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Over the next month or so, we're going to review some of the top draft prospects at each position to assess some potential candidates in whom the Jets may show interest. We continue with a look at the 2019 linebacker class.
Jets needs: Linebackers
While there will be a defensive shake-up with Gregg Williams bringing in a new system as the Jets' new defensive coordinator, it may not end up affecting the linebackers as much as initially perceived. Avery Williamson and Darron Lee each basically had a full-time role in 2018, and that is likely to continue in 2019.
The Jets must decide soon whether to exercise Lee's fifth-year option, a decision that may have been clouded by his suspension in December. However, he had his best season in 2018, as he improved dramatically in coverage. Williamson was a productive free-agent signing, although he can, at times, be late to react in coverage, sometimes coming off the field in passing situations in Tennessee.
Neville Hewitt is out of a contract, but was a useful backup last year, so the Jets could look to bring him back. Youngsters Anthony Wint and Harvey Langi are likely to be in camp too. It's not impossible that they re-sign Kevin Pierre-Louis to a low-level deal as well, having declined his option last week following an injury-plagued 2018 campaign.
2019 Draft: Linebackers
The biggest prize in this year's linebacker class is Devin White. Jets safety Jamal Adams, his former LSU teammate, is a big fan, for starters. Some experts think White could get selected in the top five if he runs as well as expected at the combine. However, he probably wouldn't be a consideration with the third pick. Other potential first-rounders include Alabama's Mack Wilson and Michigan's Devin Bush. Bush lacks ideal size but has 10 sacks over the past two years.
Could the Jets seek to use one of their third-rounders on a linebacker? There are a handful of players who could be considerations at that point of the draft. Two such players are Tre Lamar from Clemson and TJ Edwards from Wisconsin, but they are both more considered run stoppers than versatile coverage options. Lamar is one of the biggest linebackers in this year's class at 255 pounds, while Edwards is regarded as a player who would be limited in coverage at the pro level despite having displayed his knack for playmaking with 10 interceptions in the past three seasons.
Vosean Joseph from Florida and Germaine Pratt from NC State are also rated as possible Day 2 picks, although there's some questions surrounding both because each was exploited in coverage at times last year. Pratt is a consistent tackler and offers value as a blitzer though. Notre Dame's Te'Von Coney could be a better option given his outstanding coverage numbers in 2018.
If the likes of Terrill Hanks from New Mexico State, David Long Jr. from West Virginia and Ben Burr-Kirven from Washington are available in the middle rounds, they are likely to draw interest from multiple teams. Long is small (5-11, 221 pounds), but he had seven sacks and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Burr-Kirven led the nation in tackles and forced four fumbles, while also showing he could hold up in coverage. Despite being targeted more than anyone in this year's class, Burr-Kirven didn't give up a touchdown or a 40-yard play all year.
Some players ranked as late-round picks that could be good value include Joe Giles-Harris from Duke, Cameron Smith from USC and Stanford's Bobby Okereke. Smith is another 250-pound thumper, while Okereke has the versatility to match up in the slot.
Further late-round value could be found in three players who seem to have slipped under the radar. Sione Takitaki from BYU turned heads with a strong bowl game and during Collegiate Bowl and Senior Bowl week. Blake Cashman from Minnesota could be an immediate difference maker on special teams, as he had 38 special teams tackles over the past three seasons. Finally, Josiah Tauaefa from UTSA is another player not many people have been talking about, although Bucky Brooks from NFL.com recently ranked him as the fifth-best linebacker prospect, so perhaps his stock is rising.
While there's been speculation in the media about whether the Jets will operate out of a 4-3 or 3-4 base, that's probably moot, as Williams always mixes up his defensive formations and personnel groupings anyway. However, even if Lee and Williamson remain in full-time roles, they could still use some depth and are likely to look to add some other options they can deploy on a situational basis.