.
New York Jets linebacker Jamien Sherwood, the 146th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has more on his plate than most rookies. Not only will Sherwood be making the transition from amateur to professional, but he’ll also be transitioning from safety to linebacker.
Sherwood, a swiss-army-knife for Auburn in his lone season as a starter, played no more than 28% of his snaps at a single position, according to Jets X-Factor’s Michael Nania. Rather, Sherwood’s role changed based on down and distance, offensive formation, and game situation.
On first down, he mainly played free safety and covered the deep middle. On second down, he played strong safety or slot cornerback and covered the flats-curl zone. On third down, he assumed MIKE linebacker duties and covered running backs and tight ends.
Even still, his responsibility could change at any moment if the offense used motion or changed their play-call. Playing six different positions, Sherwood couldn’t simply learn one role, he had to learn the entire defense.
And learn he did.
Sherwood was the smartest player on the Tiger’s defense in 2020. He spent every available second before the ball was snapped getting his teammates lined up properly, and making checks based on what the offense was showing.
The following play against Georgia is a great example of those smarts on display.
Sherwood (No. 20) is aligned at strong safety in this Cover 1 look from Auburn, and like usual, he spends most of his time pre-snap directing traffic.
Sherwood is set to play what looks to be a deep zone, but after a tight end motions to his side, he communicates with his other safety to take over deep. With the offense shifting from a 3×1 to a 2×2, the safety’s roles have switched and Sherwood now has the tight end in man-to-man.
After the snap, Sherwood stays square and reads the angle route from the tight end before diving inside to break up the pass. If not for Sherwood properly aligning his teammates, and communicating to his other safety to cover deep, Georgia would’ve had multiple receivers wide open.
Sherwood not only helped his teammates on this rep, but he also made the play himself afterward.
Another play against Georgia, and once again Sherwood’s intelligence stands out.
Sherwood lines up at strong safety before calling out the coming play from the offense to the rest of his teammates. From the end-zone angle, we can see Sherwood signaling that the run to the right is coming. After the receiver motions left, Sherwood takes a small half-step before confirming what he read pre-snap and driving downhill to play force on the edge.
The SAM linebacker fills behind, and the run is stopped for a short gain. Without Sherwood reading the play before it happened, the Auburn defense would’ve fallen for the motion, and the runner would’ve had a canyon to run through up the right sideline.
NFL games are won and lost in the red zone. Luckily, Sherwood does some of his best work when the field gets smaller.
On this red-zone play against Georgia, Sherwood is lined up at slot corner in man coverage on the slot receiver. He reads the out-route from the slot before the snap, then lets the receiver eat up the cushion before breaking outside.
Sherwood’s 34-inch arms get put to good use as he dives to swat the ball away, forcing a field goal attempt from Georgia. Sherwood put himself in the right spot pre-snap, so he could make the right play post-snap.
Plays like these should allow Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich the flexibility to keep the base 4-3 out on the field when 11 personnel is showing. Saleh was known for leaving base against 11 personnel in San Fran, and with Sherwood at WILL, that trend can continue in New Jersey with the Jets.
Being a student of the game, Sherwood is rarely caught out of position. Another play against Georgia and Sherwood is playing will linebacker head over the tight end.
Georgia runs a play-action off the fake motion run play they called earlier. Even though his teammates fall for the play-action, Sherwood never bites and sits in the tight end‘s hip pocket on the over-route.
It’s clear that Sherwood heavily studied and dissected the Georgia offense before this game. He practically knew their play-book.
On to Alabama, and my favorite play from Sherwood’s tape. The Tide are in a trips look to the field side on third and long. Sherwood is playing MIKE linebacker while mugging over the A-gap. Alabama runs a Mills concept with a deep in-cut from the number one and a slice route from the number two. Auburn is in Tampa-2, and Sherwood is bluffing his blitz while playing the deep hook.
After the snap, Sherwood immediately reads the number two release up the seam and turns to run with him. He read the play based on the formation and situation, once again putting his film study to use. Despite starting from the line of scrimmage, and running backward, Sherwood blankets the slice-route with perfect inside leverage.
He knows he has a post safety over-top, so he stays inside to eliminate any chance of a completion. The ball was overthrown, but the receiver was completely covered.
Without Sherwood reading the play in an instant, the receiver would’ve been wide open in the hole between both safeties. Instead, Auburn forces a punt.
Film study and processing speed can make up for potential athletic deficiencies. However, Sherwood could not cover this route as well as he did without above-average athleticism. Not only is he highly intelligent, but he’s also athletic enough to make game-changing plays.
Saleh has stated that he doesn’t want his defenders to waste time thinking, he wants them to react and attack as quickly as possible. In a zone-heavy defense predicated on taking away space, intelligence is crucial. Defenders need to know their roles, their teammates’ roles, and what the offense is likely to do on every play and in any situation.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Jamien Sherwood was so highly coveted by the Jets’ coaches. His football IQ stands out on every play. He’s constantly helping his teammates get aligned and calls out what he thinks the offense is doing. He’s played every position on the defense except defensive line and understands all of their roles well.
He’s fast, rangy, and aggressive in coverage, and as a tackler. He plays with “all gas, no brake.” He’s the ideal type of player to fill the will linebacker role, and best of all, he already knows the defense.
Transitioning to a new position is never easy, but linebacker is not a new position for Sherwood. He’ll simply be learning to play one role instead of the six he had to learn in college. With his battle-tested intelligence and hall-of-fame caliber linebacker coaches around him, Sherwood is in the perfect situation to thrive in the NFL.
Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have spent most of their careers producing pro-bowl linebackers. Jamien Sherwood could be next in line.