Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Much of the attention surrounding the Jets' offseason moves so far has been centered around the quarterback position with the addition of Trumaine Johnson stealing most of the non-quarterback headlines. However, the Jets filled an important spot with the signing of former Titans linebacker Avery Williamson last night. Let's consider how well he fits into what the Jets typically like to do on defense.
On the face of it, this seems pretty straightforward; Williamson replaces Demario Davis as the team's Mike linebacker, and slides into his role. However, it might not be as simple as that.
Davis was the quintessential every-down linebacker last year, as he didn't miss a single snap. However, Williamson was placed into more of a two-down linebacker role, and ended up with a career low in terms of his snap count. This suited Williamson well, as he had the most consistent season of his career, while still matching his production from the previous few seasons.
In those previous years, Williamson had played three downs most of the time and still played well, so it's certainly something he's capable of. However, since his play improved last year, the Jets may opt to use him in a similar fashion.
Doing this would mean taking him out of the game in certain subpackages, but that might fit into the Jets' gameplanning anyway. Last year, the Jets often operated out of a dime package with seven defensive backs. In those packages, Davis was often employed as an edge rusher with Darron Lee playing as a conventional linebacker with one or two of the safeties joining him in the box.
If they run the same packages in 2018, Williamson can come off the field, and they can put a better pass rusher into the game. The package won't lose any of its flexibility with the versatility of some of their defensive backs, and the ability of a player like Jordan Jenkins to drop into coverage from time to time.
The Jets might even target another coverage linebacker or hybrid safety type - perhaps in the draft - to give Williamson a breather in some of their more conventional nickel packages.
If Williamson isn't going to be an every-down player, then it might make sense for the Jets to give the responsibility for calling the defensive signals to Lee. He's worn the headset at times in the past, and has familiarity with the system as he enters his third season. Williamson wore the headset at times in Tennessee, but Wesley Woodyard - who played a role equivalent to Lee's with the Titans - had that responsibility most of the time.
More generally, what Williamson brings to the table is some good athleticism, instincts, and size. He's also been a more productive playmaker than Davis, despite being on the field less. In six seasons, Davis had 13.5 sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble. Williamson has 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles in four years.
One thing Davis initially struggled with, as he transitioned into the Mike role, was being able to get off blocks at the second level. To his credit, Davis adjusted well over the course of the season, but he was still susceptible to being blocked out of running plays at times. Williamson has a bigger build, and seems more adept at taking on blockers, which could in turn benefit Lee.
If Williamson has a weakness, it's that he's been exposed at times in coverage against tight ends and slot receivers. Davis, of course, returned to the Jets with fans well aware that this was an issue for him too. However, playing in the Mike role where his primary responsibility was reacting to short passes in underneath zone coverage, and picking up backs out of the backfield, this issue was mitigated. That seems to have been the case for Williamson last season too, and should continue to be the case with his new team.
The reported terms of the contract for Williamson - $7.5 million per year over three seasons - seem more than reasonable for a high-character player who many regard as one of the league's best young linebackers. Tennessee obviously thought otherwise, as they reportedly lowballed him with a shockingly light offer of $12 million over four years. Presumably, they felt he didn't deserve to be paid as much as the top linebackers in the league if they were going to continue to use him as a two-down linebacker.
It might be unwise for the Jets to think they need to play Williamson on every snap to get their money's worth. Instead, if they situationally employ specialists when he comes off the field, he's shown he can be just as productive with a reduced workload.