This preseason, I'll be spotlighting an under-the-radar player who impressed me in each game and assessing that player's chances of making the team. Today we'll look at defensive lineman Claude Pelon, who was one of the top performers in the Jets' 7-3 win over the Titans in the preseason opener.
Who is he?
Pelon flew under the radar in college because he transferred a couple of times before ending up on a USC team where he had to come off the bench behind some legitimate NFL-level talent, including current Jets starter Leonard Williams. The Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent last season and then carried him on the practice squad during the season.
In the preseason last year, Pelon made it onto the second unit in sub-packages, but had mixed results on the field. He had just three tackles in four games and was manhandled at the point of attack over the first few games, but responded well to blow up a screen play and register a hit that led to an interception in the last game.
Titans Game Breakdown
Pelon got into the game with the second unit early in the second quarter and made a positive impact against the run, penetrating into the backfield on one play and bottling up a run for a short gain on another. One of the offensive linemen he got the better of was Dennis Kelly, a sixth year veteran with 21 NFL starts, including six last season. Kelly was the player traded for Dorial Green-Beckham last year.
In the second half Pelon stuffed another run for a short gain and then made one of the plays of the game, exploding into the backfield to record a tackle for loss. On the play, Pelon showed off a sharp arm-over swim move to blow past his blocker at the point of attack. That's relevant because the outgoing defensive line coach, Pepper Johnson, reportedly used to discourage his players from using the swim move. Maybe new defensive line coach Robert Nunn is better suited towards developing Pelon efficiently.
While Pelon wasn't one of the eight players to record a sack in last night's game, he still made some positive contributions in the passing game, driving his man back on a good bull rush and coming off the edge to bat down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
The analysis team from Pro Football Focus were also impressed with Pelon's performance, giving him the second highest grade in their analysis of the game and describing his performance as "very disruptive". According to PFF, he has more run stops than anyone in the league so far this preseason.
In total, Pelon played 28 snaps, mostly as a defensive tackle but with six snaps at defensive end, and was officially credited with three tackles and a pass defensed.
What are his roster chances?
It's not uncommon for young linemen to explode out of the blocks in preseason, only to then falter when they get more opportunities. However, if Pelon can continue to play like he did last night then the Jets will definitely want to keep him. He has a ton of competition though; Anthony Johnson, Patrick Gamble and Devon Still each had a sack last night and Lawrence Thomas was an opening day starter last year.
Pelon has definitely made big strides over the past 12 months and looks stronger and more explosive. You'd therefore imagine the Jets would want to, at the very least, keep him on the practice squad to see if he keeps improving. Unfortunately, he's likely to draw interest from other teams if he keeps producing like he did last night, so they risk losing him if they don't protect his rights by keeping him on the active roster.