Five New York Jets have earned captaincy patches for the 2021 season, including three newcomers to the fold.
The New York Jets unveiled their five new captains for the 2021 season on Wednesday, as Corey Davis, Foley Fatukasi, Justin Hardee, C.J. Mosley, and Zach Wilson will have a C stitched to their jersey. Davis and Wilson will lead the offense while Fatukasi and Mosley represent the defense. Hardee received the honor on special teams.
“The best-coached teams are the teams that coach themselves and have especially veteran leadership to step in and voice their opinions and have a thought on how they can make things better,” head coach Robert Saleh said in a statement on the Jets’ website by Randy Lange. “I think that’s always important. It’s a machine, and they’re a big, big part of it. Obviously, I would always appreciate their voice.”
What’s particularly interesting about this new crop of captains is their relative lack of experience in a New York uniform. Fatukasi accounts for 30 of the 32 games in green among them, with Mosley accounting for the lingering pair. The Jets did retain two of their captains from 2020 (keeping tackle George Fant and safety Marcus Maye) but their titles did not return.
Wilson’s inclusion, coming days before his official NFL debut, likely shows the effect and impact he has had on the New York locker room in the early going, as captains are named based on results via a player vote. The early accolade was no surprise to Saleh, however.
I think it’s more of a testament to him and the way he’s been able to conduct himself here,” Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “If you go to the cafeteria, he’s hanging out with his O linemen. He’s got an infectious personality. It’s a credit to him and the way he’s handled himself so far.”
The other captains’ lack of games in green are likely offset by their extensive playoff experience: Mosley and Davis were respective AFC playoff staples in Baltimore and Tennessee while Hardee established himself as one of the league’s best special teams coverage names during New Orleans’ recent postseason runs.
Meanwhile, Fatukasi is coming off a breakout season that saw him set new career-highs in tackles (42) and sacks (2). The fourth-year pro is reminding some of the previous defensive captain Steve McLendon, who was dealt to Tampa Bay at last year’s trade deadline.
“He’s been a tremendous friend, mentor, brother to a lot of people. I was fortunate, we were fortunate as players, as friends, to have him around. But as he would tell me, the show’s still going, you have to keep going,” Fatukasi said of McLendon in another report from Lange. “I feel pretty confident, pretty good about us,” he said. “We understand we have a lot of work to get done, we have to keep sharpening our tools. But I feel like we’re coming along, taking the right steps. You know all the guys in our room, I could list all their names, but they’re all selfless. We all care about each other so far and the amount of progress that we’ve made in such a short time knowing each other has been good.”
The Jets will open their season against one of their former captains, quarterback Sam Darnold, when they take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
ESM’s New York Jets experts believe Gang Green should spend the preseason finale accounting for their defensive absences.
Never mind Labor Day. For New York Jets fans, the unofficial end of summer arrives when the Philadelphia Eagles show up on the preseason ledger.
The Jets’ late-summer showcase with the Eagles resumes on Friday night at MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS). New York (2-0) has faced Philadelphia (0-2) in every preseason finale since 2001. The streak was interrupted only by the cancellation of last year’s preseason proceedings but resumes on Friday night in what goes down as the Jets’ only official home game of their 2021 exhibition showings (they were the designated road team in the opener against the Giants).
ESM’s Jets experts conjure up an attainable goal for Gang Green to fulfill as the preseason comes to a close…
Geoff Magliocchetti: Keep the Offensive Momentum Rolling
Losing Carl Lawson for the year (and Jarrad Davis for at least the first five weeks) shouldn’t awaken the Jets from their dreams of development this season, but the first showing sans the former Bengal wasn’t pretty. Missing Lawson wasn’t the biggest issue against Green Bay last weekend…missing tackles and lost coverage battles were far more troubling…but the top unit still looked out of sorts against a Packers offense resting most of its starters (including top throwers Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love).
The ultimate insult came when the Packer reserves ate up ten minutes of second quarter game time and embarked on a 19-play, 81-yard drive. Six of those plays were conversions on third or fourth down, including the touchdown that capped things off. Since that drive came with a good portion of the Jets starters on the field, the team faces some major questions.
The best defense could be…a good offense.
Even if their conquests have come against defensive reserves, it’s hard not to be enthused about the progress of the Jets offense, especially with Zach Wilson leading the charge. The team has drifted so far behind the times in this NFL dominated by offense: this is a unit that failed to reach a mere 300 yards in all but five of their games last season. Wilson has embarked on six drives this season: the Jets have scored on four of them and all but one has ended in opposing territory. The outlier produced a conservative punt on a one-yard fourth down at the Jets’ 49-yard-line.
Wilson has made the most of his summer opportunities. He has built chemistry with his receivers, namely Corey Davis (6 receptions, 88 yards) and Tyler Kroft (49 yards on a trio of receptions, including two touchdowns in Green Bay). He has responded well to adversity, erasing two deficits at Lambeau through responsive scoring drives.
Time will tell how the Jets, and their 31 NFL compatriots, approach the third preseason game under the adjusted, shortened summer format. Under the previous quartet, the third game was often treated like a dress rehearsal, with starters playing most, if not all, of the first half. Head coach Robert Saleh was vague on his starters’ playing time during joint practices with the Eagles this week but stressed his desire to see a lot of Wilson. It won’t be “more than a half”, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg, but Saleh believes that there’s a prime opportunity for the newcomers on offense to make of the most of the final tune-up of what’s been a successful preseason.
