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The NY Jets have a surprising role planned for rookie DE Micheal Clemons

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Micheal Clemons, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets might have an unconventional plan in place for Micheal Clemons

I was a little surprised when the New York Jets called Micheal Clemons‘s number on day three of the draft. After already signing Jacob Martin, drafting Jermaine Johnson, and welcoming Carl Lawson back into the fold I was almost certain that they’d opt for a defensive tackle instead.

After all, the Jets struggled to get consistent production from anyone inside other than Quinnen Williams, and the Jets’ inability to stop the run was a big contributing factor in their defensive struggles.

New York had good options available to fix their DT problem. They could have selected Neil Farrell Jr. out of LSU (Raiders selection at #126 overall), a player who graded out at 89.9 against the run last season at Pro Football Focus. They could have taken Arizona State product D.J. Davidson (Giants selection at #147 overall) who also performed well against the run with a 77.7 PFF grade.

Instead, they opted for Clemons, who many presume will be a depth piece at defensive end.

It’s understandable to presume that the Jets were drafting another defensive end. After all, Clemons lined up outside of the tackle on 1,320 of his 1,495 career snaps in college. He had 140 snaps lining up over the tackle and just 34 total snaps lining up as a defensive tackle.

It’s also hard to argue that Clemons’s pass-rush ability from the defensive end position didn’t play a huge part in the Jets’ decision to take him over someone like Neil Farrell Jr. Clemons had 46 total pressures last season, fourth-most among SEC edge players, and his 14% pressure rate was actually higher than the 11.1% rate that Jets first-round pick Jermaine Johnson generated. Clemons also enjoyed a 15.7% pass-rush win rate which is a highly respectable number.

Considering those pass-rush numbers from the outside, I was a little surprised to hear Jets defensive line coach Aaron Whitecotton say after the draft that the Jets plan to use him inside and out during his rookie season; meaning he will take snaps at both defensive end and defensive tackle.

With so little inside experience at Texas A&M, it’s near impossible to project how Clemons will do.

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Chances are you won’t see a ton of Clemons inside on early downs, as he was only “okay” against the run in college. He achieved a PFF run defense grade of 60+ in each of his four seasons with a high of 73.9 back in 2019 while achieving a modest 65.5 grade in 2021. Additionally, he only weighed in at 263 pounds at the combine, which is extremely light for an inside presence.

None of the interior defensive linemen who played enough snaps to qualify for PFF’s leaderboards in 2021 were lighter than Clemons’s 263 pounds. Most defensive tackles are at least 290 pounds.

Obviously, we’ll need to see what Clemons’s playing weight is – perhaps he has been putting on weight in preparation for the new role – but I would still be surprised to see him play inside on early downs.

Instead, what I expect we’ll see is Clemons rotated at defensive end along with Lawson, Johnson, Martin, and whoever else makes the roster (Bryce Huff, Vinny Curry, etc). But then we’ll see him rotated in at defensive tackle on obvious passing downs with Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, and Sheldon Rankins.

The Jets allowed a third-down conversion rate of 44.4% last season, which was ranked 27th in the league. Part of that was the secondary not holding up, but a lot of it was due to not generating enough pressure up front. New York only had one qualified interior defensive lineman who finished top-40 in pass-rush win rate out of 149 qualifiers (min. 100 pass-rush snaps), which was Quinnen Williams (28th at 12.6%).

Bringing someone with some real pass-rush potential inside on third downs is never a bad idea. I’m quite intrigued to see what Clemons can bring in certain situations. The idea of Lawson, Williams, Clemons and Johnson rushing the passer is exciting. The same can be said if you add JFM in there as well.

The Jets have plenty of options. Seeing how much work Clemons gets inside during camp will be a storyline to watch.

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1 year ago

Great read, David. If he could take on that role successfully it would provide such a lift to the defense.

1 year ago

Agreed definitely something to keep an eye on!