Robert Saleh Sees Major Similarities Between Jets Rookie & All-Pro LB

Jamien Sherwood

Getty New York Jets linebacker Jamien Sherwood (#44) celebrates after a fumble recovery on August 14, 2021.

Anytime a head coach finds similarities between a rookie and one of the best players at his position, it raises eyebrows around the league, especially when the rookie just learned that position a few months ago.

That’s exactly what New York Jets boss Robert Saleh did on August 23, only it was overshadowed by the Jarrad Davis injury.

“[Jamien] Sherwood is exactly what we thought, like when we drafted — now, I want to make sure I’m saying this the right way, I’m not comparing him to Fred Warner, he’s got a long way to go [to become] Fred Warner — but Fred Warner played nickel in college and was maybe 220-225 his rookie year. We threw him in there at MIKE linebacker and started him day one, and he took off. Sherwood has a tremendous mindset to him, extremely smart, he’s got great command of the playbook already, he’s got [the] respect of his peers, he’s an unbelievable communicator and he doesn’t look like Fred but he’s sitting right there around 220-225 [pounds], he’s got tremendous length and tremendous instincts, [and] he’s got a great feel for the game so again for him, there [are] going to be some hiccups along the way but we feel that with reps, he’s only going to get better.”

Saleh was very clear, he’s not saying that Sherwood is Warner at this point and time. The Auburn product still has a lot to learn. What he’s saying is that Sherwood could become Warner if he stays on this trajectory.

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Saleh Spots a Resemblance

In football, star athletes don’t usually get to where they need to be all by themselves. Coaches play a huge role in their development.

That occurred with Warner when he was selected in the third round of the 2018 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. The BYU product was a linebacker, but he was not the MIKE-backer we all know in 2021. Saleh helped shape him into that $95 million superstar.

Here is how NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein described Warner back when he was originally being scouted.

“Warner’s future success could largely depend on who takes him and how they use him. While most will view him as an outside linebacker, Warner moves around like a big safety. With his instincts and cover skills in space, finding a hybrid role in sub-packages might be where he is best utilized. Warner’s size, speed and workout at the Combine may play into his draft value more heavily than many other prospects. Warner should find immediate work as a backup who can help on special teams,” wrote Zierlein.

For comparison, here’s how the same analyst talked about Sherwood this year.

He wrote: “Sherwood is a big, sure tackler with the striking power to leave a mark. He can intimidate receivers working into the middle of the field and has the size to cover tight ends. He must play down safety or in a robber role as his speed and athletic ability will get him into too many binds and get him beat in the pros. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a team eventually look to move him from safety to linebacker, where his athletic ability would go from hindrance to help. He could make the move if he can add more size onto his frame and learn to better take on (or slip) blocks, but most teams will likely view him as a big, scheme-dependent safety who is tough but limited.”

Both prospects were variations of hybrids as they journeyed into the NFL, pairing their experience in coverage with their ability as a tackler. They also both have the intelligence and leadership to make the transition to middle linebacker, something not all players have.

Saleh has a tremendous gift; he identifies traits in players that most coaches overlook, and then he develops those traits into NFL-quality talent. Sherwood may just end up being his next diamond in the rough.

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Sherwood Explains Why Jets Are ‘Perfect Fit’

The rookie addressed the media on August 24, calling the recent promotion a “great opportunity” to prove to the coaching staff that he’s “supposed to be here.”

ESPN’s Rich Cimini actually asked Sherwood if he studied any of the players like Warner that transitioned from defensive back to linebacker at some point in their career. He responded: “Yes sir, knowing this coaching staff’s from San Francisco, I got word that he converted from nickel [to] linebacker, so I went and looked at some of their games from last year and just saw how he played.”

Similar to his quarterback Zach Wilson, the Auburn graduate doesn’t mind hitting the film room. “My biggest asset to the game is communication and learning the playbooks,” he explained, noting later that he’s been putting in “extra work” studying it.

Sherwood admitted that the toughest adjustment is his “block pro,” and dealing with offensive linemen and tight ends rather than wide receivers in college. As one of the smaller linebackers, he told the media that he has to “play big boy ball now,” and use his hands to get on and off blocks.

Both Davis and C.J. Mosley have taught the rookie a ton during his transition, and the best advice from ‘J.D.’ before his injury was “just be yourself.” All in all, Sherwood sees this linebacker role with Saleh, Jeff Ulbrich and the Jets as the “perfect fit.”

This press conference also cleared up the aftermath of the positional swaps at LB. Davis and Mosley had actually swapped roles before training camp, with Mosley moving to strongside (SAM) linebacker. Initially, Sherwood was also learning MIKE behind Davis.

Now after the injury, the rookie will switch back with Mosley and take over at SAM, so the projected starters are currently Sherwood (SAM), Mosley (MIKE), Hamsah Nasirildeen (WILL).

Separating the two first-year players with the experience of Mosley makes the most sense. As for all the changes, they didn’t concern Sherwood one bit, who told reporters that “everybody has to be interchangeable.”

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