New York Jets 2015 Training Camp: Grading ILB


Inside linebacker is another position that makes the defense of the New York Jets one of the NFL’s best units. Ever since 2007, veteran David Harris has been the man in the middle racking up tackles and making big plays year after year. In March, Gang Green brought him back on a 3-year extension worth $21.5 million with $15 million guaranteed. Harris’s partner in crime, Demario Davis, has been no different.

More from Jets News

The former 2012 third-rounder has established himself as one of the most underrated players in the league these past two seasons by showcasing his speed and ability to drop back in coverage.

If he hadn’t been buried on the depth chart behind Bart Scott in 2012, the Jets would have noticed his potential a lot sooner. However, the tandem must continue to hold down the fort in 2015 for New York’s defense to remain elite.

Oct 5, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Branden Oliver (43) stiff arms New York Jets inside linebacker David Harris (52) on a 50 yard run after the catch during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Harris had a solid 2014 season in which he tallied 124 tackles and 6 sacks to go along with two forced fumbles. On, he ranked 10th out of the 23 inside linebackers that received at least 75% of snaps. What is surprising is that he earned a positive grade in pass coverage (+1.8), but a -3.1 in run defense. This is because over the years, Harris has noticeably lost the quickness and range that he used to have.

One game in particular was the Week 4 match-up against the Detroit Lions where he was beat downfield repeatedly by tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Eric Ebron. As a result, PFF gave him a -2.8 in pass coverage for that game. Fortunately for the Jets, if they’re unhappy with his production in these next two seasons, they can cut him in 2017 and save $6.5 million. Although, for now, Harris should continue to lead Gang Green in tackles and control the middle of the defense.

Sep 7, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Demario Davis (56) against the Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Davis stood out in 2014 as well with 116 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries. He also had five pass deflections. On PFF, he ranked 8th in that same group of 23 inside linebackers. Unlike Harris, Davis received a positive grade in run defense (+6.5), yet a negative one in coverage (-1.6).

This is also surprising because he is very agile and for the most part reliable in pass defense. Davis is able to keep up with most tight ends and even the running backs that catch passes out of the backfield.

Since the Jets are deep at the safety position this season, he may not be asked to drop back in coverage as often. Therefore, he should rack up even more tackles while safeties Marcus Gilchrist and Antonio Allen take care of the tight ends in passing situations. Due to the fact he’s in a contract year, expect Davis to ball out in 2015 so he can cash out when the free agency period hits in March.

Erin Henderson is an interesting guy that the Jets brought in this offseason. He had a great stretch from 2011-13 in Minnesota before receiving many DWI and drug possession charges that kept him out of football in 2014. According to Rich Cimini of ESPN, Henderson’s goal this season is to win the Comeback Player of the Year award.

As cool as it would be, that goal seems very unrealistic for a guy who is currently considered to be No. 3 on the depth chart. However, if he can find a way to put up numbers like his 2013 campaign, you can’t completely count him out. Henderson finished the year with 112 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INTs and a forced fumble. He may not put up those numbers behind Harris and Davis, but what he will do is provide the Jets with much needed depth as a player who has a big chip on his shoulder.

The rest of New York’s inside linebacker unit consists of Taiwan Jones, Jamari Lattimore, and Joe Mays. In head coach Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme, it’s only right to keep two middle linebackers behind the starters. That would mean only one of these guys should make the roster to join Harris, Davis, and Henderson. Lattimore was an undrafted free agent of the Packers in 2011, so he spent four years in Green Bay before joining the Jets this off season. Mays is a journeyman who has played with the Eagles, Broncos, Texans, and Chiefs over the course of his career. In reality, him and Lattimore would be nothing more than special teamers in New York if either were to make the final 53-man roster.

Oct 25, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans linebacker Taiwan Jones (34) celebrates defense stop during the 2nd half of a game at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 35-11. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jones is considered to have the best shot at making the cut out of these three. He played his college ball at Michigan State and he already reminds coaches of a younger Harris. If anything, he can stick around for a few years and eventually take over his spot when Gang Green decides to part ways with the Michigan alumn. Even though none of these players will make an impact game in and game out, they give the Jets fresh legs and a boost on special teams that just about every team needs.

Overall, New York once again should feel very secure with their situation at inside linebacker. It’s tough to complain when you have two players averaging over 110 tackles per year in the past two seasons. If the Jets can find production in pass coverage and out of Henderson too, this unit can have a very special 2015.

Grade: B+

Next: New York Jets 2015 Training Camp Profile: Joe Mays

More from The Jet Press