The 2020 NFL season is going to be unique. From no pre-season action to potentially fan-less games, it will be an adjustment. Especially for coaches, who now may be without some of their best players. The New York Jets will be amongst them, as star linebacker CJ Mosley has opted out of playing this season. After signing a five-year deal last off-season, Mosley will enter 2021 with only two games played in a Jets uniform. To lose someone who head coach Adam Gase refers to as “a quarterback on the defense” is a huge blow. But not one the Jets are not prepared for.
With various injuries at linebacker leaving the Jets thin more often than not, general manager Joe Douglas made it a priority to have depth in 2020. Prior to Mosley’s opt-out, the Jets were already set for a full-fledged competition. Now, with a starting job open, here are the guys who will be fighting to make the Jets linebacker corps in 2020.
2020 New York Jets Preview: The Linebacker Corps
The Starters: Avery Williamson and Patrick Onwuasor
When the Jets brought in CJ Mosley, they were hoping to form the league’s best linebacker tandem. 2018 Pro Bowl alternate Avery Williamson was coming off of a career-year in his first season with the team. Unfortunately, the plan was derailed when he suffered a torn ACL in the first game of the pre-season.
Prior to Mosley’s opt-out, Williamson was not a guarantee to make the team. Entering the final year of his deal, the Jets could save $6.5-million by releasing the 28-year old. However, now without Mosley running the show, Williamson brings the most experience and talent to the position… when healthy. As training camp begins, if Williamson shows he is back at full strength, he is by far the team’s best linebacker.
With Williamson now at the one, the Jets best option at the two is veteran Patrick Onwuasor. After spending two seasons starting alongside Mosley with the Baltimore Ravens, Onwuasor struggled in 2019 without him. Now with the Jets on a one-year prove-it deal, he hopes to recapture his play from 2017-2018. Onwuasor has the advantage being the most experienced starter behind Williamson, with 31 starts over the past three years. In the end, it comes down to who performs best in camp.
The Bubble: Neville Hewitt, James Burgess, Blake Cashman, and BJ Bello
With Mosley out, it opens at least two more spots on the roster at linebacker. Whether or not both Williamson and Onwuasor are the starters, the entire battle at linebacker will be intense. Each and every player has a case for the team.
First come veterans Neville Hewitt, James Burgess, and BJ Bello. After spending years primarily as special team aces, Hewitt and Burgess saw plenty of playtime last season. Making 12 and 10 starts respectively, they struggled against the run, leaving a lot to be desired. Meanwhile, the 25-year old Bello saw all of his time on special teams, playing the Hewitt and Burgess roles once they entered the lineup. Like Burgess, Bello also has experience with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from their time with the Cleveland Browns. Nevertheless, all of their experience from last season offer strong depth in addition to special team ability.
Next is the player with the most upside on the bubble in second-year linebacker Blake Cashman. The 2019 fifth-round pick impressed coaches last year at training camp and will need to do so again. Like any rookie, he had his ups and downs through seven starts, although replacing CJ Mosley is no easy task. He was a liability against the run, with his best coming in coverage and getting after the passer. A torn labrum ended Cashman’s year after just seven starts, but not before he flashed his starting potential.
Last Word on the 2020 New York Jets Preview: Linebackers
Around the league, multiple teams are left weak due to opt-outs from key players. Poor depth and late additions are going to come from it. Fortunately, the Jets happen to be prepared with a deep linebacker corps. With the versatility and various options at linebacker, the Jets’ training camp competition is going to be a fun one to watch.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2020 New York Jets Preview series with Cornerbacks!
Embed from Getty Images