Besides the quarterback situation, outside linebacker is probably the biggest concern for the New York Jets heading into the new year. The unit is definitely one of the deepest on the team, but its not strong at the top of the depth chart. Former 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples has by no means lived up to the expectations for someone who went 16th overall. To be fair, injuries have nagged him throughout his career, although he hasn’t been that effective when he is on the field anyway.
Veterans Calvin Pace and Jason Babin are beginning to fade away as starting caliber players, so it may be up to third-rounder Lorenzo Mauldin to take over the job opposite of Coples. However, if the UNC alumn cannot step up in 2015, he may not be wearing green and white much longer.
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According to ProFootballFocus.com, Coples ranked 40th out of 46 outside linebackers that received at least 25% of snaps last season. He received a -4.9 overall grade to go along with a -5.3 as a run stopper. This is surprising because he actually excelled in that department in 2013 (+1.8). Despite an abysmal secondary, he still managed to tally 6.5 sacks on the year.
You have to give Coples some credit because it’s tough to get to the quarterback in such short amount of time. Receivers dominated New York’s corners last season and gave the front seven no chance to penetrate the offensive line. Fortunately, with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie making the return to Gang Green, Coples may finally have the help he needs to rush the passer.
Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Kyle Orton (18) throws a pass as New York Jets outside linebacker Quinton Coples (98) reaches to block it during the second half at Ford Field. Bills beat the Jets 38-3. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
One potential reason behind his mediocre play could be the fact that he played 4-3 defensive end at North Carolina. The Jets asked Coples to lose a lot of weight when he first entered the NFL, so it has been long journey on and off the field for him. It may not seem like a big deal to move from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker, but it absolutely is. Defensive ends rarely drop back in coverage, outside linebackers do quite often. Coples has been exposed plenty of times trying to keep up with running backs in the flats as well as tight ends whether they are on the line or in the slot. Thankfully, New York is very deep at corner, safety, and middle linebacker this year, so Coples may not be relied on in coverage as much. This will greatly assist him in completing his transition into a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Calvin Pace (97) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Pace and Babin on the other hand are two veterans that can help Gang Green in 2015 regardless of their role. Although, one might be gone before the season begins simply because the Jets can save a good amount of money by doing so. New York can save $1.6 million by cutting Babin and $2.25 million with Pace, as per Rich Cimini of ESPN. How this money may be useful would be if new general manager Mike Maccagnan chooses to extend Muhammad Wilkerson during the preseason.
Although, for now, these two are guys the Jets should hold onto until the time is right to part ways. On PFF, Babin ranked 9th out of 46 outside linebackers who received at least 25% of snaps in 2014 while Pace is just two years removed from a double-digit sack season. If Mauldin has growing pains, both guys can rotate in and take weight off the rookie’s shoulders. However, that may not be the case.
Mauldin is coming off of an explosive 2014 campaign in which he racked up 51 tackles and 6.5 sacks, but his junior year may have been even more impressive. In 2013, the former Louisville Cardinal had 9.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He finished the year with 42 tackles as well. For a third-round pick, the Jets are getting great value at a position they without a doubt needed to address following an embarrassing 4-12 season. Mauldin can contribute right off the bat in New York, but he must bring his high motor to the table each and every play. Guys like Pace and Babin aren’t as durable as they used to be, so Mauldin must cause havoc early and often. Nonetheless, he is a weapon that head coach Todd Bowles can eventually turn into a gem for years to come if he can stay healthy.
Aug 4, 2014; Cortland, NY, USA; New York Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali (51) walks out to the field prior to the start of training camp at SUNY Cortland. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
The rest of the unit consists of IK Enemkpali, Trevor Reilly, Deion Barnes, and Julian Howsare. Enemkpali and Reilly were part of last year’s horrific John Idzik draft class which was one of many reasons why owner Woody Johnson canned him. Barnes and Howsare are undrafted free agents, so they face an uphill battle in terms of making the final roster.
Barnes spent three years at Penn State while Howsare played his college ball at Clarion, a Division II school in Pennsylvania. All four of these guys have equal opportunities to make the final roster, so it should make for another interesting position battle come training camp. Whoever doesn’t make the team may very well find themselves on the practice squad when it’s all said and done.
Overall, New York has many options at outside linebacker, but no standout player at the position. Coples and Mauldin are capable of being that guy, but until someone steps up, this unit will not be looked at as a strength of the Jets.