There are question marks with the New York Jets’ linebackers in a particular area of pass coverage
Replying to a comment on one of his articles, Hughes wrote, “Jets don’t see LB as [a] major area of concern. They’re very happy with [C.J.] Mosley & [Quincy] Williams. [They] think [Jamien] Sherwood & Hamsah [Nasirildeen] take big jumps next year. LB [is] an area where sure, they can improve, but it’s not a ‘must’ like others”.
That got me thinking about the Jets roster and how the linebackers performed in 2021.
C.J. Mosley had a great bounce-back season considering he had missed pretty much two full seasons of football. Quincy Williams proved to be a steal after being waived by the Jaguars.
As much as Jets fans like those two players, should they be comfortable heading into the 2022 season with that combination? Should they be comfortable relying on two converted safeties to make the jump?
Last night I sat back and watched the 49ers take down one of the NFL’s most potent offenses in the Cowboys, holding Dallas to 77 rushing yards and 230 passing yards, well below their season averages in both.
Part of San Francisco’s success rested on the ability of their linebackers to play tight coverage, forcing Dak Prescott to throw into tight and difficult passing lanes, especially on third down. The Cowboys as a unit completed 43.4% of third downs in the regular season, but last night they were held to just 5-of-14 (35.7%).
All of this got me thinking about the Jets and the coverage they get from their linebackers. We know that C.J. can tackle with the best of them, and we know that Quincy can lay the hammer, but how well do they cover?
The Jets spend between 60-65% of their defensive snaps in zone coverage on average, which should come as a shock to nobody. If you’re going to spend that much time in zone you’re going to need the personnel to run it.
The first thing I looked at was each player’s completion percentage allowed while in zone coverage, which is interesting to look at, but has its own flaws in terms of evaluation. On some occasions when playing in zone, the defender doesn’t have the opportunity to stop a play like a screen. Instead, it’s what they do once the pass is completed that matters.
Just for the whole picture, I thought I’d look at completion percentage anyway. Mosley allowed an 89.1% completion rate when playing zone and Quincy allowed an 86.4% completion percentage. Both of those numbers are in the bottom-15 of the league among linebackers but so was the rate of All-Pro 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (89.7%), which highlights the obvious flaw.
Instead of just looking at the completion percentage allowed, it’s key to look at the average yards allowed per reception, which gives a better indication of performance.
Williams allowed 9.4 yards per reception, ranking 21st out of 56 qualified linebackers. Mosley’s 9.7 yards per reception came in at 29th.
Some of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers can be found at the top of this stat. Here are the top 10:
- De’Vondre Campbell (6.4)
- Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (7.0)
- Roquan Smith (7.4)
- Matt Milano (7.8)
- Shaq Thompson (8.0)
- Jerome Baker (8.2)
- Lavonte David (8.3)
- Denzel Perryman (8.3)
- Fred Warner (8.3)
- Anthony Walker (8.4)
Linebackers may not always be able to stop a completion but they can always limit the damage, and this is where the yards after catch (YAC) comes into play.
C.J. is ranked 45th out of 56 with 244 YAC allowed and Quincy is 50th with 315 YAC allowed. Both experienced some missed tackle issues in zone with Quincy missing on 14.3% of his chances (39th of 56) of his tackles and C.J. missing 10% (25th of 56).
All of this paints a picture of a very average linebacking unit. When you consider that the Jets can (if they choose) get out of the Mosley contract after 2022 while Williams, Sherwood, and Nasirildeen are all still unknown commodities, I’m not sure the Jets can afford to not improve that position group heading into the 2022 season.
2022 NFL Draft Prospects
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean is a guy that I absolutely love for the Jets. It goes beyond the stats to his leadership and instincts, but the stats don’t hurt either. The graph above shows Dean to be elite in many areas that you look for in a zone coverage linebacker. Dean spent around 60% of his snaps in zone and had elite numbers when it comes to missed tackles and YAC.
When I’m not banging on about Dean, I’m likely talking about Chad Muma from Wyoming. While his 11.5 yards per catch is higher than you’d ideally want, his YAC numbers are elite and he didn’t miss a single tackle while playing zone coverage in 2021. That’s pretty special.
Nebraska’s JoJo Domann is my dark horse in all of this and a guy that many people are forgetting.
Domann is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound athletic linebacker who plays with elite instincts and has plus length. His ability to get depth in his drops makes him an intriguing prospect for any team that plays a lot of zone coverage (so, the Jets).
While I don’t believe the linebacker position is priority No. 1 for the Jets, I think in a draft that is full of talent at the position it would be a mistake to not take at least one of these guys. If the Jets are not comfortable taking Dean in the first round, I personally think taking Muma or Domann in the third round would make a lot of sense.