“I want to play (Wilson),” Saleh said in Greenberg’s report. “I do, so we’re talking about it. But right now, I’m leaning towards playing at least the starting offensive line, quarterback, and a majority of the defensive payers…We got a ridiculously young team and they are growing and learning and all of these experiences are so important to them. I feel like they’ve gotten so much better from the first day of camp until now and to pull off now, I think we’d be doing them an injustice.”
If the Jets emerge from this preseason feeling good about themselves, the offense is providing a majority of those good vibes. Keeping up the offensive is more important than ever with so many question marks filling up slots on the defensive depth chart.
Friday also presents a big opportunity for some players to secure premier roles on the team. Who will be the top rusher? Veteran and two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is currently slotted in the top rushing role on the official depth chart but Michael Carter, Ty Johnson, and La’Mical Perine have each looked strong at different points of the summer. The backup quarterback debate has yet to be resolved as well. Mike White has been quiet if not consistent but sustained a rib injury in Green Bay last weekend. James Morgan has struggled and veteran Josh Johnson has yet to see the field.
Brendan Carpenter: Fill the Hole Jarrad Davis Leaves Behind
Well, it’s here. The final 2021 preseason game and, believe it or not, there is still one important question that needs answering: what’s going to happen at linebacker behind C.J. Mosley?
The linebacking situation seemed set. It was going to be Mosley and Jarrad Davis manning the main two inside spots. However, with Davis going down for about two months, there’s a hole. The news wasn’t wanted by anyone, but with the injury comes new opportunities for other players. These opportunities could be exciting too, as rookies Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen will have prime chances to impress.
Sherwood, Nasirildeen, and the veteran depth at linebacker (i.e. Blake Cashman, Noah Dawkins) need to help create some post-Davis clarity on Friday night. If the Jets linebackers can show some ability to make impactful plays and stand tall with the added adversity, it’ll end the preseason on a relatively high note. Well, as high as it could be now.
Expect the linebackers to rotate in and out frequently and to get a glimpse of everything they have to offer. Hopefully, they will be able to achieve the goal of clarity somewhat quickly.
Donning a New York Jets jersey for the first time since October 2019, C.J. Mosley couldn’t hide his confidence.
It had been over 500 days since New York Jets fans got to see their team play a sanctioned football game at MetLife Stadium in person. Perhaps only an on-field attendee, Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley, had to wait longer.
Mosley put on his New York uniform on Saturday night to partake in the Jets’ 12-7 preseason victory over the New York Giants. It was the first time his game day equipment had been worn since a Monday night game against New England in October 2019. Mosley helped the Jets’ strong defensive effort, one that held the Giants to 163 yards on the night, get off to a strong start.
Working next to newcomers Jarrad Davis and Hamsah Nasirildeen on the premier unit, Mosley rejected a Mike Glennon pass intended for Darius Slayton. Two plays later, Bryce Huff earned a seven-yard sack to force the Giants into a three-and-out after just 61 seconds of game time. The Jets (1-0) would get the ball at their own 36 after a punt and tallied a 30-yard field goal to go up 3-0 after the opening drives.
Mosley also appeared on the Giants’ second offensive possession, where he picked up two tackles, though one was erased by a Jets penalty. The Giants picked up two first downs, but the Jets limited the damage to 32 yards on seven plays, the last of which was a punt.
Despite relatively minimal work, it was hard for Mosley to hide his enthusiasm in the aftermath. The linebacker issued a foreboding warning to future visitors of East Rutherford that underestimate the Jets’ defense.
“If people come with that same mentality, they’re going to get their (butts) blown out,” Mosley said of those who expect the idea of “Same Old Jets” to continue this year, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “That’s 100 percent, whether we’re at MetLife or anywhere else. If they think there’s anything old about this Jets team, it’s not going to end well for them.”
Mosley will be working alongside several touted newcomers this season. The Jets made their pass rush a priority despite several young breakouts headlined by Quinnen Williams. Pressure artist Carl Lawson comes in from Cincinnati while Sheldon Rankins arrives from New Orleans. The revamped unit was on full display against the Giants, as the Jets took down Glennon and Clayton Thorson five times. Their last takedown becoming a safety when another sixth-rounder (Jonathan Marshall) took down Thorson in the end zone. Huff had two sacks on the night while undrafted rookies Hamilcar Rashed and Michael Dwuomfour also got involved in the tally.
Mosley is a bit of a stranger to New York himself. Signed to a five-year, $85 million deal during the 2019 offseason, Mosley was the last big ticket arrival of the Mike Maccagnan era. He has partaken in only two games since then, besieged by medical calamities of both a football and non-gridiron variety. The former Baltimore Raven and four-time Pro Bowler has appeared in only two Jets games over the last two seasons. Groin issues limited him to two games in 2019 while he opted out of last season’s proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thrown into action in the preseason opener, Mosley was going to take full advantage of any game snaps, even if they came in an exhibition contest. Mundane gameday tasks like getting to East Rutherford and even hooking up with the team during the pregame took on a whole new meaning after nearly two full years away from the field.
“You can never take this game for granted. Any time you step on the field you want to try and give it your all and take advantage of every opportunity you get,” Mosley said, according to team reporter Jack Bell. “Driving to the team hotel, that’s something I haven’t done in a long time. Going to the meetings at night, waking up in the morning and getting back to my routine. There was even a little traffic to getting to the stadium. I’m embracing everything.”
