What to know about New York Jets LB Kwon Alexander’s skill-set
The New York Jets have signed linebacker Kwon Alexander. The one-time Pro Bowler, who will turn 28 years old in a few days, brings much-needed experience and talent to one of the thinnest positions on New York’s roster.
Here is what Jets fans need to know about Alexander as a player.
According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, the Jets view Alexander as their primary sub-package linebacker for when they place their base 4-3 defense on the field. Quincy Williams is expected to remain as a starter next to C.J. Mosley.
Jets see Kwon Alexander as a vet who can play 'Sam' or 'Will' LB. Already knows the Saleh system (SF). Mosley + Williams are starters, but 3rd spot (in base defense) is a question mark (Harris/Nasirildeen). #Jets wanted to add another vet to mix. Now they have.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) July 28, 2022
Alexander has spent time as both an every-down starter and a situational player throughout his career, although he has mostly been an every-down guy. He’s played at least 97% of the snaps in 49 of his 78 career games, but he’s also played less than 62% of the snaps in 11 career games. Four of those occurred in 2021.
During the San Francisco 49ers’ 2019 Super Bowl run (while the defense was coordinated by now-Jets HC Robert Saleh), Alexander gained some experience in the sub-package role he will likely play as a Jet. Serving as the No. 3 linebacker behind starters Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, Alexander logged an average snap ratio of 38% across three playoff games.
In his 12 appearances for the Saints last season, Alexander played 71% of the available defensive snaps, which was a career-low. Despite being the lowest mark of his career, it’s still much higher than the 30-40% portion of snaps that he will likely play as the sub linebacker in New York’s defense (at maximum). So, entering the season as a full-time rotational linebacker will be fairly unfamiliar for him even though he does have a small number of games under his belt as a rotational player.
Alexander has mostly played the WILL (weak-side) linebacker role throughout his career. At 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds, he is on the smaller side for a linebacker, while his speed is excellent for the position (4.55 forty-yard dash). These traits make him a good fit to play on the weak side.
Quality coverage skills
It’s in coverage where Alexander makes the bulk of his impact.
In 2021, Alexander allowed a passer rating of 85.6 on throws into his coverage, which tied for the ninth-best number out of 66 qualified linebackers.
For his career, Alexander has allowed a 97.8 passer rating, which is solid for a linebacker. The 2021 NFL average for linebackers was 102.5.
Alexander does a great job of limiting big plays in coverage. He has given up only five touchdowns into his coverage over the past five seasons, including none in 2021. Alexander also has not given up a reception for 40+ yards since 2016 and is only allowing 9.8 yards per reception for his career.
You’re not necessarily going to see a ton of lockdown man-to-man reps from Alexander. Where he thrives is in zone coverage, showing off impressive click-and-close skills to limit the yardage gained by the passes completed in front of him.
Alexander allowed 7.3 yards per reception in zone coverage last year, which ranked sixth-best among qualified LBs. He was similarly stout in 2020, tying for fourth-best with 7.2 yards per reception allowed in zone coverage.
The Jets coughed up the second-most receiving yards per game to running backs in 2021 with a brutal mark of 53.4. Alexander should help get that number down.
Alexander has not been used as a blitzer too often in his career (he rushed the passer on only 7.7% of his career snaps) but he is very efficient when asked to do so.
With 76 total pressures in his career on 344 pass-rush snaps, Alexander creates pressure 22.1% of the time when he is sent after the quarterback, which is well above the 2021 league average for linebackers (16.8%).
Alexander has 12.0 sacks in his career and just picked up a career-best 3.5 in 2021. The Saints gave Alexander a career-high 85 pass-rushing snaps and he delivered, tying for seventh among linebackers with 17 total pressures.
Struggles against the run
The run game is where Jets fans should keep their expectations low for Alexander.
Alexander has consistently posted lackluster numbers against the run throughout his career. His average end-of-year run-defense grade at Pro Football Focus has been 46.9, which is quite poor.
