Bent, theJetsBlog.com Follow on Twitter
Over the next few weeks, we're going to be looking back at last year's rookies in an effort to assess what their role will be in 2018 and where we can expect them to make improvements on what they brought to the table last year.
Dylan Donahue will be hoping to bounce back after a rookie season that was cut short by injury and an offseason which saw him dealing with off-field issues. The coaching staff has been high on his potential, but he didn't really get much of a chance to deliver on that yet.
Preseason stats: Three games, four tackles, 0.5 sacks
Regular-season stats: Four games, five tackles
Projected role: Situational pass rusher
While he didn't have any impact plays or much statistical production last season, Donahue flashed his athletic ability at least once in each of his appearances last season, whether by beating his blocker around the edge or getting off his block and into the backfield. With more playing time and experience, the hope would be that he can convert more of these opportunities into useful contributions.
The Jets are desperate for someone to step up and establish themselves as a pass-rushing threat and Donahue is one of a few candidates who has a chance to do that. He might be limited to a situational pass rusher role though, because he's undersized and likely wouldn't hold up against the run in a full-time role. However, the Jets have several players who have shown they can handle edge-setting roles in the running game. What they lack is someone who can generate constant pressure off the edge in passing situations.
Entering his rookie year, there were two main concerns about Donahue. The first was the jump in competition, having played at a lower level with West Georgia, and the other was the fact that his arms are extremely short by NFL standards.
The arm length is something he can't really do anything about, other than focusing on those things he can control like his technique and conditioning. However, the issue did manifest itself during his limited action last year as he had a couple of plays where he let ball carriers slip out of his grasp and, as anticipated, had some issues getting off blocks.
One of the most interesting aspects of Donahue's appearances prior to his injury was that they used him a couple of times as a middle linebacker in pass rushing situations. That's similar to how the Packers sometimes used to employ Clay Matthews while current Jets outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene was on their staff. Getting Donahue to blitz up the middle might be one way around his lack of length being a hindrance when trying to get off blocks.
In addition to his role on defense, Donahue was expected to be a major contributor on special teams and that's an area where the Jets will be hoping to see more production from the youngster in 2018. Again, this is somewhere that he can potentially thrive because he'll primarily be playing in space rather than having to fight off blocks.
In 2017, Donahue got reps on both kick coverage units, rushed kicks and also saw action as a blocker on the return units. It was on special teams that he suffered his season-ending elbow injury in a controversial incident where he aggressively lit up an opponent at the end of a play. The Jaguars retaliated to the hit and were flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which actually set up the winning field goal. However, he was arguably lucky that the call didn't go the other way and will be expected to exercise more maturity and discipline now that he's no longer a rookie.
Outlook: If the team remains high on Donahue, that might explain why they didn't do as much to address the edge position in the offseason as most people expected them to. However, with off-field issues and a potential suspension hanging over him, the coaching staff can't really afford to rely on his long-term availability. Nevertheless, under Greene's tutelage, they'll be hoping he starts to make more of an impact in his second season.