This year, I've again been breaking down each of the Jets' rookies in detail and we're now into the undrafted free agent signings. On Tuesday, I looked at Temple offensive lineman Kyle Friend, and now I move on to look at Southern California defensive lineman Claude Pelon. I've been conducting research and watching game footage to try and assess what he brings to the table.
The 23-year-old Pelon is listed at 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, and contributed on the defensive line for the Trojans over the past two seasons, although he dealt with some injuries in his senior year. Pelon had joined the Trojans as a junior college transfer after the 2013 season. He recorded 45 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and two passes defensed over the course of the two seasons, starting four games. He is a former linemate of current Jets starter Leonard Williams.
Note: Pro Football Focus exclusively provides some stats from this article.
Who is Claude Pelon?
Pelon could be considered as something of a journeyman before he even made it to the NFL. He went to high school in Florida, then redshirted his first year at a junior college in Kansas. After that, he transferred to another junior college in Arizona and recorded 17 tackles and two sacks in his redshirt freshman season. The following year, he stayed in Arizona but transferred to yet another junior college, where he registered 52 tackles, including 9.5 for loss, as he was named as a Prep Star JUCO All-American.
Finally, he transferred to USC for his junior and senior years. He started three games as a junior and racked up 19 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. In his senior year, he missed some time through injuries, but still registered 26 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He was not invited to the combine or any All-Star games, but had a good pro day. Prior to the season, an ESPN article had described him as "likely to be drafted," but there wasn't much draft buzz surrounding him after the season.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Pelon brings to the table, based on my research and film study.
Pelon has good size, looks the part and put up some decent numbers at USC's pro day. I can't find a wingspan measurement for him, but he does seem to have good length, which he uses effectively.
Pelon's best numbers were for strength and explosiveness, as he posted 33 bench press reps, a 32.5-inch vertical leap and a 110-inch broad jump, all of which are excellent for his size. His 40-yard dash and shuttle runs were less impressive -- so you would perhaps expect him to lack agility and range in pursuit. Having said that, he said one team told him it clocked him at under five seconds for the 40 at his pro day.
Pelon supposedly moved from defensive tackle to defensive end in between his two seasons at USC, but I didn't actually find much difference between his assignments between the two years. At the end of 2014, Pelon seemed to be playing more as a defensive end, and in early 2015, he started a game at nose tackle because Antwuan Woods was out. I found that he typically lined up on the interior, although he wasn't shading the center very often and also got some snaps lined up opposite a tackle.
At the NFL level he'd probably be a 5-technique initially, but could also play on the interior in certain situations.
USC has plenty of defensive line talent, so the Trojans rotate their players regularly. That said, there were times when injuries piled up last year, so sometimes players had to take on a bigger role. Pelon played over 30 snaps only three times, but two of those games saw him handle 51 snaps against Arizona State and 49 in the bowl game against Wisconsin. In 2014, he played over 30 snaps eight times with a high of 66 against Nebraska in the bowl game.
I found that Pelon gave a relentless effort in the trenches and was capable of making plays late in games, exhibiting good stamina. He also played his best football at the end of the season each year with his two bowl game performances being arguably the best two games of his career.
His effort seemed less consistent on the backside when plays went away from him, but he wouldn't be expected to have much range in pursuit anyway, as already noted.
Pelon holds up well at the point of attack and can extend his arms to stand up his blocker. This enables him to stay in front of the ball carrier whichever way the play goes or to bottle up runs right at him. He also pretty consistent in terms of his pad level and doesn't get driven off the line much, except when doubled.
Pelon's main issue in the running game seems to be that he'll explode out of his stance looking to penetrate, but won't see the play developing in front of him so might react late. I've seen plenty of aggressive linemen with this problem before, and you never know whether or not they'll learn to overcome it.
Here's an example of him doing that, as he bursts upfield leaving a big lane behind him on the draw play:
On another play, he made a bad read and went after the back on an option keeper.
Another area I'd like to see more from Pelon was in terms of his lateral movement and ability to get downhill, especially through traffic. He has a knack for getting into the backfield and also for making clutch stops on short yardage plays, though.
I didn't see any issues with missed tackles from Pelon, who had four in his two years at USC, but only one as a senior.