Time will tell if Mosley is a fit in what head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are trying to build through their reintroduction of the 4-3 set. Fate has given him every reason to believe that his New York tenure is cursed, but he’s defying the conventional metropolitan pessimism.
“(We have) an explosive D-line that’s going to get after it, especially when we get teams in second-and-long and third-and-long,” Mosley said, per Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “Even third-and-short, we’re going to get our defensive line trying to get after the opponent’s quarterback. I think we’re going to be a defense that’s going to make you try to throw over the top and we’re going to make you try to run the ball on us because if you don’t, it’s going to be a long day for your quarterbacks.”
“We’ve just got to make sure that we hold each other accountable every day when we go to practice, make sure we try to stay as healthy as possible…have the same mindset, same goal to win every game.”
Mosley and the Jets will return to preseason action on Saturday night, when they battle the Green Bay Packers on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).
Playing in front of an East Rutherford crowd for the first time since December 2019, several New York Jets made early statements.
MetLife Stadium welcomed New York Jets fans through its gates for the first time since December 2019 on Saturday night, hosting the annual Green & White scrimmage.
Nearly 20,000 supporters came out to watch the special practice, which was the first sporting event at MetLife since an XFL contest in late February 2020. The team will spend another Saturday at the stadium next weekend, when open their preseason slate against their East Rutherford roommates, the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).
“It was awesome to come out here,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh It was awesome to just be able to go through this thing, go through the stadium and just be able to go through as game-like of an experience as we can create for the players so next Saturday is normal. But it was cool.”
In case you missed the proceedings at MetLife, ESM has four names who stood out…
K Matt Ammendola
The Jets will likely wait until game situations against squads of different colors to make their decision at kicker. But it’s hard to not pencil in Ammendola’s name at the top of the early depth chart after Saturday.
Team reporter Ethan Greenberg stated that while Chris Naggar converted only 1-of-4 attempts, Ammendola was perfect in his quartet, half of them coming from at least 50 yards away. The Jets have converted only 6-of-11 from that distance since Jason Myers absconded to Seattle after the 2018 season.
Davis helped the Jets make the most of a tough night offensively. Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Zach Wilson struggled, completing only 11-of-24 passes and throwing two interceptions. But the incoming Davis helped the unit keep their chins up and gave the fans something to cheer about.
A lot of excitement in the Jets’ new receiving outlook has surrounded Elijah Moore, particularly after he stole in the show in public training camp practices in Florham Park. But Davis made a decent case for primary receiver duties on Saturday, making three big grabs during two-minute drills. One highlight reel grab saw him tear the ball away from Bryce Hall.
Some may have already built the Jets’ offensive future around the Wilson-Moore connection, but it’s clear that Davis plays into the team’s long-term plans and can’t be forgotten.
Fans had to be extra patient when it came to seeing Mosley again. Saturday marked only the third time in the last 24 months that his cleats touched the MetLife Stadium turf, as his Jets career has been weighed down by medical issues.
Mosley knew going into Saturday’s proceedings that he was going to have to do a lot to live up to the five-year, $85 million deal granted to him in 2019 as the final marquee signing of the Mike Maccagnan era. Even a perfect showing wasn’t going to alleviate the concerns, but he was one of the biggest breakouts of a strong day for the New York defense.
The former Baltimore Raven, down nearly 20 pounds from his last listed playing weight (250) worked mostly in coverage during Saturday’s proceedings. His shining moment came during a two-minute drill, when he cashed in on Lamarcus Joyner’s breakup of a Wilson pass intended for Jamison Crowder, diving to earn the interception.
Mosley was pleased to reintroduce himself to the New York faithful but acknowledged that it has to be the start of something bigger.
“I haven’t put (anything) on tape in two years. I just have to remind everybody,” Mosley said afterward, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Today was a great start. It felt good to be out there after a long time.”
“There’s always more to improve on. I missed two tackles out there, two big tackles, in my opinion. That’s something I’ve just got to get back to working on in practice.”
Assessing the defense was a little tough considering Saturday’s restrictive nature…live tackling was kept to a minimum…but several defenders managed to post strong showings. John Franklin-Myers tallied a sack, while Javelin Guidry likewise earned an interception of Wilson.
Much like their kicking slate, the Jets’ backup quarterback conundrum will likely gain more clarity through the exhibition slate. But in the absence of newly minted favorite Josh Johnson, who did not partake in Saturday’s event, White gained some early ground.
White was the only Jets thrower to earn multiple scoring passes, finding Josh Malone and Kenny Yeboah for the respective tallies. A big opportunity awaits the former Dallas Cowboys draft pick, who has been on and off the Jets’ active roster over the last two years. Fellow New York returnee James Morgan likewise had a scoring pass on Saturday, finding rookie rusher Michael Carter.
Packed to the brim with potential, the New York Jets’ completely revamped linebacker corps must start producing on the field.
Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign.
With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. The second half of the front seven segments features the linebackers…
A lot of attention and hullabaloo has been dedicated to the Jets’ constant turnover at quarterback, but a similar discussion could be had at linebacker. The Jets have had several marquee names to fill the slots. They used their 2016 first-rounder on Darron Lee (passing on names like Will Fuller, Jaylon Smith, Chris Jones, and Xavien Howard). Breakout defenders either turned out to be flukes (Jordan Jenkins) or went elsewhere (Tarell Basham). A de facto in-season firesale saw another casualty (Avery Williamson).