In 2021, Alexander earned a career-low 34.8 grade against the run, which ranked 58th out of 66 qualified linebackers.
Because of his run-game struggles, the Saints would often lean away from using Alexander in rushing situations. This led to Alexander playing an unusually high proportion of his snaps on passing plays. Alexander played 68.2% of his defensive snaps on a passing play, which was the fifth-highest rate out of 66 qualified linebackers.
Proneness to missed tackles
Alexander’s speed gets him to the ball quickly, but it also leads to some overrun plays. He’ll whiff fairly often.
For his career, Alexander owns a missed tackle rate of 17.8%. That’s much higher than you’d like – the 2021 NFL average for linebackers was 11.1%.
Alexander has posted a missed tackle rate above 11.0% in all seven of his career seasons. He was at 19.0% in 2021, ranking second-worst out of 66 qualifiers.
Missed tackles are an issue for Alexander in both phases of the game. This past season, Alexander actually had more missed tackles against the pass (6) than against the run (5).
Staying healthy has always been a chief concern for Alexander. He has missed at least four games in six of his seven NFL seasons, including each of his past five. Altogether, Alexander has missed an average of 5.0 games per season.
Alexander missed five games in 2021. The LSU product missed four games early in the season with an elbow injury before returning in Week 7. He later missed one game due to COVID-19.
Alexander brings security to the New York LB unit
The Jets absolutely love linebackers who are on the smaller and faster side of the spectrum, and Alexander is yet another player who fits that mold, joining guys like Quincy Williams, Hasmah Nasirildeen, Marcell Harris, and Jamien Sherwood.
However, Alexander is by far the most proven and productive player of this batch, making him a valuable addition to a room that is bereft of reliability. Alexander will not solve all of the Jets’ problems at linebacker, but he is a seamless scheme fit who has a good chance of making a positive impact in coverage and as a blitzer.
New York seems ultra-high on Williams’s potential. It is clear that Williams will be getting an opportunity to prove he can be a long-term cornerstone for the franchise. In the meantime, Alexander will likely eat up sub-package snaps and provide viable competition for the youngsters.
Alexander’s presence is a significant floor-raiser for the Jets in the event that Williams sputters this year. If Williams gets off to a slow start, the Jets can turn to a guy they can trust in Alexander. They are no longer forced to either ride out the storm with Williams or turn to a youngster who might not be ready. Alexander can take the reigns in the starting lineup if Williams is a liability early in the year.
If we can play more 4-3 it even if Kwon is not great at Tackling it still makes us a better team against the run then having MCII playing 80% of the snaps. I think we obviously improved our Pass defense in base and I also our depth if CJ or Q goes down. So it is clearly a win for us and I hope we can get an OT and then I think we are finished for 2022.
Let’s say everyone is available. If it’s a passing down, don’t you go full nickel, meaning MC II is on the field? And if it’s a running down, then you don’t want Alexander on the field? Then in what situation does he play?
I guess in passing downs against a 12 or 21 formation? Is that it?
It’s definitely interesting because as a sub LB he’s probably going to be coming in on run downs, as the 4-3 will likely be primarily used against 12 personnel or other heavy packages. So it will be an odd fit for him. He’s a hit-or-miss player, so in a smaller situational role for 1 season (if he does stay there and doesn’t step up into Quincy’s spot), just got to hope you get lucky and he hits more than he misses over a small sample where crazy things can happen.
But yes, there’s definitely some downside here. It’s not the greatest fit for what they needed, but I don’t think he was signed to be a perfect solution to their problems; they just wanted more talent in a shaky room. Probably still an upgrade in that role over the younger guys (if they don’t develop) and is a better backup plan to Quincy if he doesn’t develop.
Also worth noting that despite the run defense deficiency, he should help neutralize TEs in zone coverage when teams pass out of 12.
Great pickup. If Quincy thrives, got a solid depth piece. If not, Kwon slides in to fill the void with experience.