Jets’ List of Available Linebackers Features Multiple 2nd-Round Picks

Jahlani Tavai

Getty Free agent 4-3 linebacker Jahlani Tavai brings down Tom Brady on December 26, 2020.

This is a huge day for the New York Jets franchise, being that they had the second overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

You see, the way the system operates, the Jets get second crack at every single player that passes through waivers throughout the roster cutdown period. As a friend recently put it, the Jacksonville Jaguars could theoretically claim 53 players before another franchise claims one.

Following that analogy, the Green & White could claim any player that the Jags elect to pass on before any other organization gets a shot at them. Head coach Robert Saleh even jokingly referred to it as a “second draft.”

One area of need is linebacker, after the Jarrad Davis injury. Gang Green is set to start two promising rookies in Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood, but they could use some cover in case things don’t work out as planned.

Davis may also free up an extra roster spot, assuming he reverts to the Inactive/PUP list that sidelines a player for the first six weeks of the regular season. We’ve already discussed a couple of veteran options, like former Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright or Dallas Cowboys 2016 second-round pick, Jaylon Smith.

Wright has been a free agent all summer but you’d have to trade for Smith unless he gets released by Dallas — which would be a surprise based on his contract. Let me throw a few more depth options at you that would cost a lot less and still allow the rookies the opportunity to start and develop.

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The Serviceable Veterans

Josh Bynes, OLB

Bynes is a true journeyman that has bounced around the league and played in games for four different NFL franchises. He was most recently with the Carolina Panthers in training camp but was cut after an injury in practice. Head coach Matt Rhule originally referred to the injury as “short-term,” so it’s unclear if Bynes would be healthy enough to sign elsewhere.

In terms of his game, the veteran always fit best as a 4-3 outside linebacker that is great in coverage and decent against the run. Pro Football Focus graded him as a 73.5 in pass coverage in 2019 and a 75.7 against the run. His 2020 campaign was worse for the Cincinnati Bengals, but Bynes did accumulate 99 combined tackles with added ability on special teams.

Benardrick McKinney, MLB

This move would be ironic, being that McKinney was actually traded for Shaq Lawson this spring before getting released on August 30. Neither player worked out for Houston or Miami, and the latter is already on the Jets via trade. McKinney could join him, profiling as a backup MIKE-backer in this 4-3 scheme.

Another former second-round (in 2015), McKinney played six straight seasons for the Texans with three seasons of 100-plus combined tackles. The inside linebacker is much bigger and stronger than the players that are currently on the Jets’ roster, which could help in run-D packages.

Remember, Davis was the thumper of this group before his ankle injury. The Jets could use a similar type of player to replace him. McKinney only missed four games from 2015-19, can play on special teams, and received solid coverage grades from PFF the past three seasons.

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The Upside Youngsters

Kamal Martin, LB

This move would be low-cost, as Martin could even join the practice squad in theory. He’s a moldable 23-year old linebacker that played inside for the Green Bay Packers as a 2020 fifth-round pick. This was a really baffling cut by the Cheeseheads after Martin started six games for Green Bay his rookie year with decent results.

PFF loved Martin’s rookie campaign, awarding him well-balanced grades in all three facets of the position. His best score was in coverage with a 70.7, but run defense (67.4) and pass rush (67.1) were not too far behind. Martin totaled 24 combined tackles, one sack and three quarterback pressures in limited action. He can play on special teams and the skill set in coverage is huge in this system.

Jahlani Tavai, MLB

The Detroit Lions’ former second-round draft pick in 2019 is only 25 years old and would qualify as another unexpected cut. Like McKinney, he has the physicality to replace his ex-teammate, Davis, and he also has the versatility to help out on special teams. Tavai is more of a MIKE by trade, but he could probably play SAM in rushing situations, while Sherwood or Nasirildeen would remain on the field for passing downs.

His major wart was in coverage according to PFF, but Tavai may have the highest upside out of any player on this list. The Hawaii product had a rough 2020 campaign after a nice rookie one in 2019 with 58 total tackles (five for a loss), two sacks and two turnovers forced.

It appeared that Detroit thrust him into too large of a role in the middle of the defense. As a depth linebacker that can be utilized in specific moments, Tavai is much more likely to excel.

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