The Jets signed three UDFA linebackers after the draft — Caleb Johnson, Maalik Hall and Claudin Cherelus. Together, they make a trio of intriguing prospects to develop behind C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams.
The headliner financially, at least according to NFL reporter Aaron Wilson, is the Miami product. “[The] Jets signed Caleb Johnson to a deal that includes $57,500 guaranteed, per a league source,” Wilson informed earlier in the week. The former ESPN four-star recruit profiles as a MIKE (middle linebacker) candidate at the NFL level, per NFL Draft Buzz.
Scouting on ‘Intelligent’ New Jets LB Caleb Johnson
“Johnson, not to be confused with a player of the same name for the Jacksonville Jaguars, began his collegiate career with Texas (one season in 2019), then moved to UCLA (he is a native of Murrieta, CA) before entering the transfer portal and landing with the Hurricanes for the 2022 season,” outlined team reporters Ethan Greenberg and Jack Bell. “Appearing in 10 games last season, Johnson had 48 total tackles (26 solo), 1.5 sacks and forced 2 fumbles.”
He weighs in at 6-foot, 235 pounds with the Jets, although some sites have Johnson listed at 6-foot-1.
“Johnson has a compact build, but is a crafty edge player who is very good against the run,” NFL Draft Buzz scouted. “He sets the edge and effectively wards off blocks with a strong core, powerful limbs, and natural leverage.”
They also noted his “instinctive” nature and “rangy” run defense, adding that his low center of gravity helps him “spins off blocks.” They concluded that he is an “intelligent player who can play ‘MIKE’ linebacker despite his lack of size because of his instincts and ability to find the ball in traffic.”
Johnson’s major weaknesses appear to be a lack of violence as a tackler and man coverage in the passing game. During an interview with NFL Draft Diamonds, he called his “leadership” his best quality on the field. Coming from a military family, Johnson also explained that his background “taught me discipline and self-reliance — two traits that help make up who I am now.”
Along with 2021 draft pick Jamien Sherwood, the former Miami backer could become another prospect for the Jets to groom behind Mosley.
Jets’ Maalik Hall & Claudin Cherelus Offer Mix of Pass Rushing & Athleticism
While Johnson feels like a middle linebacker, Hall and Cherelus have the look of outside LBs in the NFL — but each has a different skill set.
The 6-foot-3 Hall is a disruptor on the blitz that “spent five seasons with the Savage Storm (the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic),” per Greenberg and Bell. “He returned in 2021 to log 54 total tackles (31 solo), 12 TFL and 6 sacks. As a senior he had 77 tackles (34 solo), 11 TFL and 8 sacks. He was named the Great American Conference Defensive Player of the Year and also landed the D2football.com top-100 players list.”
Typically, a linebacker like this would play SAM (strongside) in a 4-3 defense, although Hall’s pass-rushing talents could also translate off the edge as a third down D-end similar to Bryce Huff. Playing for a small school like Southeastern Oklahoma State, the new Jet was able to shine, but he’ll likely be a developmental prospect in 2023.
During his own interview with NFL Draft Diamonds, Hall talked about his versatility as one of his greatest strengths. “I’ve mainly played on the outside as an edge rusher, but I have moved around within our defense,” he voiced. “Sometimes I will come inside to play MLB. I’m often on the line with my hand in the dirt. I also have the speed to play in the slot as the nickel or drop back in coverage as a safety… I’ve also loved my time on special teams playing kickoffs. I’m happy to touch the field and make an impact for my team.”
It will be interesting to see how head coach Robert Saleh deploys the newcomer.
As for Cherelus, the Alcorn State product is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. “Cherelus played two seasons at UMass before heading south to Mississippi for his final two collegiate seasons at Alcorn State, an HBCU school,” Greenberg and Bell detailed. “In his two seasons, he played 20 games, had 149 total tackles (87 solo), 25.5 TFL and 8 sacks for the Braves. In high school in Golden Gate (FL) High School, he also had 526 all-purpose yards of offense and 4 TDs. Cherelus was also a power forward for the school’s basketball team.”
Cherelus told NFL Draft Diamonds that his “speed and versatility” separates him from other linebackers. Pro Football Network noted the hard hitter’s “light” build and superb athleticism while scouting him ahead of the draft, and his film bears some similarities to current Jets WILL (weakside) linebacker Quincy Williams.