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5 linebackers the New York Jets should target

KJ Wright, NY Jets, Robert Saleh, Seattle Seahawks, Free Agent, Contract
K.J. Wright, NY Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Getty Images

The New York Jets could use extra depth at linebacker

In Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s 4-3 defense, the New York Jets will have three linebackers on the field when they send out their base unit.

The Jets currently have five linebackers on their 53-man roster, but that will be sliced down to four once Jarrad Davis is placed on injured reserve due to an ankle injury that will keep him out until around the Jets’ Week 6 bye.

That leaves the Jets with only one backup linebacker behind their starting trio.

C.J. Mosley and Jamien Sherwood will start while one of Blake Cashman and Hamsah Nasirldeen will slide in beside them when a third linebacker is needed. The odd man out will be the team’s lone backup.

If Joe Douglas is on the prowl for another body in the linebacker room, here are some names he may have his eyes on.

Benardrick McKinney

In March, the Dolphins traded now-Jets defensive end Shaq Lawson and a sixth-round pick to the Texans for linebacker Benardrick McKinney and a seventh-round pick.

McKinney is a starting-caliber linebacker. He started 77 of the 80 games he played with the Texans over six seasons after being selected in the second round of the 2015 draft.

The Mississippi product carries some red flags. He will turn 29 years old in November and is coming off of a season in which he missed the final 12 games due to a shoulder injury. Even before that injury, McKinney posted a career-low overall Pro Football Focus grade of 57.8 while posting a career-worst missed tackle rate of 14.9%.

Prior to 2020, McKinney was a consistently strong starting middle linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 defense. Pass coverage was not his forte (career 12-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio) but he was an excellent tackler, whiffing on no more than 7.4% of his tackle opportunities in five consecutive seasons (the 2020 NFL LB average was 10.7%).

K.J. Wright

K.J. Wright entered March as one of the best impending free-agent linebackers and remains unemployed six months later.

Wright shared time in Seattle with Robert Saleh from 2011-13 and with Jeff Ulbrich in 2011. He thrived as an outside linebacker in Seattle’s 4-3 front for 10 seasons.

Coverage is Wright’s calling card, and even at 31 years old last season, he was still effective in the passing game. He led linebackers with 10 passes defended.

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B.J. Goodson

B.J. Goodson started all 14 of his appearances for the Browns last season.

Goodson, 28, played well in Cleveland’s 4-3 defense. His 66.6 Pro Football Focus coverage grade ranked at the position’s 76th percentile. It marked the fourth consecutive season in which he improved in that category.

Goodson is a tremendous tackler, owning a missed tackle rate of 5.4% in his career. He has been sitting on the open market since his one-year contract with the Browns expired following the 2020 season.

Joe Walker

Sixth-year linebacker Joe Walker (who turns 29 in December) spent this offseason with the Washington Football Team before being released this past Monday. He played 78 snaps over three games and made nine tackles with zero misses while allowing 26 yards and one first down over three targets in coverage.

Walker played 12 games with Robert Saleh’s 49ers in 2020. Current Jets linebackers coach Mike Rutenberg was also with the 49ers during the 2020 season, serving as the passing game specialist.

While Walker made only three defensive appearances, playing only 14 defensive snaps, he was a key cog on special teams for San Francisco. His average of 22.8 special teams snaps per game led the 49ers by a huge margin.

Elijah Sullivan

Undrafted rookie Elijah Sullivan (Kansas St.) was released by the 49ers after a stellar three-game preseason. His coverage was outstanding, as he allowed only 21 yards on 10 targets. He also made seven tackles without missing any.

Of course, Robert Saleh and Sullivan did not cross paths in San Francisco, but the 49ers are set to run a very similar defensive scheme to the one that Saleh had been running. Linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans was promoted to take Saleh’s place as defensive coordinator after coaching under Saleh for four years.

Sullivan looked excellent in that defense, suggesting he should be able to comfortably transfer over to Saleh’s defense.

Coming out of Kansas St. as a redshirt senior, Sullivan is already 24 years old, so he could be more NFL-ready than Nasirildeen (22) and Sherwood (21).

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