Medical absences have taken a particularly dangerous toll and it puts the Jets in an awkward position when it comes to C.J. Mosley. The former Baltimore Raven is in a bit of an awkward spot. He’s not only a rare leftover from the Mike Maccagnan era, but the prior general manager left a lasting legacy via a huge contract. Through the guaranteed clauses in his five-year, $85 million deal, Mosley has made $21.5 million thus far…for two games in green so far.
Mosley’s medical woes shouldn’t be held against him. Football is a physical, violent game and Mosley was one of many who weren’t comfortable playing amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had every right sitting out last season. The timing was just rather unfortunate from a Jets standpoint, as he was expected to provide some stability and winning pedigree to the Jets’ beleaguered defensive corps. Blake Cashman is another one beset by medical absences. He rose up in Mosley’s absence but is entering a huge third season after three major shoulder surgeries.
In an appearance on a team podcast hosted by Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg, Mosley had no doubt that he was ready to make major contributions to the Jets’ road back to respectability, comparing his de facto two-year absence to the brief retirement of Rob Gronkowski. The tight end was a major part of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl endeavor after taking a year off.
“Yeah, I don’t have any doubts in myself…I’m here, so we’ll let the play do the talking,” Mosley said. “I’m happy to be back in the building with my teammates, to be around the locker room and the new energy. What we’re doing now is building a great foundation, setting this team on course to stack up wins and get to where we want to go.”
The Jets have completely started over, as all of their primary linebackers from last season have moved on. Jenkins failed to expand on an eight-sack season in 2019 and moved on to Houston with reliable depth option Neville Hewitt. Basham, coming off a career-best season on the outside, earned a two-year with the Cowboys while Harvey Langi returned to New England.
How It’s Going
Head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are noted practitioners of the 4-3 defense, which the Jets haven’t run since the Rex Ryan days. Free agent newcomer Jarrad Davis will be one of the most vital pieces of this transition…and, by association, one of the Jets’ most fateful additions as they prepared to pen what feels like the most hopeful chapters of their never-ending rebuild.
Davis is about to embark on the textbook definition of a make-or-break season. He inked a fully guaranteed one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Jets after four seasons in Detroit, who made him a first-round pick in 2017. His career began on a strong note: he earned All-Rookie honors and eight sacks over his first two seasons, but the past two seasons have been a struggle.
Problems in coverage have been particularly worrisome. Over the past three seasons, quarterbacks have earned a 113.8 passer rating when targeting Davis’ assignments. Davis’ hasn’t been a complete disaster…he’s still capable of raising pressure…but it wasn’t enough for Detroit to pick up his fifth-year option. how he performs on this prove-it deal could well determine the path for the rest of his career.
The downfall of Davis could be traced back to the respective departures of Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin following his rookie season. Austin ran the 4-3 in Detroit (and later Cincinnati, who refused to draft defensive scheme fits), picking up where Davis had left off from his college days at Florida under then-defensive coordinator (and current Georgia Tech head coach) Geoff Collins. His speed, on display through a sub-4.6 40 time could also be huge as the Jets seek to bolster their pass rush (fellow free agent Del’Shawn Phillips should also help check that box). Through his experience in the 4-3, Davis has a prime opportunity to not only reclaim the narrative on his NFL career but showcase his leadership skills.
In addition to the returns of Mosley and Cashman (each of whom may face make-or-break campaigns through no fault of their own), the Jets made a pair of interesting selections in the latter stages of the draft. Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen were each listed as safties, but the Jets almost immediately announced their intentions to turn them into linebackers. Sherwood, an Auburn alum, is a bit undersized for a linebacker but makes up for it with a wide wingspan and good coverage near the line of scrimmage. Florida State’s Nasirildeen could’ve been chosen during the first two days if not for a torn ACL from his junior season that limited him to two games last year. He gained a reputation as an aggressive hitter during his time in Tallahassee. An undefeated addition could wind up being undrafted outside rookie Hamilcar Rashed, who is two years removed a 14-sack season at Oregon State.
Are They Better Off?
On paper, there is a lot of potential in the Jets’ linebacking corps. But like many other areas on the team, it’s time to start capitalizing. There’s no use in holding Mosley and Cashman’s medical pasts against them. But if they’re ready to go, it’s completely fair to start asking them to contribute.
When it comes to the newcomers, they’re looking at the group with an eye on the future. Even if Davis fails to live up to his first-round billing, he could help the younger pieces learn the finer points of the 4-3 that figures to factor into their long-term future. The immediate action after the draftings of Sherwood and Nasirildeen shows that they have a plan for this group.
As we discussed in the defensive line portion, having a strong front seven and the pass rush that comes with it is going to be vital with a yearly pair of matchups with Josh Allen ahead for the next decade. Through these additions, the Jets bolstered both their pressure (Davis, Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins) and coverage (Sherwood and Nasrilideen). The names aren’t flash by any stretch, but the hopeful, hopefully game-changing, chapter of a perpetual rebuild has to start somewhere.
This linebacker group has both immediate intrigue (will Mosley and Cashman overcome their painful pasts?) and hope for the future. (Davis, Sherwood, Nasrilideen). They’ll certainly never be boring come Sundays.
The New York Jets’ $85 million man has played in only two games in the past two seasons, but there’s hope that the investment will pay off.
From a human standpoint, C.J. Mosley’s tenure with the New York Jets, which began during the 2019 offseason, can’t realistically be called a bust. Medical calamities, exacerbated by the star-crossed nature of Jets football, have marred his two years in green, necessitating long layoffs. A groin injury limited him to two games in his debut year before he opted out of last season entirely in the wake of the ongoing health crisis.
