As roster cuts near, linebacker is one of the most interesting positions for most NFL teams, and the New York Jets are no different. Teams tend to keep extra linebackers for special teams, and the Jets still have a few spots up for grabs as the final cuts approach.
Starters: ILB Davis Harris, ILB Demario Davis, OLB Quinton Coples, OLB Calvin Pace
Reserves: ILB Nick Bellore, ILB A.J. Edds, OLB Jason Babin, OLB Garrett McIntyre, OLB IK Enemkpali
Right now I am projecting the Jets to carry nine linebackers, though they could only go with eight. Who will start is well known, and the inside linebacker tandem of Harris and Davis is crucial to the team’s success. Each player recorded over 100 tackles last season, and they complement each other very well. Harris is downhill run stopper who has great instincts and is the leader of the defense, though he struggles at times against the pass.
The Jets are very high on what the speedy Davis will become, and his versatility and pass coverage skills will be very useful. The only concern about these two is the lack of big plays, as they combined for just 3 sacks, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble last season. The Jets need more impact plays to enhance the steady tackling, and they would go a long way towards improving the team’s awful turnover differential and helping the offense.
At outside linebacker, it is time for Coples to step up. He has been decent with 5.5 and 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons, but the Jets drafted him to be a double digit sack pass rusher. On the other side, Pace is coming off a career season, but the Jets can’t possibly expect him to play like that again. He is a decent option to hold down the fort, but Pace is not going to be a game changer.
Several of the reserves appear to have a good lock on their roster spot at this point. Obviously Babin will make the team as a pass rush specialist, though talk of him earning a starting job seems to have died down (and for good reason). McIntyre has had a decent preseason, and he is a good special teamer and solid reserve who deserves his spot. On the inside, Bellore is the Jets’ best special teams player, and although he is not a major defensive contributor, he certainly deserves his roster spot.
Things get interesting after that. Edds is a player who will be talked about quite a bit over the next week, and based on preseason performance he absolutely deserves a spot on the 53-man roster. Edds’ play has been a revelation and he leads the team in tackles, and pushing 5th round pick Jeremiah George to the brink of being cut. The guess here is that Edds has done enough to make the team, which is the right decision.
If the Jets decide to keep nine linebackers, the decision will come down to rookies George, Enemkpali, and Trevor Reilly, who were drafted in the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds, respectively. The decision should be as simple as this: Enemkpali has been by far the best player. He has 4 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, and he has proven he can contribute on special teams as well. Despite being viewed as a long shot, Enemkpali has played his way onto the roster.
The last linebackers on the roster are Troy Davis and Antwan Barnes. Davis simply won’t be able to beat out the rookies, though he has had a decent preseason. Barnes remains on the PUP as he recovers from a torn ACL, and Babin has filled his role. It is hard to imagine Barnes playing a role for the Jets this season, and he will likely spend the season on injured reserve or be released.
The Jets should have a very solid and deep linebacking corps this season, and if Coples and Davis make major improvements then the front seven would really be solidified. It remains to be seen if that will happen, but the Jets look like they should have a reliable group of linebackers this season.