Interestingly, even though he played much less in 2015 than in 2014 due to the time missed through injury, he had more statistical production in the running game. He had played a higher percentage of pass rush snaps in 2014, but still had over 30 percent more run snaps than in 2015. One difference, though, was that he made fewer plays in the backfield.
Pelon has a good get-off and is a powerful bull rusher. He showcases that on this play, which sees him drive the left guard back and then get to the quarterback for a big hit before the back can get across to slow him down.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the fact that he was a teammate of Williams, Pelon's go-to move is the swim move. At times, he almost over-relies on this, but he had repeated success with it in the bowl game against Nebraska in 2014, which saw him recording several pressures. It shouldn't go unmentioned that current Jets defensive line coach Pepper Johnson doesn't like this technique and discourages his players from using it.
In general, a lot of the damage he does is just a combination of his athletic ability and pure effort, but he shows signs of being disruptive in such a role. Here he uses an initial upfield leverage advantage to fight off a double team block and hit the quarterback.
Again, vision is an issue, as there were a few plays where he was still trying to beat his blocker without realizing that the quarterback had already taken off.
Pelon does get his hands up at times, although he can sometimes be too pre-occupied with trying to beat his man, as noted. He was credited with two passes defensed at USC, although both of these were in his junior year. He did not drop into coverage.
Pelon actually made some good contributions on special teams, blocking a couple of kicks and a tackle following a long punt return. Here's one of the kick blocks, showing further evidence of his explosiveness at the snap:
I've already alluded to the potential issues Pelon sometimes seems to have with seeing how the play develops in front of him. However, that might just be a symptom of him being forced into a rotational role and then being as aggressive as possible trying to make an impact with the reps he received. Perhaps the Jets can encourage him to play with a more disciplined mindset, but we know Todd Bowles likes his linemen to play aggressively anyway.
Some might view the fact that Pelon was academically ineligible for some time as a knock on his intelligence or work ethic, but eventually overcoming that to get to a big school and retain eligibility is a positive sign.
As noted, the first half of Pelon's 2015 season was disrupted by injuries. He sprained his knee in the spring and needed arthroscopic knee surgery, causing him to miss the first game. He played the following week, but then suffered a high ankle sprain a few weeks later. That proved to be well timed as the team had a week off, so he hadn't missed any games when he was able to suit up two weeks later. However, he lasted just three snaps before spraining his knee, leading to him missing three more games. Finally healthy down the stretch, he played the most consistent football of his career.
The USC defensive line seems like a close-knit unit and, as a group, it worked hard to overcome the loss of Williams and numerous injury issues in 2015. Pelon obviously displayed toughness by overcoming injuries last season to finish the year strong. There don't seem to be any off-field concerns, either.
On the field, Pelon definitely has a fiery personality. In 2014, he committed six penalties, but showed much better discipline in 2015. The only time he was penalized all year was an offside and 12-men on the field double-penalty late in the win over Arizona, which might not even have been his fault.
Since Pelon is following in Williams' footsteps by making the jump from USC to the Jets, you might think he'd be a similarly ideal fit. However, Williams played in three different systems in each of his years with the Trojans (4-3, 5-2 and 3-4) whereas Pelon was just in a 3-4 system. Typically, a 3-4 system would mean that players did a lot of two-gapping, but Pelon played with an attacking mindset, so that could mean he fits in well with the Jets.
Williams might be a helpful familiar face to have in the building for Pelon. Even though they played just one season together, they apparently knew each other pretty well before Pelon decided to go to USC.
If there's a theme to the Jets' undrafted free agent class so far, it's that the Jets have targeted a group of players whose potential value might have been overlooked by other teams. Pelon could have got lost in the shuffle on a USC defensive line with a lot of NFL talent and didn't have much statistical production, but he still contributed well and developed to the point where he was playing his best football right at the end of his final season.
Had he remained healthy all year and produced like he did over the second half of the season, Pelon might have drawn a lot more attention and perhaps would have been a candidate for postseason honors and a projected late-round pick.
Pelon is one of three 300-pound defensive linemen the Jets brought in via undrafted free agency and, if they can all remain healthy, they might end up getting some significant preseason reps with the third unit. If Pelon can repeat some of the impressive things he was able to do in college when given that chance, he'll give himself a strong chance of at least being retained as a practice squad project.
Up next: We'll take a look at Temple wide receiver Robby Anderson. Could he compete for a roster spot? Let us know in the comments who you'd like us to look at after that.