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Projected Starters: Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Mauldin
Projected Backups: Dylan Donahue, Josh Martin
On the bubble: Freddie Bishop, Corey Lemonier
Departures: Mike Catapano
Key stat: Jenkins had no sacks and just six pressures in the first 10 games, but recorded 2.5 sacks and 11 pressures in the six games after the bye week.
Last year was a story of unfulfilled promise from the Jets' outside linebackers. Heading into camp, the Jets coaches had spoken excitedly of their expectations for players such as Deion Barnes, Bishop and Catapano, but none of them were able to make any kind of impact in 2016. That led to a situation in which the Jets ended up regularly positioning Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson as the edge defenders in four-man fronts.
For the Jets to avoid that situation in 2017, they would need outside linebackers to step up and prove to their coaches they can be relied upon. If Richardson is still receiving regular reps at outside linebacker, that will not reflect well on the front office's efforts to man this position, nor the coaching staff's efforts to develop these players.
Mauldin will be looking to break out in his third season. He's shown some flashes in the past but struggled to stay healthy and produce on a consistent basis. After adding weight to hold up better against the run in 2016, Mauldin has reversed course this year and lost weight in an effort to improve his speed. That suggests that he might be anticipating more of a situational pass rusher role this season.
Jenkins had a solid rookie year and ramped up his production as a pass rusher down the stretch. He was impressive against the run, which perhaps makes him a favorite to land a role in the base defense. The Jets will have high hopes that he can build on his strong finish to the 2016 season to give the team a versatile all-around option.
Donahue, a rookie, is the wild card, and based on the amount of first-team reps he's seen in the offseason program, the coaching staff clearly has a role in mind for him. The fifth-round pick is regarded as a relentless pass rusher, although his lack of length is almost unprecedented among recent NFL defensive players. This might mean he struggles against the run and is destined for a pass-rushing specialist role. However, Todd Bowles often employs pass rush packages where two outside linebackers enter the game, so perhaps these are roles that Mauldin and Donahue can claim.
Martin has a strong hold on a roster spot due to his excellent special teams contributions. In limited defensive work, he showed some flashes last season, and he's been getting plenty of first-team reps over the spring, so perhaps the coaches are hoping to see more from him.
If there's another spot available, Lemonier has a good shot at landing it. The veteran was a disappointment in San Francisco, but looked good in preseason and with the Browns in the first half of last year. The Jets picked him up right before the end of the season and he brought some good energy off the edge in the season finale.
The former CFL star Bishop is back with the team for a second season, but he didn't stand out much when he was activated at the end of last season. It will be interesting to see if he's made any progress.
Finally, another CFL import, Beltre, has been listed as an outside linebacker and used to be a defensive end in college. However it seems the team has been giving him reps at inside linebacker instead, so he may not be expected to be in the mix here.
Outlook: If the Jets can establish two starters at outside linebacker, that's going to give the Jets defense the kind of flexibility that Bowles hasn't had over his first two years in the job. However, since the defense won't be in base very often anyway, it's perhaps more important to establish some situational contributors and there are some interesting candidates here. At the moment this group lacks depth, so look for the team to act quickly if they lose anyone to injury.