With the departure of Demario Davis after the 2015 season, the New York Jets addressed their need for linebackers in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Jets used their first-round pick on outside linebacker Darron Lee and their third-round pick on outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins. Those two joined second-year pro Lorenzo Mauldin, eight-year pro Erin Henderson, ten-year pro David Harris, and defensive end Sheldon Richardson as the biggest contributors to the line.
New York Jets Linebackers End of Season Review
Although the team had an overall young line, Harris was the oldest player on the front seven and is currently the longest-tenured Jet after all the offseason cuts. Harris, 32, led the team in total tackles with 62. The inside linebacker was also tied with Leonard Williams for assisted tackles with 32.
Harris also had two passes defended and half a sack. He missed one game in 2016 for the first time since 2008.
Harris is not getting any younger and that was shown on the field in 2016. Therefore, he was a possible name mentioned during the cuts. However, with the inexperienced youth that surrounded him in 2016, it would be hard to replace him in 2017.
The Jets selected Lee with the 20th overall pick in the draft. The Ohio State product was considered a small, yet quick outside linebacker coming out of college.
“He’s today’s NFL outside linebacker,” Mike Maycock said after the Jets drafted him. “He ran a 4.47 40 at 232 pounds. He’s a sideline-to-sideline, three-down linebacker. His weakness is if you cover him up against a big body, he will struggle”
The 6’1″ Chattanooga native was inconsistent as he seemed brilliant at times, but was susceptible to sub-par performances. He played in 13 games and started nine of them. Lee finished the season fourth in total tackles with 42 and third in assisted tackles with 28. He also had a sack and two passes defended.
NFL personnel man Gil Brandt named Lee to his All-Rookie team for his production in 2016.
Outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins was chosen by the Jets 83rd overall. After using their second-round pick on offense, the Jets went back to defense as they drafted another linebacker in the third round.
“Leonard Floyd got all of the attention, but this kid did all of the dirty jobs,” Maycock said about Jenkins after being drafted. “I think he’s a 4-3 base end. He’s a better football player than he is an athlete.”
The former Georgia linebacker played in 14 games and started 11 of them. He had 22 tackles and 17 assisted tackles. Jenkins also defended two passes, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble.
Jenkins struggled with rushing the passer as he only had 2.5 sacks. All those sacks came in the last four games of the season which at least showed some improvement. Overall, he did pretty well. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the second best rookie edge rusher behind phenom Joey Bosa.
No one else was above 65.0. pic.twitter.com/e41i2KTxon
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 9, 2017
Why is Richardson a part of the Jets linebackers end of season review you might ask? While he is a defensive lineman, the Jets had enough players at that position in 2016 and had more need at the linebacker position. Therefore ,Richardson spent some of his 15 games (14 starts) at linebacker. It was not a good fit for him and he clearly performed better when playing at his natural position.
Regardless of his play at linebacker or his career-low of 1.5 sacks, Richardson was still one of the more talented Jets in 2016. He was named as a fifth alternate to the Pro Bowl. Only Williams did better in that aspect as he replaced Khalil Mack after originally being named a first alternate.
Richardson’s biggest weakness in 2016 was his continued off-the-field issues. He started the season with a one-game suspension from his arrest in July of 2015. Towards the end of the season he made a profanity-laced Snapchat video that went viral.
Mauldin, like Jenkins, was drafted by the Jets with a third-round pick. Mauldin didn’t do so well in his second NFL season. Also like Jenkins, he struggled rushing the passer as he too had 2.5 sacks.
In 11 games and three starts he also had one interception, two passes defended, seven tackles, and nine assisted tackles.
The Jets signed Henderson to a two-year contract extension after the 2015 season. He came into 2016 as an option at inside linebacker and ended up starting in four of the first six games.
Afterwards, he landed on the non-football injury list for the rest of the season. His placement on the list is what opened a door for Lee to play. The Jets recently cut the 30-year-old Henderson saving them $2.57 million in cap space.