Neither of Mosley’s absences can be registered as excuses. Football is a violent game and injuries happen. A whole separate conversation can be had over whether oft-injured names like Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III, and Ki-Jana Carter can rightfully be labeled disappointments as well. As for 2020, Mosley was one of many throughout the world who simply chose not to go head-to-head with a disease lacking data, a decision he was well within his rights to make.
Nonetheless, these factors far beyond the Jets’ control have nonetheless placed Mosley’s contract on countless “worst of” lists through the football press. Mosley inked a five-year, $85 million deal in March 2019 and has partaken in only two games since. Only adding to the awkwardness of the situation is the idea that Mosley feels like a relic, a hand-me-down from a forgettable era of football as the last big contract Mike Maccagnan dealt. But, despite a small sample size, it’s not hard to be seduced by Mosley’s potential The Jets have seen what Mosley is capable of at full strength, as his one shining moment in a green uniform saw him earn six tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception of Josh Allen taken back for a touchdown, opening scoring for the 2019 campaign. When Mosley left with the aforementioned groin ailment, the Jets blew a 16-0 to Buffalo and have won only nine games since then.
Mosley’s status is a subplot that’s buried in an offseason rife with questions and one that’s likely going to end with the Jets’ roster looking drastically different. Cutting him would incur an $8-12 million cap penalty, while a trade would net back $1.5 million toward the cap (albeit with $6 million in dead money). But that doesn’t appear to be the approach the Jets plan on taking. There’s hope amongst the new Jets brass that one of the final big deals from the Maccagnan era can make an impact and live up to the hype of his deal.
When Robert Saleh took to the virtual podium for the first time since his hiring last week, he was sure to point out that Mosley does have a future in the organization after Mosley stopped by his office upon a visit to One Jets Drive.
“It was awesome to get to meet him…My expectation is no different than any other player that’s here,” Saleh said, per notes provided by the Jets. “For C.J., (the goal is) to continue to be the pro that he’s been since the day he was drafted and the leader that he’s been and find ways to get better every single day. C.J. definitely has that mindset and just a pleasure to have been able to have gotten a chance to meet him.”
During his time as the defensive overseer in San Francisco, Saleh gained a slight reputation as a coach that could provide redemption to aging name-brand veterans who have struggled to regain their elite status. Richard Sherman, for example, reintroduced himself to the national picture under Saleh’s watch and was among his hiring’s biggest praisers. Jason Verrett got his career back on track through a strong 2020 campaign after playing only two games over the prior couple of seasons due to injury. Their union could prove beneficial on both sides: Saleh has an accomplished, veteran lump of clay that can make an immediate impact in a desperate locale, particularly in a 4-3 set, while Mosley has a strong mentor that can help him reclaim the narrative on his New York career.
Mosley has kept mostly quiet as he continues to work his way back, with Saleh and fellow linebacker Blake Cashman keeping the green masses updated on his status. But those who feel like Mosley is content to take the money and run should recall his comments prior to his opt-out. Simply put, the former Baltimore Raven was sick of rehabbing.
“It’s been annoying, honestly,” Mosley said of sitting out, per team reporter Olivia Landis. “You set a timetable up and you’re not ready and you feel like you’ve had a setback. But you’ve just got to be patient. I just have to make sure I trust the process as far as therapy and training and take it one day at a time.”
“Mentally and physically, I feel great. It’s just a matter of getting on the field and doing it.”
With any luck, he’ll finally get that opportunity come the fall.
New head coach Robert Saleh has plenty of questions to address when it comes to the New York Jets’ linebacking corps.
The Position: Linebacker On the Roster: C.J. Mosley, Blake Cashman, Sharif Finch, John Daka Free Agents: Jordan Jenkins, Tarell Basham, Neville Hewitt, Patrick Onwuasor, Harvey Langi, Bryce Hager, Frankie Luvu Reserve/Future: Noah Dawkins
The world was a lot different this time a year ago, unaware of the upheaval and interruption to daily life that 2020 was going to bring. It obviously pales in comparison to other items affected by the past year’s propensity for chaos, but the New York Jets’ situation at linebacker seemed to be trending in the right direction.
C.J. Mosley seemed destined to come back after an impressive debut in Week 1 of 2019, a year mostly most due to injury. Avery Williamson was establishing himself as a leader. Jordan Jenkins, fresh off a career-best eight sacks, was brought back on an affordable one-year deal at just under $4 million. Depth options Neville Hewitt and Blake Cashman were also returning through a new contract and new health respectively. The unit appeared to be trending in the right direction.
But things have drastically changed over the past year, with calamities brought on by both external sources and problems on the homefront leaving the linebacker corps in relative shambles. Mosley (understandably) opted out of the 2020 season due to the ongoing health crisis. Williamson was part of the Jets’ in-season fire sale in a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jenkins failed to build on the last two seasons and ended up injured reserve with Cashman, who was limited to three defensive snaps by another injury. Hope did emerge in the form of Tarell Basham, who set career-bests in a contract year, but nothing that would truly solidify the Jets’ outlook.
Joining the Jets as defensive coordinator is Jeff Ulbrich, a decade-long linebacker in San Francisco fresh off a defensive coordinator stint under Raheem Morris’ brief watch in Atlanta. Both he and head coach Robert Saleh (having overseen linebackers in Jacksonville for three seasons) have their work cut out for them as they seek to gain clarity on a team in upheaval.
