New York Jets safety Sharrod Neasman has one major weakness in coverage, but outside of that, his coverage has been surprisingly excellent.
Former Atlanta Falcons and current New York Jets safety Sharrod Neasman is best known for his work on special teams. Over the course of his career, he has played 296 more snaps on special teams than he has on defense (1,070 vs. 774).
However, Neasman is not your typical special teams ace who almost exclusively plays in that phase and provides next to nothing on defense. With 774 career defensive snaps, has a solid amount of experience on that side of the ball, as injuries (specifically to starting safety Ricardo Allen) tossed Neasman into the fray for heavy action in the 2018 and 2020 seasons. He played 728 of his 774 career defensive snaps in those two seasons, logging 436 snaps in 2018 and 292 snaps in 2020.
Neasman was no slouch when called upon. He produced some good results for the Falcons as a backup safety, generally providing about as much as you could realistically hope to get from an undrafted special teams ace.
On an overall level, Neasman’s coverage has been decent, but when you break his coverage numbers down, some interesting trends are revealed.
For the majority of his time on the field as a defensive player, Neasman’s coverage has been surprisingly great. There is just one particular position where he is a major liability: the slot.
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Neasman has been torched when covering out of the slot, but when lining up anywhere else, his coverage has been excellent. All four of the non-slot coverage numbers seen above would have ranked in the top-25% among qualified safeties in 2020 if maintained on an overall level throughout the season (not just on non-slot reps).
To get an idea of where Neasman has been lining up on those non-slot coverage reps, here is a breakdown of Neasman’s career alignment rates:
- Free safety: 43.6% of defensive snaps
- Off-ball linebacker: 26.7%
- Slot cornerback: 13.3%
- Strong safety: 9.5%
- Outside linebacker: 4.4%
- Outside cornerback: 2.5%
Slightly more than half of Neasman’s non-slot reps have come at free safety, but the six-foot-zero, 198-pounder has also played a significant amount of time at linebacker. He has dipped his toes in at strong safety, outside linebacker, and outside corner.
Let’s compare Neasman’s struggles in the slot to his triumphs at other positions.
Most of Neasman’s slot experience came in the 2018 season. He lined up in the slot for 83 total defensive snaps that season compared to 20 snaps in all other seasons combined.
As evidenced by the numbers above, the experience was mostly negative for Neasman. All four of the touchdowns he has allowed out of the slot in his career came in 2018, one of which can be seen here.
Neasman lines up in soft press against the flexed-out tight end, Dan Arnold. Arnold releases with a hard outside step that Neasman bites way too hard on, hopping all the way outside, and the battle is pretty much over right there. Neasman tries to save the rep by throwing his inside hand to jam Arnold, but Arnold swats it away, and he’s off to the races.
Neasman gives a massive cushion to Jordan Reed in the slot. Reed makes an easy grab on the out route. Neasman could still stop this second-and-10 catch short of the first down marker, but he takes a big hop downfield in reaction to the vertical jab step by Reed at the top of his route, and that leads to Neasman being unable to get downhill in time to prevent the first down.
Neasman lines up at strong safety and lurks around pre-snap to disguise the coverage. He ends up taking Randall Cobb man to man out of the slot. Cobb runs an out-and-up, and Neasman covers it tremendously. He anticipates the vertical break, beginning to turn his hips vertical before Cobb even snaps his head downfield. Neasman smoothly matches Cobb as he turns downfield, turning his hips vertical in unison and running with him step for step.
At first glance, this looks like an absolute dime by Aaron Rodgers, but it’s really not. This ball is too far inside. It’s right there for Neasman to make a play on it, but Neasman never turns his head to locate it. The ball whizzes right by Neasman’s face and into Cobb’s arms. Great coverage, but a bad job at the catch point.
The Falcons clearly did not want to use Neasman in the slot all that much after witnessing his struggles in 2018, as in 2020, Neasman played only eight coverage snaps in the slot compared to the 62 he played in 2018. This play was the lone target thrown Neasman’s way while he was covering a player aligned in the slot this past season, and it resulted in a first down.
