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Grading the 2017 outside linebacker situation

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers is hit by Jordan Jenkins #48 of the New York Jets during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers is hit by Jordan Jenkins #48 of the New York Jets during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on December 11, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The New York Jets aren’t strong at outside linebacker by any means, although the unit does have hope moving forward.

There’s no hiding that the New York Jets are in line for a painful 2017. They lack talent in several areas on both sides of the football and they’re one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Todd Bowles has additionally proven he might not be the answer at head coach. With that being said, Gang Green does have positions to watch over the course of the season. One of them is outside linebacker.

Unsurprisingly, the projected starters are Lorenzo Mauldin and sophomore Jordan Jenkins. Mauldin has the most pressure on him entering his third year. He finished 2016 with only 2.5 sacks, 16 tackles, and one interception in 11 games under a snap count of 354.

On Pro Football Focus, he earned a 52.4 overall grade largely due in part to his low sack total. As a result, his pass rushing grade was a 50.8. He can continue to thrive against the run, however, if he doesn’t improve in getting after the passer, Bowles will strip him of that starting gig in a matter of no time.

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Jenkins, on the other hand, earned a 74 overall grade on PFF. He ended his rookie campaign with 41 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 14 games on a 514 snap count.

His number of tackles is pretty high considering where he lines up on the field. Outside linebackers can’t free-roam like a safety or inside linebacker. They’re stuck on one side. Luckily for the Jets, the Georgia Bulldog produces on plays in his direction.

To make more light of how underrated his 41 tackles are, Shane Ray of the Broncos had 48 in 16 games, Whitney Mercilus of the Texans had 53 in 15 games and Ryan Kerrigan of the Redskins had 33 in 16 games. Each of these three played a much higher snap count as well. If Jenkins can bring that sack total near double digits, he can compete statistically with some of the league’s better edge rushers.

Dylan Donahue is another intriguing guy. General manager Mike Maccagnan took the West Georgia graduate in the fifth-round of this year’s draft and it’s no wonder why. He has the motor every coach looks for. In his first college season, he racked up 53 tackles and 12 sacks, per GCS Sports. In his second year with the Wolves, he compiled 67 tackles and 13.5 sacks. Outside linebacker coach Kevin Greene has wanted Donahue on the team since he joined the staff in February. The only question is if he can make the difficult transition from Division II to the professional level.

Corey Lemonier, Josh Martin, Julian Stanford, Freddie Bishop and Frank Beltre are the remaining five. Lemonier was signed at the end of 2016 and played in Week 17. Martin totaled 15 tackles and 0.5 sacks in 15 games. Stanford played in nine contests and had 22 tackles seeing time at inside and outside linebacker. Bishop had nine tackles in four outings while Beltre has yet to play a snap. Assuming Maccagnan keeps five, Mauldin, Jenkins, Donahue, Martin, and Stanford are safe bets barring injury. Lemonier, Bishop, and Beltre will duke it out for a spot on the practice squad.

I truly believe this group can put the defense back where they belong in the top 10 with a good season, although I can’t give them a solid grade until we see progression. We’re still patiently waiting for Mauldin to break out.

Grade: C

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