Basham took the most of extended opportunities, setting new career-bests in tackles (36), quarterback hits (13), and sacks (13). He notably served as the main catalyst behind the Jets’ Week 16 win over playoff-participant Cleveland, forcing two fumbles of Baker Mayfield late in the game. At the right price, Basham can serve as a veteran, situational pass rusher.
Mostly working on special teams, injuries forced the veteran Hager to start the final two games of the season at linebacker, earning credit for half-a-sack (the first of his six-year career) in the season finale in New England. Brant Boyer’s return could grant him at least a camp opportunity.
Over the past three seasons, Hewitt has established himself as a very reliable depth option in green. Hewitt started all 16 games for the first time in his career last season, leading the Jets with 91 solo tackles (fourth in the NFL). While Hewitt has more than earned a new contract in New York, his strong showings off the bench may lead him to seek more permanent starting roles in a new locale.
Jenkins’ $3.75 million deal was seen as a steal, especially for a guy that earned 15 sacks over the prior two seasons. But subsequent shoulder issues stifled his 2020 endeavors, causing him to miss four games and earn only two sacks. Fresh off surgery, the Jets will probably let him walk, unless Saleh and Ulbrich view him as a veteran reclaimation project.
#Jets’ LB Harvey Langi (#44) whiffed on sacking Cam Newton TWICE, ended up on the turf, got back up, and still made the tackle 15 yards downfield.
A restrcited free agent, Langi was another backer who enjoyed career-best number after taking over for fallen comrades (60 tackles) before landing on injured reserve himself. His familiarity with the Jets’ special team works could certainly afford him a new opportunity.
Luvu has turned himself into a bit of a fan favorite over the past few preseasons, earning a roster spot through his tenacious pass rushing from the fringe. As an exlusive rights free agent, Luvu will probably gain another chance this summer in camp.
Injuries limited Onwuasor to a mere single game and eight snaps last season…none of which came on defense. The former Raven could get another chance in New York if the team wants to keep some veteran guidance in tow.
Will They Draft?
Depends on what the Jets glean from a sizably talented free agency class, but with so many potential departures, they’ll certainly do their due dilligence this offseason. The threat of seeing multi-talented quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa (who could become Deshaun Watson if Miami convinces the Texans to bargain), outside edge help would likely be the way to go. It’s unlikely that the Jets will use the No. 2 pick on a linebacker, but options with the late first from Seattle could include Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or versatile Zaven Collins out of Tulsa.
Matt Judon, Baltimore
Through Mosley and Onwuasor, it appears the Jets have studied the Ravens’ linebackers extensively. It’s possible they could return to Baltimore’s fountain of defensive prowess through Judon, who will likely be the most-sought after linebacker prospect on the free agent front. They could go after Yannick Ngakoue again, but considering Baltimore sent over two picks to get him, they’ll likely be all-in on his re-signing, leaving Judon to test the open market (especially with only one franchise tag). At 28, Judon has plenty left in the tank and can give the young Jets a taste of success. The cap hit (over $16 million in Baltimore last season) could scare some suitors off, but Jets certainly have the funds available.
De’Vondre Campbell, Arizona
A former fourth-round pick out of Minnesota, Campbell got his start under Ulbrich in Atlanta. Prior to Campbell’s departure for the Cardinals last offseason, Ulbrich discussed his appreciation for Campbell and just how personal their relationship grew during their shared time with the Falcons.
“He’s a guy where my daughter watches his kids, babysits his kids and we have a deep connection in that way,” Ulbrich said last March, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “To see him grow as a player and as a man, it’s a guy that I would love to continue on with.”
With Campbell hitting free agency again, Ulbrich may have a chance to reopen that opportunity.
Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay’s defense, one fresh off stifling the mighty Chiefs in the Super Bowl, is young enough that they could be poised to be a problem for a long time. But Barrett can be the threat off the edge the Jets have been seeking for a long time, a role he filled in brilliantly during Tampa’s championship run. Barrett can be particularly dangerous in the 4-3 set that Saleh desires.
The Jets have some big decisions to make at linebacker, a vital spot with defenseive masters Saleh and Ulbrich taking over. There’s certainly some changes to make in this area with so many names up for free agency. Focus has previously centered on offense, but the Jets have the necessary cap room (and could gain more with some releases) to make a play at some of the big names on the linebacking front. Either way, the relative stability they felt at the end of the 2019 toward the group seems like an attainable, if not vital, goal.
Despite the enjoyment of August baseball, it’s never too soon to talk about the next NFL Draft. The New York Jets will certainly need to prep for this upcoming draft, as they’ll now have two first-round selections following the Jamal Adams trade. Judging by the state of the league, it also stands as a very real possibility that the Jets are drafting near the top of the order. So, I wanted to begin highlighting a couple of targets for the Jets in the 2021 draft.
Who is Micah Parsons?
Micah Parsons has been a member of the Penn State Nittany Lions since 2018. From Harrisburg High School, Parsons was a highly-touted athlete in his recruiting class. As he’s transitioned over the past two seasons to college football, he found his niche as a new age linebacker. Similar to Isaiah Simmons in last year’s class, Micah can do it all.
He’s a tackling machine, a threat in the box, and brings solid coverage abilities to the table. Personally, I firmly believed that with a strong season in 2020-21 he could have been a candidate as a top 5 pick. Instead, Micah chose to opt-out for the greater good of his child and the rest of his family. So, Micah will now turn his attentions to training for the NFL Draft, where he will still be picked early with solid combine and pro day showings.
