What is a “tweener,” anyway?
“Tweener” is officially defined as “a person or thing considered to be in between two other recognized categories or types.”
This is a spot-on explanation of how the term is used in football.
Tweeners are players without a clear and obvious position, typically because their frame leaves them in no man’s land between the size thresholds of two different positions. They are just small enough to conceivably line up at one position, where they would be bigger, but still big enough to feasibly line up at another position, where they would be on the smaller size.
Take John Franklin-Myers, for example. The 6-foot-4, 288-pounder is quite small for a defensive tackle, but when he lines up on the edge, he’s a behemoth.
Franklin-Myers is one of a few current New York Jets who could be slapped with the tweener label. Let’s deduce where each of them fits best.
John Franklin-Myers: IDL or EDGE?
As a 22-year-old rookie with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018, Franklin-Myers primarily defended the edge, usually lining up as a 5-technique (over the tackle’s outside shoulder).
He did a great job in the role as a pass rusher.
Franklin-Myers created pressure on 11.7% of his pass-rush snaps, ranking at the 74th percentile among edge defenders. That was especially fantastic for a rookie, as it placed second among rookie edge defenders behind Kemoko Turay.
In 2020, the Jets kicked Franklin-Myers inside to defensive tackle, where he used his speed advantage to become a dominant force as a pass rusher. He created pressure on 14.4% of his pass-rush snaps, ranking third-best among interior defensive linemen.
I think Franklin-Myers is best suited on the interior based on how dominant he was as an interior rusher in 2020. However, he is good enough on the edge for the Jets to feel comfortable enough to rotate him between both spots – depending on what the situation calls for.
It is also worth considering that, although Franklin-Myers’ interior production is substantially better than his edge production, he was a rookie when he was primarily playing on the edge. If he was already a top 26% pressure-producer as a rookie edge rusher, it stands to reason that a much higher ceiling exists with time and development as the drivers.
For now, Franklin-Myers’ best fit is clearly on the inside, but the man can definitely hold down the edge, too. Expect to see him doing plenty of both this year, especially with the Jets having so many mouths to feed on the interior and a lack of a second edge player (opposite Carl Lawson) who has proven capable of playing on every down.
Brandin Echols: Outside CB or Slot CB?
Taken by the Jets with the 200th overall pick in the sixth round, Brandin Echols is a unique type of tweener. His frame clearly suggests which position he should be playing, but he almost never played that position in college.
Echols’ 5-foot-10 and 179-pound frame scream “slot corner.” However, at Kentucky, he played the majority of his snaps on the outside. Echols played 1,074 snaps as an outside cornerback and only 102 as a slot cornerback.
It is also worth noting that Echols put up better coverage numbers on the outside throughout his Wildcats career. He allowed 107 yards over 87 snaps in slot coverage (1.23 yards per snap) and 535 yards over 626 snaps covering on the outside (0.85 per snap).
At 179 pounds, Echols would have tied Buffalo’s Levi Wallace as the sixth-lightest cornerback to play a game in the NFL last year. However, four of the six cornerbacks who weighed in at under 180 pounds played outside cornerback, so it would not be unusual for Echols to do the same.
The best bet for Echols seems to be on the outside. With such a slight frame though, the Jets could certainly want to test him out in the slot.
Member-Only Article: Brandin Echols Film Breakdown: A Versatile Piece in the Secondary
Jonathan Marshall: NT or 3-tech?
Jonathan Marshall is another defensive sixth-rounder who is in somewhat of a positional limbo.
At Arkansas, Marshall played deep on the interior of the defensive line. In 2020 he played nose tackle (either directly over the center or shaded to the left or right) on 65.0% of his snaps and either 1-tech or 2i-tech (in the A-gap) on 31.9% of his snaps. That leaves less than 5% of his snaps coming outside of the offensive guard.
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, Marshall has the size to play nose tackle. His tweener label stems from his skill set and physical abilities rather than his size.
Marshall is an extraordinarily explosive athlete. He owns the second-best Relative Athletic Score (RAS) among defensive line prospects since 1987.
Jonathan Marshall is a DT prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.99 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 2 out of 1290 DT from 1987 to 2021.
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 28, 2021
Such phenomenal athleticism could be dangerous from a 3-tech alignment in a 4-3 defense that’s all about attacking. It might be wasted to an extent at nose tackle, where the defender’s primary job is to eat up space and clog gaps.
Adding to the case that Marshall might be best utilized further outside is the fact that most of his greatest weaknesses in college were the basic fundamentals of the nose tackle position. He was destroyed by double-teams, was consistently moved off of his spot, and struggled to do things such as anchor down, stack, and read blocking schemes.
Marshall made his impact through sheer physical dominance. The fundamentals that are required to thrive at nose tackle did not show up on his tape.
Despite entering the NFL as a nose tackle, the Jets would probably get the most out of Marshall by sliding him out to the 3-tech position. There, his natural gifts would be brought to the forefront, and his weaknesses as a space-eater would be covered up a bit.