It is time for a new era in the history of New York Jets linebackers. And it is about time too. For those who do not recall, David Harris roamed the second level of the Jets defense for years. But he last played for the team in 2016. Since then, Gang Green has tried to play catch up in the NFL’s speed wave at the position.
The Jets have spent big at the position and created depth, though the results have never shown. Could that change in 2021 under Head Coach Robert Saleh and Defensive Coordinator Jeff Ulbrich?
Here is how the 2021 New York Jets linebackers will look to make their mark…
2021 New York Jets Preview: Linebackers
The Starters: C.J. Mosley (MLB), Jarrad Davis (SLB), Blake Cashman (WLB)
One thing about the Jets linebackers is that there is legitimate upside for the coaches to tap into. Right off the bat, people forget C.J. Mosley is a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker whose presence changes what an offense does entirely. Just look back at Week 1 of 2019, when his exit due to injury changed the entire course of the game and arguably the season. Prior to that, Mosley had a pick-six, six tackles, two pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. Without Mosley, the Jets lost the game and their leader on defense. It is that game-changing player that New York will finally see back on the field in 2021.
Joining him are a pair of young linebackers looking for career years. Jarrad Davis, who will be 27 years old come November and 25-year-old Blake Cashman. Davis follows the trend of faster, more athletic linebackers in the league today. Davis comes on a one-year deal from the Detroit Lions, looking to capitalize on his sideline-to-sideline ability under Ulbrich.
As for Cashman, he looks to turn his career around in year three. With a new staff coming in, Cashman finds himself as the frontrunner for the weakside linebacker spot. While he has never played the position in the NFL, the former fifth-round pick’s IQ alone puts him in a position to have a career year.
What have you done for me lately? The last time the Jets saw C.J. Mosley play was for one game midway through the 2019 season when he dealt with the mysterious groin injury all year. Jarrad Davis has been a bust to date for the Lions. Meanwhile, Blake Cashman, who the team had high hopes for when drafted, was barely even used as a special teams player last season.
This group has the potential to be a solid linebacker corps this season. At the same time, things can go south very quickly, and the Jets do not have much experience behind them to rely on.
The Backups: Hamsah Nasirildeen, Jamien Sherwood
As teams look for speed at the second level, there has been an increase in college safeties who have become linebackers in the pros. This is the case here, as Ulbrich has done so in the past with the Atlanta Falcons. Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, and more, who all saw plenty of playtime in the box. This is the kind of versatility these two will bring to the field on a situational basis to start the year.
Nasirildeen, who stands at 6’4” and 220-pounds will likely play all over. His athleticism was always on display at Florida State and had injuries not gotten in the way, he would have gone much higher than the sixth round. Moreover, Sherwood will be next in line behind Cashman for the weakside spot. At 6’2” and 220-pounds, the physical nature of his game is perfect for the transition to linebacker. Even as rookies, they will find playtime on special teams as they are groomed into linebackers by the Jets.
The Bubble: Noah Dawkins, Del’Shawn Phillips, Camilo Eifler, Brendon White
As previously mentioned, the Jets do not have much experience behind their presumptive starters. This is clear based on the fact a pair of rookies are their primary backups, and those on the bubble are in a similar boat.
Noah Dawkins has played in the NFL for two years now after going undrafted out of The Citadel. Last season he recorded his first tackle with the Jets but spent the end of last season on and off the roster. In two years, he has played 241 snaps on special teams, without a snap defensively. Del’Shawn Phillips had the exact same special teams-oriented role for the Buffalo Bills this past season. He too will look to capitalize on snaps during training camp to show he’s primed for a bigger role.
In Ulbrich’s defense, it is going to be important for the linebackers to be ready for anything, whether covering a tight end in the slot or chasing after the quarterback. Well, it is a good thing that Camilo Eifler and Brendon White are prepared for that. Both have that linebacker-safety hybrid build, and put their versatility on display playing in the Big Ten. They maybe long-shots to make the final roster out of the gate, but are strong candidates for the practice squad and could be called upon at any point of the season.
Final Linebackers Analysis
The linebacker competition is not going to catch and headlines, yet will be one of the most important groups to watch this off-season. The Jets are banking on their coaching staff to develop their young guys while turning to the starters for any semblance of reliability. If things do not go as planned at linebackers, things can get very ugly quickly in 2021 for the Jets defensively.
Stay tuned for the next article in the 2021 New York Jets Preview series with cornerbacks!
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images