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Grading 2017 inside linebacker situation

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Carlos Hyde
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 11: Carlos Hyde
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The defense of the New York Jets will be on the field plenty in 2017. This inside linebacker group is ready for the challenge.

We all know the heart and soul of the New York Jets defense is the line. Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Sheldon Richardson are a running back’s worst nightmare. Of course, there’s no unit on the defense that comes close to the bunch, but you can’t bag on Todd Bowles‘ inside linebackers.

Let’s start with Darron Lee. He was undeniably abysmal in coverage and found himself overmatched in the pass rushing snaps he earned. Luckily for him, rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are in line to take some of those coverage snaps away. Tight ends will have a much tougher time against this defense as a result. A positive we learned about Lee is how well he can tackle. He finished 2016 with 73 tackles in only 13 games. You could even call it 12 because he hardly saw the field in Week 10.

With all that said, the idea of him making the switch to outside linebacker is a head-scratcher. The worst thing Bowles can do is begin using him there. His speed is his most valuable trait and you take it away by putting him on one side of the field. His tackling ability would also go to waste. New York already has Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Mauldin and a high-motored Dylan Donahue on the edge, so Lee in that spot would make things just as clustered as they were last season.

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Demario Davis‘ return means even more tackling. The 28-year-old concluded his campaign with the Browns totaling 99 tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble.

Like Lee, Davis has his struggles in coverage. Since they play on the same team, Adams and Maye will have his back as well. He has an understanding of Bowles’ system after spending 2015 in it. It’s hard to imagine him struggling in the role he has played his entire career.

Bruce Carter and Spencer Paysinger project to make the roster as the No. 3 and 4 guys. Carter wore green and white last year, playing in 13 contests. He had a mere 16 tackles for a majority of his snaps were on special teams. Dallas was his previous home.

Paysinger, on the other hand, is entering his seventh season. The veteran was with the Giants for four years before joining Miami for two. He’ll share time with Carter, although he has some experience on first and second down as the man in the middle.

Connor Harris is the one to watch as the preseason rolls on. If we’re talking about tackles, he’s your dude. He set a Division II record with 633 career tackles at Lindenwood. That wasn’t the only impact he made either. He saw snaps at running back, he was the punter and he took over kicking duties late in his senior year. If there was ever an injury to occur to Lachlan Edwards, look no further than Harris. That’s if he doesn’t end up on the practice squad.

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Overall, the Jets are in good shape here. There’s talent, versatility, and depth at the position. They’ll keep Gang Green competitive in a number of games by keeping plays in front of them.

Grade: B

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