With Quincy Williams and Kwon Alexander both currently set to hit free agency, the New York Jets could potentially be in the market for a free-agent linebacker in a few weeks. Few at the position group, if any, are better than David Long Jr.
Long has spent all four years of his NFL career with the Tennessee Titans and played in 50 games. He was drafted by the Titans in the sixth round (188th overall) in the 2019 NFL draft. Long is 26 and will turn 27 years old in the middle of October.
Long is 5-foot-11 and 227 pounds. His timed speed (4.81 40-yard dash, 1.65 10-yard split) may not impress, but on tape, Long is clearly much faster than that, as we’ll see later in this article. He also possesses a ton of quickness, which is shown by his 6.88 3-cone drill.
Throughout his four-year career, Long has played in at least 10 games every season. Durability has been an issue the last two years since becoming a full-time starter, though, as Long missed 12 total games. Availability is one of Long’s top concerns.
He has recorded some good production when on the field, though. Long has had two interceptions in each of the past two seasons (four in 22 games). He tallied up six passes defended in 2021 and five in 2022. Long recorded 75 tackles in 10 games in 2021. He followed that up with 86 tackles (seven for loss) in 12 games last year. The best year put together by Long was the 2022 season, in which he played a key part in the Titans’ first-ranked run defense.
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New York Jets Free Agent Linebacker target David Long Jr.:
Strengths and weaknesses:
The three games of Long that I studied on tape from 2022 were Week 5 (at Washington), Week 8 (at Houston), and Week 11 (at Green Bay). In total, 178 snaps. From that, 18 are reviewed below, diving into different parts of Long’s game.
Long has many exciting traits to his game, with just a few concerns to make note of.
- Physicality/Tackling Power
- Man Coverage (on RBs)
- Zone Coverage
- Run Defense
- Mental Processing/Reading and Reacting
- Range Sideline-to-Sideline
Long’s strengths certainly match what Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich want in their defense. Fast athletes who play relentlessly at all times.
In terms of weaknesses or any potential concerns with Long’s game, there were two, in particular, I had, which will be shown below. The first is his ability to stack and shed, defeating blocks, which with his smaller size, is not too surprising. Long had reps where he struggled to disengage.
The second is his pursuit angles, against outside running plays in particular. Long would take angles that were way too sharp and not be in a position to make tackles. Again, unfortunately, though, bad pursuit comes with the territory of guys that play with a relentless motor and rely on their speed.
Let’s take a look at the film.
New York Jets Film Room: LB David Long Jr.:
In terms of identifying things on the second level prior to the snap and pointing it out, Long shows just that here. He also does a very good job of not over-pursuing, staying in his gap against any potential cutback, which is exactly what ends up happening. Long reads the runner all the way, works off the lead block, and helps finish the play for a short gain.
Few plays summarize the relentless, non-stop motor that Long plays with like this one. He blitzes at first, then, turns to see the ball. He shows his effort chasing this one down from behind, running roughly 10 yards to make the play.
When it comes to Long’s pure straight-line speed, this rep perfectly shows it. He does not end up finishing the play but makes a huge impact. Long absolutely flies through the opening in the B-Gap, displaying his speed, which forces Dameon Pierce to veer outside.
Long possesses good instincts along with the ability to mentally process what’s happening and read and react in real time.
On this first rep, Long shows how well he can react against a delayed screen to a running back off a play-action deep drop that is well-designed by the Texans.
He does a good job of communicating with his defensive line pre-snap, having them match the Texans’ late shift. He flows but does not over-pursue against the run fake, reads the quarterback all the way, and once he sees the center get out to block him, recognizes the screen. Long picks up speed and lowers his shoulder to work around the block to make the play in space.
The Texans design another trick play here with a running back pass. They pitch it to Rex Burkhead, and Long does not pursue with speed initially as he works by the wide receiver and tight end who are running routes. As he sees Burkhead slow down and wind up, Long breaks downhill in no time. He displays his speed and takes a great angle, forcing Burkhead to throw it away. Long disrupts yet another trick play with his instincts and processing of things mentally.
This play is a well-designed misdirection from a pony set. The Packers have Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon both split in the backfield. They motion Josiah Deguara, showing inside zone split with Dillon. Instead, they fake it to Dillon and pitch it out to Jones.
