Jamien Sherwood is likely the next man up if Kwon Alexander leaves the New York Jets
The New York Jets‘ hopes of re-signing Kwon Alexander took a hit earlier this week. Alexander visited with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. No deal has been reached yet, but it is the first news of a team showing legitimate interest in Alexander.
If Alexander does end up leaving the Jets, they’ll likely turn to their crop of young homegrown linebackers to replace him as the Jets’ primary sub-package linebacker behind C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams. Rookie sixth-round pick Zaire Barnes seems unlikely to be ready for a featured role right off the bat, which means the primary candidates to replace Alexander would be 2021 draft picks Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen.
Sherwood and Nasirildeen were safeties in college before converting to linebackers in the NFL. Those conversions began the moment they were drafted. The Jets chose both players with a vision of developing them into linebackers who are fit for the modern NFL thanks to their smaller, more athletic builds and their increased coverage instincts as a result of their experience at safety.
With two years of development under their belts, the expectation is that at least one of Sherwood and Nasirildeen proves they are ready to step into a key role in 2023.
Between Sherwood and Nasirildeen, Sherwood seems to have a better chance of stepping into Alexander’s shoes. Sherwood impressed the Jets enough to earn an opening-week starting role as a rookie (in place of the injured Jarrad Davis), and throughout his first two seasons, he has been called upon for defensive snaps ahead of Nasirildeen. Sherwood has played 164 career defensive snaps and Nasirildeen has played 67.
So, is Sherwood ready to take over for Alexander?
Sherwood looked like a major work-in-progress during his rookie season. This was to be expected of a 21-year-old rookie who was still learning a new position. Unfortunately, due to an Achilles injury in Week 7, Sherwood’s 2021 season came to an end before he could grow from his mistakes.
We hardly saw any of Sherwood in 2022 thanks to the great health and impressive performance of the Jets’ top three linebackers. Sherwood only played 25 defensive snaps all year, though he did appear in all 17 games, serving as one of the team’s core special teams players. On defense, though, Sherwood only took snaps in four games.
While it was a minuscule sample size, Sherwood showed some noticeable progress during his sporadic defensive appearances in 2022. He made plays every time he was given an opportunity.
Sherwood collected 10 total tackles on his 25 defensive snaps, which is an absurd rate of one tackle every 2.5 snaps. For perspective, the league leader in tackles, Jacksonville’s Foyesade Oluokun (184 tackles), made one tackle every 6.2 snaps. Making 10 tackles in 25 snaps is flat-out ridiculous – think of it as the equivalent of making 10 tackles by the midway point of the second quarter.
Again, be extremely wary of the small sample size here, but at the very least, it’s promising to see that Sherwood was making plays at a high frequency when he was on the field. In his rookie year, Sherwood made only 13 tackles in 139 defensive snaps (one every 10.7 snaps).
Sherwood also managed to avoid missing any tackles in his 2022 defensive appearances, which is another promising sign.
And it’s not as if Sherwood padded his stats with a bunch of meaningless cleanup tackles. Most of those 10 tackles were impactful stops. To be exact, eight of the 10 tackles were made shy of the first-down marker, and five of the 10 held the ball carrier to a gain of two yards or less.
Furthermore, when watching those plays on film, most of them were legitimately impressive reps by Sherwood. He looked sharp.
Let’s watch some clips of Sherwood from his limited time on the field in 2022.
Jamien Sherwood’s 2022 film
Sherwood replaced C.J. Mosley for a few plays in the first quarter of the Jets’ Week 9 win over Buffalo and quickly made an impact. Lined up as a middle linebacker on this play, Sherwood patiently watches the action develop before he commits. Once he sees the RB declare toward a wide-open C-gap, Sherwood reacts accordingly and darts inside for the stop. Sherwood does a great job of wrapping up and holding on while the RB attempts a spin to the inside.
Sherwood lines up as a weakside linebacker on this play, with Jordan Whitehead dropping down to play strongside linebacker. Once Josh Allen fumbles, Sherwood quickly closes in and helps make the stop.
Sherwood lines up on the strong side and slides further inside in response to the pre-snap motion. After the snap, Sherwood again displays good patience as he holds tight and watches the play develop before committing. Noticing the left tackle pulling to the right side, Sherwood correctly anticipates the RB cutting behind the puller. Sherwood shuffles over and meets the RB in the B-gap for the stop. The tackling form is solid as Sherwood squares his shoulders up to the target, gets low, and drives his shoulder into the RB.
Sherwood gets moved by this block more than you’d like, but luckily, he’s on the back side of the play. This allows him to detach from the block and pursue the opposite edge. Sherwood meets the RB at the goal line and stops him inches short of a touchdown.
Sherwood does a fantastic job of defending the back side of this run. When the ball is snapped, he sees it’s an outside zone run to the opposite side. Some LBs might overcommit and chase the RB in this situation, but Sherwood does what he is supposed to do: shuffle along with the play and maintain his back side responsibility. This keeps Sherwood in a good position to stop the RB once he makes a back side cut. Sherwood dodges the second-level block attempt and dives at the RB’s hips to make the stop.
