It may be hard to believe but the New York Jets now have a surplus of talent in different areas of their roster.
That makes for a challenging final cut and no position will be harder to determine than the defensive line — and more specifically, edge rusher. The Jets currently run 17 deep when combining both defensive end and tackle, and it’s difficult to imagine more than nine or 10 players making it to Week 1 considering there are only four starting roles to be had (8-man rotation on game day).
Because of this unique situation, many Jets fans have tossed around the idea of a player like Bryce Huff switching to linebacker — where Gang Green has much less depth. One supporter even posed the question to a member of the NYJ beat on July 8.
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Hot Take, Meet Wet Blanket
During a mailbag article on The Athletic, reporter Connor Hughes was asked about the backup linebackers and whether a bubble candidate like Huff or former third-round pick Jabari Zuniga could make the transition. He responded:
Right now it’s Jamien Sherwood and Del’Shawn Phillips… The idea of moving a defensive end to outside linebacker is an intriguing one. I thought about it myself when piecing together a post-minicamp, 53-man roster projection. It doesn’t sound like the Jets have many candidates for the switch, though, from what I’m told. Granted, Huff (a disruptor the Jets love) and Zuniga (a hybrid defensive end/defensive tackle in the same mold as John Franklin-Myers) weren’t the two I thought had a chance to make the switch. Jacob Martin was the one for me. He played outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 scheme. Maybe he could play linebacker in run situations? That’s not being considered, though.
Martin and Huff do make more sense than Zuniga because of their history playing outside linebacker either in college or the pros but even those two are unlikely, as Hughes noted. Honestly, the skill sets just don’t translate in a 4-3 system.
It always seems so simple to switch an athlete’s position on paper — or in Madden — but as head coach Robert Saleh told Rich Eisen on his show, “paper never won a championship.”
These edge rushers are generally tasked with getting to the quarterback. That’s what they get paid to do. They don’t cover running backs and tight ends on passing routes, or anticipate which gap to seal off in the run game. They aren’t usually tremendous tacklers either and some aren’t even comfortable starting from a standing position.
The truth is, this theory falls apart once you get into the finer aspects of the game. Outside of adding an obvious extra pass rusher that’s coming off the second level, a true EDGE serves very little purpose in a 4-3 linebacker role.
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Backup Linebacker Projections
Talent might supersede a defined role in little league but it matters in the pros. These young men have to learn so much from the start of Organized Team Activities up until the end of training camp and it’s no easy feat.
As detailed above, skill sets don’t always transfer and there’s no telling whether Huff or Martin would make a better 4-3 linebacker than a potential reserve like Phillips or free-agent addition Marcell Harris. Some positions do work when it comes to finding hybrids, like a hard-hitting safety moving to linebacker (Sherwood) or a big wide receiver switching to tight end (Lawrence Cager).
In a 3-4, defensive ends sometimes do become outside linebackers and vice versa but in Coach Saleh’s system, it’s just not happening. Having said that, who will be the Jets’ backup linebackers in 2022?
This is actually a pretty simple question when you take a few factors into account:
- The Jets use two linebackers a majority of the time and probably only need five total on the roster — the max would be six.
- C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams are the only two locks to start.
- Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen were drafted last year, making them likely roster locks alongside the starters above (assuming health).
That leaves one or two spots — one if you ask me — and two likely scenarios. The first is that the best special teamer of the group snags the final reserve role.
It’s rarely discussed but no Jets player had a larger impact on special teams last year than Phillips, who factored in the most snaps and landed the best overall score on Pro Football Focus (90.5). Don’t discount Harris here either. The former San Francisco 49ers safety logged over 240 ST snaps the past three seasons and had a very solid 83.7 grade in 2020.
The other scenario is that the fifth linebacker isn’t on the roster. The Jets did pursue veteran Kwon Alexander publicly and could still be in the market for LB help.