NY Jets Post-NFL Draft State of the Roster: Inside linebackers

NY Jets (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The NY Jets’ linebacker corps is healthy and rejuvenated heading into 2020.

The NY Jets were hit with an unprecedented string of injuries at the linebacker position last season.

Following injuries to the team’s top players at the position, role players who were never supposed to see any sort of substantial playing time were forced into action. It speaks volumes that the Jets’ leading tackler in 2019 wasn’t even promoted to the active roster until late October.

But that’s just the type of season it was for Gang Green.

Now fully healthy, the hope is that a rejuvenated linebacker corps could prove to be one of the best in the NFL. And aside from their returning starters, the depth behind them is almost equally as impressive.

That extensive depth will likely result in the team having to make some difficult cuts before the start of the season. Players who showed promise last year and saw significant playing time might not even be on the roster come the start of the 2020 season.

Such is life, however, in the ever-changing world of the NFL.

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With that, let’s take a look at the state of the Jets’ inside linebacker position heading into 2020.

NY Jets projected starters

  • C.J. Mosley
  • Avery Williamson

Lost in an offseason of expansive roster turnover, the Jets have not only added a number of new players, but they will also return a couple of familiar faces. In this case, we’re talking about both of their projected starting linebackers from last season.

The Jets went into 2019 feeling incredibly optimistic about their linebacker position. Not only was the team returning the ever-reliable Avery Williamson, but they also signed star linebacker C.J. Mosley to a hefty contract in the offseason.

Mosley had made the Pro Bowl in four of his five NFL seasons and was widely considered to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL. Pairing him up with Williamson was supposed to give the Jets perhaps the best linebacker duo in the league.

Unfortunately, Williamson suffered a torn ACL in the preseason while Mosley would play just two games in 2019 after sustaining a groin injury in Week 1.

But with both players expected to be healthy and ready to go for 2020, hopes are once again high that the Jets can sport one of the best linebacker corps in the NFL.

If Mosley and Williamson can stay on the field, that shouldn’t be an issue. And their presence could add another layer to Gregg Willaims’ defense that wasn’t seen last season.

However, their health remains the biggest concern.

NY Jets projected backups/fighting for roster spots

  • Neville Hewitt
  • Patrick Onwuasor
  • Blake Cashman
  • James Burgess
  • B.J. Bello

Many of the players above saw plenty of playing time last season. But barring injury, they’ll likely be limited to supporting/special teams roles once again.

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In fact, it’s very likely that at least two of the names above are cut before the season starts — possibly even three.

One player who should remain safe, however, is Neville Hewitt. Hewitt started 12 games last season after starting the final four games of 2018 in place of the suspended Darron Lee.

The former Miami Dolphins special-teams ace did an admirable job filling in for injuries, but he’s clearly a step below the likes of Mosley and Williamson. Nonetheless, the Jets brought him back on a $2 million contract with $1 million guaranteed so his roster spot is probably secured.

Expect Hewitt to be the team’s top reserve linebacker and continue to fill his role on special teams.

Now on to the only inside linebacker on the roster who didn’t spend time with the team last year, Patrick Onwuasor. The Jets surprisingly signed the man once dubbed as C.J. Mosley’s replacement in Baltimore despite their depth at the position.

Like Hewitt, Onwausor shouldn’t have anything to worry about when it comes to his job. All $2 million of his contract is guaranteed and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jets use him as a situational pass-rusher as well as on special teams.

Williams will find a use for the man who’s secured 8.5 sacks over the last two seasons from the off-ball linebacker position.

As for the duo of Blake Cashman and James Burgess, however, neither is guaranteed anything. Cashman saw some time was a starter last season but looked overwhelmed at times — especially in run defense.

The dominance of the defensive line may have masked his issues a bit, but there’s a reason that Cashman was ranked as the 72nd linebacker in the NFL by Pro Football Focus out of only 89 qualifiers.

Burgess, on the other hand, fared slightly better, but the Jets’ 2019 tackle leader is best suited as a backup/special-teamer. It’s unlikely that both of these players make the roster so it should be interesting to see who emerges with the roster spot.

Finally, B.J. Bello is a longshot to make the team despite playing in nearly half of the team’s special-teams snaps during the eight games that he was active. Barring injury, however, the Jets are likely too deep at the position to keep him around.

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Ultimately, the Jets could have one of the strongest linebacker groups in the NFL if they could avoid serious injuries again. And after last season, they know they also have some impressive depth to lean on.