As the NFL Draft progresses into the later rounds, most teams are targeting players that can provide them with depth and insurance, and that is exactly what the New York Jets had in mind with the fifth round selection of linebacker Jeremiah George (52, above). The Jets have an excellent pair of inside linebackers in David Harris and Demario Davis, and George can help improve the team’s depth at the position.
George is an undersized inside linebacker at just 5’11”, 234 pounds, and he is probably better suited for a 4-3 than the Jets’ 3-4 scheme. However, he was highly productive in college, recording 133 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 interceptions as a senior. George is a very reliable tackler who brings intelligence and good instincts to the position, allowing him to make up for his lack of size. George had a solid combine workout and showed extremely impressive strength for his size, which certainly helped convince teams he was prepared for the NFL.
The big concern for George as a linebacker is whether or not he can take on guards and be effective against the run. 3-4 inside linebackers receive far less protection from the the defensive line than 4-3 middle linebackers, and George will have to show the ability to fill a gap and take on an NFL guard. That’s a big ask for someone his size (by comparison Harris is 6’2″, 250 lbs), but George’s strength and athleticism should allow him to be successful.
For now, George figures to play very little on defense. Harris and Davis are two of the Jets’ best players and anchors for the defense, and the Jets will likely use a lot of three safety looks in nickel packages. That means if George is going to make the team, he is going to have to do it through special teams. Right now, his biggest competition for the backup inside linebacker spot is Nick Bellore, who also happens to be an outstanding special teams player. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which the Jets take George over Bellore, so George will have to be impressive enough in training camp and the preseason that the Jets carry both players on the final roster.
Of course, Harris’ contract expires after this season, and it remains to be seen whether or not he will be back with the team. The Jets need to start thinking about a replacement in case he isn’t, and they could start developing George to fill that role. Furthermore, George joins a growing list of Jets’ defenders who might be a better off in 4-3 than 3-4, so he could see some extra time if Rex Ryan decides to mix up his schemes a bit. For now, however, George needs to focus on making an impact on special teams, because that will be his path to the 53-man roster.