Just How Good Is Micah?
Micah has been an absolute beast since showing up to University Park. In his freshman year, Micah put up pretty solid numbers with 82 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and 2 Forced Fumbles. Micah’s biggest gain from that season was his experience on the field and the knowledge he gained on how to develop further as a linebacker who can do it all. Then, last season, he EXPLODED.
Micah had 109 tackles, 14 TFLs, 5 sacks, 4 Forced Fumbles, and 2 Fumble Recoveries. He finished 3rd in the Big Ten in tackles, 6th in Solo tackles, 2nd in assists and 10th in TFLs. He was highly regarded, but his performance in the Cotton Bowl launched him to superstardom. Parsons ended up with a stat line of 14 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 TFLs, and 2 forced fumbles. Parsons blew the college football world away and has already solidified himself as a future star in the NFL.
How Micah Could Fit With The Jets
Micah Parsons is the kind of player who could be the captain of the defense for the next 15 years. As a linebacker hybrid, he would add a similar value to what Jamal Adams brought to the team. Micah would be a building block as a leader for the long term. It would also make the possibility of moving C.J. Mosley a lot more feasible. The Jets would be able to free a load of cap and have a future leader with the Parsons move.
Obviously, a lot of things would need to fall the right way for Micah to be wearing the Green and White, but hypothetically, he could make sense in the organization. My only worry with any future defensive piece is he may overplay his contract worth, and the team may continue to flounder, and the Jets would have another Jamal situation on their hands.
The New York Jets‘ linebacker group was riddled with injuries last season. Newly acquired C.J. Mosley suffered a groin injury in Week 1 that kept him out much of the season. Avery Williamson missed the entire season after tearing his ACL in the preseason. Those two injuries, while not decimating the entire group, had a huge impact on the group and defense as a whole.
What a healthy C.J. Mosley can do
People may have forgotten, but when Mosley was in the game Week 1 against Buffalo last season, he was playing great football. He had 6 total tackles, 2 passes defended, a fumble recovery and a pick-six. He accumulated those numbers while playing only 70% of the defensive snaps. When he went out, the feel of the defense drastically changed, at least to a certain viewer.
Even if Mosley isn’t at the exact level of production he was at with Baltimore a few seasons ago, he can still be dominant, as shown in the game mentioned above. While with the Ravens, he was selected to four Pro Bowls in five seasons. Across those five seasons, he amassed 579 total tackles, 9 interceptions and 8.5 sacks. Those are great numbers for most players and positions, including linebacker.
A healthy C.J. Mosley can easily get 100 tackles, a few interceptions and sacks, plus other impact plays the stats may not show. Aside from the stats, Mosley adds an established Pro Bowl centerpiece to Gregg Williams’ defense.
What a healthy Avery Williamson can do
After spending the first four years of his career in Tennessee, Williamson’s first season as a Jet in 2018 was the best of his career. He had a career-high in tackles with 120 and also had a career-high in passes defended with 6. He also was a major anchor in the middle of the defense.
Williamson is somewhat of an underrated player in conversations about top linebackers. Of course, he has not been to a Pro Bowl so that argues against him, but he is a strong number two alongside Mosley, to say the least. He is a good tackler with great sideline-to-sideline movement and ability.
If words aren’t enough, the stats should do the trick. On the flip side of the 120 tackles, he had just 5 missed tackles. That means he made the tackle 96% of the time. If you compare that to the great season that Bobby Wagner had for the Seahawks last season, the numbers are similar. Wagner, who is widely considered the best linebacker in football, had 159 tackles and 10 missed tackles. That means he made the tackles 94% of the time, slightly lower than Williamson.
While Avery Williamson may not be a star linebacker, he is a good player who can help make a duo with C.J. Mosley one of the best in the league.
With Mosley and Williamson holding down middle linebacker most of the time, outside linebacker will mostly be held down by one player: Jordan Jenkins. As of right now, Jenkins seems to be the only lock for the 53-man roster at this position.
Jenkins has played all four years of his career with the Jets. However, he has never started all 16 games in a season. He started 13 games last season and had just 32 total tackles, the lowest of his career. However, he improved greatly in other areas. He had 13 quarterback hits and career-highs in both sacks and tackles-for-loss, with 8 and 9 respectively. So, while he doesn’t rack up a large number of tackles, he gets a lot of action behind the line of scrimmage.
While Mosley and Williamson try to shut down the middle of the field, Jordan Jenkins can provide a nice amount of pressure behind the line.
With Jenkins missing some time last season with a calf injury, Mosley missing time with a groin injury and Williamson tearing his ACL, the group was never at full strength. If they can all stay healthy, the linebacker group can be among the best in the league.
With a couple of sure tacklers and some decent pass rush, the rest of the defense could be under less pressure. With a relatively unproven cornerback group and uneasiness at safety with Jamal Adams at the moment, linebacker can be the one group that holds down everyone else on defense for the New York Jets.
