The New York Jets’ major offseason needs at wide receiver, tight end and cornerback are well known, but one position of need that isn’t getting much attention is outside linebacker. The Jets had a respectable pass rush this season, tying for 13th in the NFL in sacks, but a closer look reveals a concerning situation. Calvin Pace had a career high 10 sacks at age 33, and the Jets can’t possibly expect a repeat performance. Pace is also a free agent, though the Jets expect to re-sign him. Antwan Barnes was signed to be a pass rush specialist, but he tore his ACL and is going to turn 30 early next season. The Jets can’t bank on him coming back and producing.
Finally, there is former first round pick Quinton Coples, who dealt with an ankle injury early in the season but finished strong, recording 3.5 sacks in the final five games to go with solid run defense. The Jets are expecting huge things from Coples in his third season. Still, they could use some help on the other side, preferably someone with pure pass rushing skills. Auburn’s Dee Ford could be just the player the Jets are looking for.
Ford was very productive at Auburn, recording 19.5 career sacks, including 8.5 as senior. Ford’s best fit at the NFL level appears to be as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as at 6’2″ 240 lbs he is undersized to play defensive end. Ford is a little bit shorter than Rex Ryan likes his outside linebackers to be, but that’s not the kind of issue that is going to matter too much. What the Jets need is the kind of pass rushing outside linebacker that truly scares offenses. 3-4 defenses are supposed to get their best pressure from their outside linebackers, but the Jets haven’t had that kind of player recently. The Jets need to improve their pass defense, and that starts with getting pressure on the quarterback.
Ford has good quickness, and he certainly profiles as a speed rusher. He has good moves at the point of attack and closes quickly, and he has good enough tackling skills to finish the job. Ford will probably struggle to hold up against the run at the next level, but that is not what the Jets (or any other team) should be asking him to do. How well Ford runs at the combine will have a significant influence on his draft stock, as will his performance in quickness drills and the bench press. There are definitely some injury concerns about Ford as well, which could hurt his stock.
Right now, Ford looks to be a solid second round pick. The Jets could end up taking him there, but that will likely depend on what they do in free agency. If the Jets can fill their major needs in free agency and in the first round, Ford could prove to be too good a prospect to pass up. However, he is definitely not going to be at the top of the priority list if the Jets haven’t solved their other problems. Ford makes a lot of sense for the Jets and could have a big impact, and although he is not the favorite, keep his name in mind as a dark horse candidate for the second round.
Previous Scouting Reports: Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee, Mike Evans, Eric Ebron, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor, Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Davante Adams, Odell Beckham, Jr., Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, Jace Amaro, Lamarcus Joyner