This time, Sherwood is on the front side of the play. Sherwood shuffles along with the play, focusing on maintaining his C-gap responsibility. Once he sees the RB cut inside, Sherwood mirrors him. Sherwood halts his outside momentum and uses a swim move to dodge the second-level block. He then makes a stellar finish on the RB; Sherwood’s momentum is going inside while the RB is cutting outside, but Sherwood manages to catch the RB just in time.
If you slow it down and look closely, watch how Sherwood notices the RB cutting outside in the middle of making his inside swim move. Mid-move, Sherwood sinks his hips and bends his knees so he can charge up to explode into the tackle. He meets the RB with perfect timing and drives his hips through the tackle to generate enough force to halt his momentum.
Lined up on the edge, Sherwood does a nice job of protecting the outside. He’s a little late off the ball, but Sherwood makes up for it as he extends his arms into the tight end’s chest to keep himself clean from the block. Sherwood disengages and chases the RB outside, diving at the RB’s legs to trip him up. Quincy Williams flies in to help finish the play.
Upon the snap, Sherwood sees the fullback come up toward the B-gap, so he starts moving downhill to meet the fullback, anticipating the fullback will insert into the gap. Instead, the fullback blocks the edge while the tight end on that side sifts across the formation to the opposite edge. Seeing this, Sherwood realizes he is unaccounted for and can shoot into the backfield through a wide-open gap. Sherwood turns his head back to the RB and fires through the gap. He meets the RB in the backfield and teams up with Tony Adams for the stop.
Keeping Kwon is still the safest route, but there are reasons to believe in Sherwood
Let’s be clear: Even if the Jets really like Sherwood, his on-field sample size is too small for him to have a significant effect on the Jets’ plans. It’s unlikely the Jets are openly ignoring Kwon Alexander and gift-wrapping Sherwood an opportunity to replace him. Surely, there must be a certain price at which the Jets would be happy to retain Alexander. And even if Alexander does end up leaving, Sherwood will still have to earn the LB3 role in camp and preseason. He won’t be immediately penciled into the role.
But the Jets have seen Sherwood in practice every day for two years. Sure, if what he showed on the field in 2022 is a sneak peek into what he showed on the practice field every day, maybe the Jets feel good enough about Sherwood to the point where they are comfortable with letting Kwon walk if his demands are outside of their preferred price range (which seems to be the case).
Dating back to his rookie year, there are already prior indicators of the Jets’ coaching staff taking a liking to Sherwood. And keep this in mind: He was only 21 years old as a rookie. When you couple his young age with his position change and his rookie-year injury, Sherwood was always destined to be a long-term project. As we enter his third season, perhaps the time for his emergence has arrived.
With all that said, Alexander was excellent in 2022 and the bar will be high for whoever replaces him. Choosing to let Alexander walk and replace him with a third-year fifth-round pick who has yet to play 200 career defensive snaps is undoubtedly a risk, no matter how good he looks in the building each day. If that is the path the Jets take, there is no guarantee it pays off. Bringing back Alexander is still the safest move for New York if they want to maximize their chances of winning in 2023.
But there are legitimate reasons to believe in Sherwood. His tape in 2022, while minuscule in sample size, was impressive. We know the Jets like his potential, and we also know the Jets believe in their ability to develop linebackers. Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich built strong track records of success during their past tenures as linebacker coaches, and they’ve already translated that success to the Jets in the form of Quincy Williams.
As we discussed recently, successfully developing your in-house young talent is an essential task for championship teams. Filling every hole on the roster with a veteran is rarely plausible. To build a complete roster, you have to blend veteran additions with in-house development.
It’s starting to look more and more likely that the linebacker position is one of the primary spots where the Jets will bet on in-house development over veteran experience. More than likely, Jamien Sherwood would be their preferred choice to take Alexander’s place. It would be a high-risk, high-reward move.
If Sherwood proves he is ready, then not only would he be a cost-effective asset in the short-term, but he could establish himself as a useful piece for years to come – including potentially replacing Mosley as an every-down starter in the future. It’s a dream come true for front offices when a late-round draft pick can replicate the impact of an exiting veteran. There’s hardly anything more valuable to a football team than a replacement who is younger and cheaper than his predecessor yet equally as effective.
But if Sherwood struggles, he’d be a substantial downgrade compared to Alexander in a year where the Jets have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. That would hurt quite a bit. The Jets’ elite defense was the main reason they put themselves in a position to attract Aaron Rodgers in the first place, and Alexander was an integral cog in that defense’s success. Downgrading at that position would have a significant effect on the defense’s overall performance, especially against the run, which is where Alexander really shined.
This will be a great measuring stick for the talent-development ability of the Jets’ coaching staff.
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