Long is all over this one, though. He starts by pointing to the late motion of Deguara. Then, does a great job of reading Jones, who breaks out, while not overly committing. He is able to see the fake to Dillon at the mesh point, sprints, and takes a great angle to contain Jones on the outside, funneling him inside to the pursuing help.
From screens to running back passes, and pitches off of misdirection, Long shows his feel for things and the ability to quickly react, bottling up all sorts of trick plays.
Whether it be taking on blocks or tackling, Long is always willing to get physical.
In this running play, due to a double team, Long is able to work downhill untouched. He takes a sound angle, goes low, and delivers a physical tackle to finish the play.
On this inside run, Long reads it all the way. He wastes no time working downhill, leads with his shoulder, and delivers a physical blow to Jon Runyan Jr. at the point of contact on his block. Long also helps clog an inside cutback lane. It results in a loss on the play.
As shown in some of these cutups, Long is capable of playing the run, particularly inside, exceptionally well.
Here, he works clean from the backside. Long flows at a good pace as Brian Robinson Jr. works to the edge, waiting to cut and take the right hole.
Long recognizes all of the traffic out on the edge will force Robinson to cut up field inside the tackle. As a result, he is able to break up the field before Robinson even cuts. From there, Long gets in the hole, low at the point of attack, and helps finish the play.
In this play, Long again points the play out before it happens. He has a ton of traffic to work through, coming from the backside, but manages to stay clean, and still reaches his landmark to make the tackle for loss.
As noted earlier, Long’s pursuit angles were not always good. They particularly showed up on runs to the outside and, as we’ll see in one of these clips, a screen. Long can take angles that are too sharp, not putting himself in a position to make plays.
Here, those way too aggressive angles show up, and Long plays a part in Pierce having space on the edge to break a big run. Instead of flattening/widening his angle, taking it safe, and getting to the edge, Long attacks up the field way too soon, leaving the second level on the outside with no one in sight.
In the same part of the field, Long, again, takes an angle that is way too sharp. Working from the backside against the screen, instead of playing it safe and getting over the top, Long tries to go under the blocker in space to make a play but ends up just getting cut off.
Disengaging from blocks:
With his smaller size, it is not too surprising that Long has moments where he cannot work off blocks.
In this first play, Long reads the run well, works downhill, but slows down, does not get better pad level than Deguara, and is not able to stack and shed at any point.
Long diagnoses this run perfectly too, and is able to help set the edge. From that point, however, he is not able to work off Marcedes Lewis’ block, and he gets driven all the way to the outside.
With his speed and instincts, Long would offer the Jets’ defense some ability to play in man coverage on running backs, specifically.
In this clip, the Titans are in 2-Man. Thanks to the Texans’ tight split, switch release, and one in-breaking route, Long has some traffic to navigate through to get to Burkhead on the edge of his flat route.
However, he showcases how his speed, especially too close here, allows him to cover ground from sideline to sideline and make this play.
In the final section of this film room article, we will assess some of Long’s ability in zone coverage.
On this rep, Long shows some terrific short-area burst. The Titans are in Tampa-2, and Long is responsible for the hook curl. Curtis Samuel, the #3 to the trips up top, goes to sit down right over the middle. Long reads it, quickly explodes, and gets in the throwing lane, forcing Carson Wentz to go to his next read in the progression.
Long has the hook curl over the middle in the zone again, except, this time, working from a much greater depth.
The tight end breaks in on his route in front of Long. Long quickly breaks down, gets his hands in at the catch point, and breaks up the pass.
On the final play of this review, Long gets an interception and wins the game for the Titans.
First, Long gets physical with Terry McLaurin, who works his way across him running a drag route. He then reads Wentz, who he sees winding up, breaks outside, and shows some impressive ball skills.
As shown here, there is certainly much to love about Long’s game. His speed and effort make him a seamless fit into Saleh and Ulbrich’s defense.
From there, Long also offers a lot to like. Whether it be his physicality taking on blocks, tackling power to finish, run defense, instincts, man, and zone coverage.
Long seems well-positioned to land a three-year contract, potentially even four, worth roughly $10-13 million per year. The Jets currently have some unknowns at linebacker, with Williams and Alexander currently unsigned for 2023. Few on the open market, if any at all, will be better than Long. If Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh want an upgrade with the best player possible, they could show some interest in Long this free agency.