If healthy, is the New York Jets’ C.J. Mosley one of the 10 best linebackers in the NFL? His career statistics reveal the answer.
A four-time Pro Bowler whose contract guarantees him $51 million (still an all-time record for linebackers by over $10 million), C.J. Mosley enters the 2021 season with massive expectations after playing just two games in his first two years as a New York Jets employee.
Can Mosley live up to that contract?
Let’s estimate exactly how good he can be when healthy by comparing his recent career statistics against other linebackers around the NFL.
I compiled the production of all NFL linebackers (including both the regular season and the playoffs) over the past five seasons (2016-20) and ranked Mosley’s numbers among the 53 active linebackers who played at least 2,000 snaps over that span.
We’ll kick things off with a focus on tackling, which is one of the most important facets of the game for linebackers (if not the most important).
Mosley has been credited by Pro Football Focus with a tackle-to-missed tackle ratio of 12.9-to-1 since 2016, ranking ninth-best out of 53.
Here are the most efficient tackling linebackers over the past five seasons according to their average number of tackles per missed tackle:
- Bobby Wagner, 23.1
- B.J. Goodson, 16.9
- Avery Williamson, 15.7
- Darius Leonard, 15.3
- Danny Trevathan, 14.2
- De’Vondre Campbell, 14.2
- Jon Bostic, 13.8
- Roquan Smith, 13.0
- C.J. Mosley, 12.9
- Todd Davis, 12.5
Missed tackles by Mosley are a rare sight. He missed 28 tackles over 48 games from 2016-19 (0.58 per game). Mosley had zero missed tackles in 25 of his 48 games (52.1%) and multiple missed tackles in just four of 48 (8.3%).
Getting after the quarterback is one of the few things that Mosley is not effective at. Mosley has a pass-rush grade of 60.7 at Pro Football Focus since 2017, placing 36th out of 53.
From a raw production standpoint, Mosley has been even less impressive as a blitzer than his PFF grade suggests. He has picked up 39 pressures on 344 pass-rush snaps since 2017, a rate of 11.3% that ranks 49th.
The Jets can rely on Jarrad Davis to make up for Mosley’s lack of blitzing prowess. Davis’ career pressure rate of 22.6% ranks eighth-best in the 53-player group, including fourth-best out of the 40 linebackers with at least 200 pass-rush snaps.
Mosley’s blitzing struggles are the only major weakness in his game – and it’s a controllable weakness, anyway. The Jets have control over how often Mosley rushes the quarterback. They can hide Mosley’s lack of blitzing impact by minimizing his number of pass-rush snaps, whereas there is no way a team can completely hide a player who cannot cover or stop the run.
Not to mention, pass-rushing is only a small part of the linebacker position. In 2020, the league-average linebacker was sent after the quarterback on only 8.7% of his defensive snaps. It isn’t catastrophic to be less-than-stellar at something that you are asked to do so infrequently.
If you are going to have one weakness as an NFL linebacker, this is what you want it to be.
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Mosley has proven himself to be a strong run-stopper throughout his career. He owns a PFF run-defense grade of 73.6 since 2016, placing seventh-best out of 53.
Here is the top 10:
- Bobby Wagner, 88.3
- Avery Williamson, 82.8
- Zach Cunningham, 76.5
- Benardrick McKinney, 76.0
- Demario Davis, 75.9
- Todd Davis, 74.7
- C.J. Mosley, 73.6
- K.J. Wright, 72.6
- Darius Leonard, 71.8
- Lavonte Davis, 71.0
Including the playoffs, Mosley ranked ninth among linebackers with 32 run stops in 2018 and seventh with 38 run stops in 2017.
In 2016, Mosley had the third-best run defense grade among linebackers (84.3) despite ranking 34th at the position with 26 run stops. This is because Mosley’s impact against the run goes beyond his on-ball playmaking.
Mosley is a smart and disciplined run defender who knows how to play his role. He is patient when defending the run, keeping the ball in front of him and restraining from getting overly aggressive to try and make big plays, which would open up the risk of running himself out of the play and opening up rushing lanes.
Rather than trying to be explosive and risk allowing an enormous run so he can make a flashy tackle for loss every now then, Mosley’s primary focus is executing the defensive play-call to perfection so opposing runs can be held to modest gains on an extremely consistent basis. This is why he grades so well against the run despite not always loading up the box score.
When evaluating the financial value of any player in the modern NFL, the first thing to look at from an on-field perspective is how that player affects the passing game.
This is especially true at the linebacker position. Plenty of guys can run fast and hit hard, but those skills don’t make much of an actual impact on the outcome of the game.
Who can read route concepts effectively and put themselves in a position to shut them down and make the quarterback look to his next read? Who can consistently understand and execute their role so they blow coverages less often than most other linebackers? Who can read the quarterback’s eyes and make plays on the ball?
These are the things that actually make a linebacker impactful, and Mosley is great at them.
Since 2016, Mosley has a PFF coverage grade of 73.1, ranking eighth-best out of 53. Here is a look at the top 10:
- Lavonte Davis, 82.7
- Deion Jones, 78.9
- Fred Warner, 77.2
- Eric Kendricks, 76.0
- Bobby Wagner, 75.6
- Darius Leonard, 75.1
- Cory Littleton, 73.6
- C.J. Mosley, 73.1
- Roquan Smith, 72.5
- Matt Milano, 71.6
This list is much more synonymous with the NFL’s biggest stars at the linebacker position than the top 10 list for the run game, exemplifying the importance of high-quality coverage in becoming a truly great linebacker.
Mosley allowed four touchdowns and picked off two passes over 18 games in his 2014 rookie season, but over the 64 games since then, he has tightened the clamps, giving up six touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
Altogether, Mosley has an overall PFF grade of 73.9 since 2016, which ranks seventh-best out of 53:
- Bobby Wagner, 85.9
- Lavonte David, 79.2
- Darius Leonard, 77.2
- Demario Davis, 76.5
- Deion Jones, 75.8
- Eric Kendricks, 74.6
- C.J. Mosley, 73.9
- Fred Warner, 71.3
- Benardrick McKinney, 71.1
- Dont’a Hightower, 70.7
Sitting amidst a who’s who of the NFL’s brightest stars at the linebacker position – including one spot of Robert Saleh‘s 49ers pupil Fred Warner, two spots behind Jeff Ulbrich‘s Falcons pupil Deion Jones, and one spot behind Ulbrich’s UCLA pupil Eric Kendricks – it is clear that a healthy Mosley is one of the best linebackers in football.
Under the leadership of two linebacker gurus in Saleh and Ulbrich, Mosley should have a great chance of maintaining his past production. Perhaps he could even improve upon it.
The versatility of Mosley’s game is perhaps his best trait. He is not absurdly good in one area and decent in others – he is excellent across the board.
Of the 53-player group, Mosley was one of only three linebackers to rank top 10 in each of PFF’s coverage grade, PFF’s run defense grade, and PFF’s tackle-to-missed tackle ratio, joining Bobby Wagner and Darius Leonard.
C.J. Mosley is a star.
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