The New York Jets‘ defense played well last season, ranking seventh in the NFL in fewest yards allowed. The defense kept the team in games and was one of the few somewhat-consistent areas of the team. The team should be bolstered with some new additions, both in the draft and free agency, and some returning players. I won’t mention every player, but let’s take a look at the expectations for each defensive position group for this upcoming campaign:
This is assuming no additions or changes will be made from this point, i.e. Jamal Adams will be on the team
The defensive line had some positives, and negatives, last season. The main positive is that they contributed greatly to allowing the second-fewest amount of rushing yards last season, behind only the Buccaneers. The line, led by Steve McLendon and Quinnen Williams played well in that regard. McLendon totaled 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks while Williams produced 28 total tackles, one fumble recovery and 2.5 sacks as well. Keep in mind, Williams played in only 13 games last season, as a rookie, due to an ankle injury which kept him off the field weeks two, three and four. Barring any injuries or suspension, he should be expected to improve. He should be expected to total around 40 tackles and 5 sacks across a full season in year two.
One player I expect to get more consistent playing time is Foley Fatukasi. The third-year man out of UConn played in 14 games last season, totaling 26 tackles, in which 7 were for a loss, and a sack. To top it off, from weeks six through nine, he was the third-highest graded defensive lineman in football, behind only Aaron Donald and Calais Campbell. That is some outstanding company to be in, especially for someone who is mostly a rotational player. As a result, I believe he gets more consistent playing time, although he will not be a starter.
The team also added defensive end Jabari Zuniga in the third round of the draft. In 42 collegiate games at Florida, he totaled 118 tackles, in which 34.5 were for a loss, and 18.5 sacks. Depending on his field time and progression, he can add somewhat of an edge rush, which the defense needs. Overall, expect the run defense to remain in the top-five.
The linebacker group is going to be an interesting one leading up to, and throughout, the season. The group, led by C.J. Mosley and Avery Williamson, could be set up for a strong campaign. Both players are coming off of injury-riddled seasons and should be expected to bounce back. Mosley played in just two games while dealing with a recurring groin injury. In the first game of the season against the Buffalo Bills, Mosley showed why he was signed to lead the linebacker group. Before leaving the game, he totaled 6 tackles, a fumble recovery and a pick-six. If he remains healthy and plays all 16 games, Mosley should be expected to total no less than 90 tackles and a couple of sacks and interceptions. He should have a well-rounded season as he is accustomed to having.
Avery Williamson missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. The year before, he totaled 120 tackles, 6 for a loss, and 3 sacks. There’s no reason to believe that, if he’s healthy, he won’t be near those numbers again. While he may not exactly replicate them due to the number of talented linebackers around him, he should be able to put up numbers near those that Mosley should be expected to.
The team brought back a few players from last season during free agency as well. They brought back James Burgess, Jordan Jenkins and Neville Hewitt. Jenkins, an outside linebacker, had a career-high in sacks last season with eight. His returning outside rush will be one of the top options this upcoming season. For a team that doesn’t have the strongest presence of outside pass rush, Jenkins returning was a nice touch. He shouldn’t be expected to repeat and have a career-high in sacks again, but he should be expected to have between 5 and 6 sacks easily. As for Hewitt, he played the most snaps out of any Jets linebacker last season with 718. He shouldn’t be expected to play the same amount or even have the same amount of production, especially if the main starters remain on the field. He should be a rotational player.
The cornerback group played better than many people thought they did. With that being said, they were a middle-of-the-pack group. The team ranked 16th in the league in passing yards allowed per game. The group, led largely by Brian Poole last season, has him returning on a one-year deal. Poole is arguably their best cornerback and should be expected to retain that title throughout the season. He should be expected to have a slight increase in passes defended with more depth and talent around him in the secondary.
The Jets also added veteran Pierre Desir to the group. Desir, who recently played for the Colts, is not necessarily a team-changing addition. However, he does add experience and depth to the thinnest part of the defense.
One of the most interesting additions to the cornerback group is rookie Bryce Hall. Before the 2019 season, Hall was projected to be a potential first-round draft pick by some mock drafts. However, his season was cut short due to injury, and, as a result, he fell to the fifth found. While on the field, Hall, who transitioned to cornerback after originally playing wide receiver, has shown good ball skills and coverage. During his junior season, he led all collegiate players in pass breakups. If he can stay healthy, the Jets may have drafted a day one talent in the fifth round. Hall shouldn’t be expected to be a day one starter, but rather a rotational corner who can produce. In all, the Jets should be expected to have a more productive and stronger year from their corners.
Jamal Adams is the leader in the secondary, on defense and the team as a whole. He has even been in the discussion for being the best safety in the league. After not making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, he has made it in each of the last two seasons. He should be expected to be a Pro Bowler once again and be among the top safeties in the league.
Marcus Maye has been a nice complimentary piece to Jamal Adams since they were both drafted in 2017. Maye bounced back with 65 total tackles, 7 passes defended and one interception after his season before was cut short due to injury. Maye is more than capable of increasing his tackle amount to above 70, as he showed his rookie season. He should be expected to approach the 75 tackle mark and have a few interceptions.
Now we get to Ashtyn Davis, who was drafted by the Jets in the third round of this past draft. Davis is somewhat of a mystery in the secondary. He can play safety, of course, but he could also be moved to play slot corner or nickel. He is extremely versatile and can provide help anywhere. Whether it be rotational help at safety or fill-in time at corner, Davis should provide help everywhere. In all, the Jets’ safety group should be expected to be one of the best in the NFL.
The New York Jets’ defense should be better as a whole this upcoming season. Their run defense should be expected to remain top-five and their pass defense should show improvement. A defense that has some big-time players, such as Jamal Adams and C.J. Mosley, now has a better infusion of talent and help around them. Expect the defense to move up a few spots in the rankings next season.