Ex-49ers Pass-Rush Specialist Reunites With Jets Robert Saleh

Ronald Blair

Getty New York Jets' signing Ronald Blair celebrates a sack with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

With June 1 cuts looming and NFL moves to be made, the New York Jets wasted no time on Tuesday morning signing a familiar face from Robert Saleh’s San Francisco 49ers defense.

No, it wasn’t three-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, but it was yet another efficient rotational pass rusher to work in on the defensive side.

As Adam Schefter announced at 8:05 a.m., the Jets have signed Ronald Blair, a four-year veteran of the Niners system. Obviously, the connection with Saleh is the first thing that comes to mind, but this could be an under-the-radar move for the green and white.

Skill Set & Scheme Fit

After missing the entire 2020 campaign recovering from a torn ACL, Blair fell off the map this offseason. He was expected to re-sign in San Francisco in April, but the deal never came to fruition.

The edge rusher has never been a traditional starter over his four seasons of NFL service-time, but he has been a consistent producer in his role as a pass-rush specialist.

Over the course of his tenure with the 49ers, the former fifth-round pick totaled 13.5 sacks in 47 games (two starts). He added 88 combined tackles (22 for a loss), 27 quarterback hits and one forced fumble. His best season was in 2018, recording 5.5 sacks and 14 QB hits.

The 28-year old had a 40% snap share in 2019 according to Player Profiler and a 52.1% snap share in 2018.

In terms of Saleh’s scheme, Blair plays the role known as the LEO, a crucial and challenging position in this defense. To quote Kyle Breitkreutz of 49ers Hub: “Typically your LEO is the most athletic defensive lineman. He needs to be able to just fly at the quarterback, however, he also needs to be twitchy enough to react quickly to control his gap assignment in case of a run.”

This weak-side defensive end role takes more than just skill, it takes responsibility, composure and intelligence. Bringing in Blair is ingenious for two reasons.

One, he adds depth at a position that the Jets have not excelled at in decades. Two, he can channel his experience in order to teach the younger Jets this LEO role.

Ripple Effect of Ronald Blair Signing

The Jets’ defensive line was arguably their deepest group on this side of the football. This is not uncommon for Saleh, who had a top defensive line during his time in San Francisco.

Joe Douglas started rebuilding the trenches when he picked up John Franklin-Myers in 2019, but he boosted his efforts this offseason when he paid edge rusher, Carl Lawson, $30 million guaranteed in March.

Joining Lawson are veteran Vinny Curry, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, and a plethora of drafted and undrafted prospects over the past few years.

Those younger players could be affected most by this addition, as they were already fighting for a roster spot before Blair came into the equation. At defensive end specifically, this includes Bryce Huff (two sacks in 14 games last year), Jabari Zuniga (2020 third-round pick, zero career sacks), Kyle Phillips (39 total tackles in 2019, 11 in 2020, 1.5 career sacks) and undrafted rookie Hamilcar Rashed Jr.

It was discussed whether or not the Jets might add another veteran on the edge, and now we know the answer. This is expected to be a ferocious Jets pass rush in 2021, and the depth should allow Saleh to rotate fresh bodies in and out while attacking opposing offensive lines.

The added competition should also help weed out the weak in this hungry Jets front four. After all, competition breeds excellence.

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