2021 NFL DraftL How will the Jets' Day Three picks fit on the defense?

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Bent
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Hamsah Nasirildeen FSU
Hamsah Nasirildeen FSU

The early focus in the Jets’ draft was clearly offense, they spent their first four picks on offensive players for the first time since 1983, including running back Michael Carter with their first pick on day three. Priority number one was obviously to get their quarterback of the future and surround him with more talent to improve his chances of succeeding. After that, though, the focus shifted to the defensive side of the ball as the Jets threw some resources at areas of weakness.

Their last six picks of the day were all defensive players, with the first five of those picks being players who played defensive back last season. However, it’s not that simple because the new coaching staff brought with it aspects of “positionless football” from the 49ers system. Athleticism and versatility are obviously key factors in the players they targeted, with an ultimate view towards operating out of personnel packages with a lot of flexibility and interchangeability.

Two of those five have already been listed as linebackers by the Jets, who may already have tipped their hand to some degree by trying to sign Keanu Neal during the offseason. Neal, a first-round safety out of Florida in 2016, played more often in the box last season and had decided to convert to inside linebacker for 2021. Safeties bulking up to play as linebackers is something that’s become increasingly popular over the last few years with players like Mark Barron and Nate Gerry making that move. Having missed out on the chance to use Neal in that fashion, the Jets instead targeted a couple of players they can attempt to groom for that role.

Fifth round pick Jamien Sherwood out of Auburn is almost exactly the same size as Neal, but also offers superior length with an 82-inch wingspan. He played plenty of snaps in the box last year and is open to moving full-time. The Jets will hope teams may have underestimated Sherwood by only considering him as a safety and being concerned that he only ran a 4.76 at his pro day.

In the next round, the Jets selected Hamsah Nasirildeen, who calls himself a first-round talent. Nasirildeen is even longer than Sherwood with an 83-inch wingspan but his stock fell because he only played two games last season as he returned from a torn ACL. Nasirildeen played a variety of roles at FSU.

If the Jets employ Sherwood or Nasirildeen at linebacker, it will be at the Will position, where they would line up alongside the Mike linebacker and fly around making plays in coverage and against the run. For now, the Jets’ Mike is expected to be CJ Mosley, at least for 2021, as the Jets will be hoping he can recapture his Pro Bowl form having missed most of the past two seasons.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh
Jets head coach Robert Saleh

The Jets also signed Jarrad Davis this offseason, albeit only to a one-year deal. Davis is versatile enough to play any of the three linebacker positions. If Mosley gets injured again or is otherwise unavailable, Davis could slide across to the Mike position, although he struggled in a full-time role there with the Lions. However, he could be at his most effective alongside Mosley as the Will in nickel packages, while also perhaps playing some reps on the strongside in the base defense.

That would leave the likes of Sherwood or Nasirildeen batting for reps in a part-time role initially, but their ascendence to a full-time starter role could be a longer process. If it doesn’t work out for either of them at linebacker, they could potentially revert to safety. Robert Saleh even coached a cornerback that had this kind of size in Brandon Browner while he was in Seattle, so he is sure to have plenty of ideas of how to use them creatively.

The other three of these collegiate defensive backs will bring some depth to the Jets’ undermanned cornerback unit. Jason Pinnock has size, length and physicality, which are all traits coveted by coaching staffs that Saleh has been on for their outside cornerbacks. Michael Carter II and Brandin Echols are smaller and will therefore most likely be used in the slot.

Right now, the Jets’ incumbent starters would be Bless Austin and Bryce Hall, with Javelin Guidry atop the depth chart at slot corner. In each case, the Jets could still hope to bring in an upgrade, while Pinnock, Echols and Carter II will add to the competition.

The final defensive pick was Jonathan Marshall, an athletic 310-pounder who didn’t have much statistical production at college because he played nose tackle but could have some untapped potential as a more conventional defensive tackle. He sounds like he could be more of a long-term project.