Neasman creeps down from a single-high position to man up against Mike Evans in the slot. The Buccaneers give Evans a designed pass in the flat with two blockers against two defenders out in front to that side. Neasman is locked up by Chris Godwin’s block and fails to make the play, giving up the first down and then some.
Success outside of the slot
When playing deep safety, strong safety, or even linebacker and outside cornerback, Neasman has been very solid in coverage throughout his career.
The Falcons show a Cover-1 pre-snap and rotate into a Cover-3 post-snap, with Neasman darting back from a WILL linebacker alignment to cover the deep-third. Alex Smith takes a shot down the sideline to Josh Doctson. Neasman runs an accurate and well-timed route to the ball to meet Doctson at the catch point, dropping his shoulder into Doctson’s inside half to knock the ball out.
Neasman lines up as a Cover-2 safety on the field side but begins creeping down into a strong safety alignment pre-snap. Los Angeles tosses a screen to Neasman’s side.
Two defenders are blocked, leaving Neasman one-on-one with the receiver. Neasman notices the receiver aiming for the sideline, so he takes an aggressive downhill angle to the outside. His route is perfect as he meets the receiver and stops him dead in his tracks with no yardage after contact.
Neasman plays the deep middle in a Cover-3. Justin Herbert scrambles to extend the play, and as he does, Tyron Johnson improvises and begins running vertically down the sideline. Neasman recognizes it and sprints downfield to get on top of the route, tightening the window and preventing Johnson from breaking wide open. Herbert ends up overthrowing his target.
Neasman is the SAM linebacker. The Ravens run a sprint-out to the right side with John Brown running a post route from right-to-left. Neasman locates Brown and picks him up, turning his hips 90 degrees toward the sideline to cover any in-breaking routes and then making another 90-degree turn toward the end zone so he can turn and run with Brown on the post.
Neasman sticks tightly to Brown and creates a tiny window for Lamar Jackson, which he misses.
Neasman is once again at SAM. Baltimore runs a naked bootleg to Neasman’s side. The running back (former Jets RB Ty Montgomery) leaks out of the backfield into the flat, and Neasman picks him up.
What really shines from Neasman on this play is his recognition of what is going on behind him. Neasman sees that’s Lamar Jackson’s eyes are focused downfield, so Neasman drops a little bit deeper while still keeping his hips squared to the RB so he can break on him and make a play. Neasman’s subtle drop is enough to clog up the throwing lane to the intermediate option, and Jackson is prompted to go back to the RB.
Jackson misfires wide to the RB primarily for two reasons. One is Neasman’s positioning. Neasman is in a great spot to make a play on the ball if it were placed into the RB’s body, so Jackson knows he needs to place it outside, but he overcompensates a bit and misses. Part of the reason he misses is the effect of Neasman’s subtle drop. Neasman’s drop forced Jackson to make a late decision, which meant that by the time Jackson decided to hit his checkdown, he was squeezed against the sideline and had to rush the throw, contributing to him missing on the wide placement.
Really impressive job by Neasman of handling two responsibilities at once to force the quarterback to be indecisive. Had he overcommitted to either the RB or the concept behind him, Jackson would have had an easy decision and probably would have converted on whichever option Neasman did not choose.
Neasman lines up at outside cornerback against Dan Arnold, aligning with slight inside leverage pre-snap. Neasman stays patient and waits for Arnold to declare before he moves a muscle. Once Arnold turns his hips inside for the slant, Neasman drops his front (inside) foot and rotates his hips inside to match Arnold.
Neasman dodges the attempted pick from the slot receiver to stay on top of the route. Using his inside hand, he punches at the ball with absolutely perfect timing and accuracy to knock it out. The punch is so forceful and perfectly executed that you can barely see it happen in real time.
If injuries force the Jets to call upon Neasman for defensive action, they can feel confident that the drop-off in coverage impact should be much smaller than it would be for most other backup defensive backs in the league.
So long as they do not play him in the slot, of course.