The Jets have a rookie linebacker slotted to be a starter, but it’s not who many would think it would be.
Darron Lee is the first-round bonus baby, but after a late signing, he’s fallen a tad behind and needs to play catch-up. Jordan Jenkins, however, has impressed the coaching staff from the first day with Gang Green and is currently penciled in as a starting outside linebacker.
He is the only Jets rookie to be listed among the starters.
Lee is currently behind David Harris and Erin Henderson at the inside linebacker spots, while the only person to really compete with Jenkins is Trevor Reilly, a seventh-round pick in 2014 with just one career sack. Jenkins’s path to being the opening day starter is more likely than Lee’s, as the rookie is behind two veteran stalwarts – particularly Harris, who has never missed a game and seems to get better with age.
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Jenkins (6-foot-3, 247 pounds), a third-round choice out of Georgia, is strong and stout at the point of attack, with a higher ceiling as a pass rusher than Reilly, hence his current status. Teammates were reportedly taken aback with how quickly he processed information and applied it to the field. He’s a versatile defender, so much so that his pass-rushing skills were often on the backburner at Georgia because the Bulldogs needed him to be a defensive end. And despite being miscast, Jenkins was still an effective enough player to be named the defensive co-captain and Defensive MVP as a senior. That’s high praise considering he was asked to do all the dirty work, while outside linebacker Leonard Floyd – the ninth-overall pick by the Chicago Bears this year -- was allowed to play freely and get after quarterbacks.
Jenkins, meanwhile, rarely had the chance to show his wares in pass rushing and in coverage (no interceptions in 52 career games in Athens), but with his role as full-time outside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme, he’ll be allowed to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield – two areas the Jets struggled with, last season.
The rookie is undoubtedly looking forward to showing what he can do as an edge rusher and playing in space, and helping Gang Green’s youth movement flourish.
The Jets have revamped their outside linebacker positions, as they could enter Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals with very little experience. Jenkins will likely be paired with second-year player Lorenzo Mauldin. It’s a calculated risk by Gang Green considering the former is a rookie and the latter is still a relative neophyte. Because when Mauldin is the most experienced of the starters at outside linebacker, it could be a bumpy ride. But judging by his production last season, when he played 244 snaps as a situational pass rusher and tallied a respectable 17 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble and recovery apiece, the future could be bright at that position.
Mauldin, who also impressed teammates with his quick study this offseason, graduates to a full-time starter. And while it’s a huge jump from a situational player to an every-down player, people within the Florham Park facilities feel the 6-foot-4, 259-pound Louisville product is stout enough to hold his own. He noted that he feels “more fluid” this camp, as opposed to last season when as a rookie, his head might’ve been “swimming a bit.”
It’s definitely sink or swim for the two young outside linebackers. And New York seems content on having the kids take over the outside right now. But just remember former starter Calvin Pace is only a phone call away. And if head coach Todd Bowles doesn’t like what he’s seeing early on, he just may reach out to the 35-year old – who’s publicly stated that he wants to keep playing.
Gang Green notes:
-Defensive end Mo Wilkerson is officially off the Physically Unable to Perform list, and was cleared for practice after suffering a broken leg in last season’s finale.
-Running back Matt Forte (hamstring) didn’t practice on Tuesday, and won’t play in the team’s opening preseason game.
-Thursday night is the Jets' preseason opener, home at MetLife Stadium against Jacksonville. Seeing the Jaguars will bring joyous flashbacks to Mauldin, as he had a breakout game against them, last season. It was against Jacksonville that Mauldin registered one full sack and two half-sacks against Blake Bortles.
-The Jets’ first unofficial depth chart featured little surprises. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the starter at quarterback, followed by Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, and then rookie Christian Hackenberg. Buster Skrine is listed as a starter opposite Darrelle Revis at cornerback. And Kellen Davis is ahead of Jace Amaro at tight end.