Analyzing New York Jets edge rusher Micheal Clemons’ strengths and weaknesses
Perhaps this is the selection that finally teaches us to stop putting together mock drafts based on positional needs.
When the New York Jets entered the third day of the 2022 NFL draft, the edge rusher position was far down the team’s list of important holes to fill. Yet, they decided to close out their seven-player class by using a high fourth-round selection (117th overall) on Texas A&M edge rusher Micheal Clemons.
For the Jets to take Clemons – a nearly 25-year-old player at a position of strength who has some off-field questions – you know for a fact that they had to be extremely bullish on his talent level relative to the slot where they selected him. General manager Joe Douglas said as much when he labeled Clemons as a “first [or] second day talent”.
It’s clear that Clemons was likely the best available player on the Jets’ board by a sizable margin, so they went ahead and took him in spite of his position, age, and other red flags.
A quick glance at Clemons’ statistical resume makes it clear why New York loved his talent enough to roll the dice on him.
Micheal Clemons was a dominant SEC pass rusher in 2021
Clemons was a force in the passing game for Texas A&M last year. He put up big numbers and did it efficiently. In fact, he posted better statistics in this phase than the Jets’ first-round pick, Jermaine Johnson (see more on Johnson’s pass-rush numbers here).
Over 10 games in 2021, Clemons picked up 46 total pressures, ranking as the fourth-most among SEC edge rushers and tying for 32nd among all FBS edge rushers. Those 46 pressures were comprised of 8 sacks (six full/two half), 11 QB hits, and 27 QB hurries.
Collecting his 46 pressures over a total of 328 pass-rush snaps, Clemons registered a pressure rate of 14.0%, which ranked at the 84th percentile among qualified FBS edge rushers.
Comparatively, Johnson had an equivalent total of 46 pressures last season, but he played two more games and 87 more pass-rush snaps. His pressure rate was 11.1% (62nd percentile).
Clemons’ pass-rush win rate was 15.7%, good enough for the 71st percentile. It’s a respectable number, although it ranks much lower than his pressure rate. Johnson was also well behind Clemons in this category as his 14.1% win rate ranked at the 60th percentile.
Of course, Clemons was 24 years old last season, so that slightly takes away from the impressiveness of his numbers. Good production should have been expected from him considering that he was facing players who could have been as many as five years younger than him.
Clemons is actually a few months older than Quinnen Williams, who the Jets drafted in 2019.
It’s worrying that Clemons did not begin to dominate until last year. Over his first three years with the Aggies (2017, 2019, 2020), Clemons had a pressure rate of 7.6% (39 pressures on 512 pass-rush snaps), which is well below average for the position. It took him a long time to stand out amongst his peers.
While Clemons’ age puts a glaring asterisk on his production, the bottom line is that he did put up top-tier numbers as a pass rusher last year. He comes into the NFL having shown he is capable of getting after the quarterback at a solid level of efficiency.
To ease concerns about his age, Clemons will have to quickly prove he can translate his collegiate production to the NFL. The league is unlikely to have much patience for the development of a fourth-round pick who is the same age as NFL veterans who are already on their second contract.
Run defense is an area of concern for Clemons
Aside from his age and off-field issues, Clemons’ run defense is the top weakness that knocked him down to the fourth round in spite of his prowess in the passing game.
Clemons earned a run-defense grade of 65.5 at Pro Football Focus in 2021, which only ranked at the 46th percentile among qualified edge rushers. It’s a disappointing ranking for a 24-year-old player with outstanding physical tools (which we’ll get into in the next section).
As a run defender, Clemons had trouble with both finishing and playmaking.
Clemons missed six tackles against the run. His missed tackle rate of 18.8% against the run ranked at the 18th percentile among edge rushers.
Clemons also did not show a nose for making key stops in the run game. He made only 10 run stops over 218 snaps against the run, a rate of 4.6% that ranked at the 28th percentile among edge rushers.
Build and athletic profile
Blessed with remarkable length, Clemons has the ideal build for a 4-3 defensive end.
Here’s a look at some of Clemons’ measurables and how they stack up among edge rushers in NFL combine history:
- Height: 6′ 5¼” (86th percentile)
- Weight: 263 pounds (39th percentile)
- Wingspan: 83⅛” (88th percentile)
- Arm length: 34⅞” (89th percentile)
- Hand size: 10″ (58th percentile)
Clemons partook in the bench press and the broad jump at the combine and then completed other drills at his pro day.
Here are Clemons’ athletic testing numbers and their respective Relative Athletic Score (RAS) ratings on a scale of 0-to-10 (0.0 being the worst ever for an edge rusher prospect, 10.0 being the best, and 5.0 being the 50th percentile):
- Bench press: 24 reps (7.12)
- Vertical jump: 35″ (8.41)
- Broad jump: 116″ (6.74)
- 40 yard dash: 4.85s (5.93)
- 10 yard split: 1.65s (7.88)
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.45s (5.81)
- 3-cone: 7.20s (7.20)
Clemons’ 40-yard dash time of 4.85 seconds is only a tad above average for the position (5.93 RAS) but he showed off his impressive burst with a much better 10-yard split time of 1.65 seconds (7.88 RAS). His 35-inch vertical jump (8.41 RAS) is further evidence of his explosiveness.
Clemons played on both sides of the line for the Aggies but slightly leaned toward the left side. He played 60.0% of his defensive snaps on the left side of the defensive line in 2021.
Clemons primarily played as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt but was often asked to stand up and play outside linebacker on the edge. He stood up in an outside linebacker alignment on 37.0% of his snaps.
Micheal Clemons can be a useful situational rusher for the Jets
As a rookie, I’d expect Clemons to compete for snaps as a situational pass rusher at the defensive end spot in the Jets’ 4-3 scheme, presumably jockeying for the third and fourth spots on the EDGE depth chart behind Carl Lawson and Jermaine Johnson. Bryce Huff, Jacob Martin, and Vinny Curry will likely be his primary competitors.
I would be surprised if Clemons became a star or a well-above-average starter down the line. His run defense is questionable and his age suggests his ceiling is very limited.
However, Clemons’ lengthy build, explosive burst, high-level pass-rush production from a year ago, and ample experience/age all come together to give him a strong chance of providing better rookie-year contributions than most fourth-round picks. He has a good shot of carving out a role right away even if his long-term potential isn’t supreme.
Clemons is a strong fit in the Jets’ defense and should be able to parlay that into a decent dosage of snaps on passing downs this year. He will provide the ability to produce some splashy moments as a pass rusher every once in a while, allowing the Jets to rest their starters while still maintaining explosiveness off the edge in passing situations.