New and returning Jets veterans produced some career-high stats and provided some bright spots at linebacker.
OLB Jordan Jenkins, entering his fourth season with the Green & White, upped his pass-rushing game and tied for the team lead with seven sacks. Two were strip sacks in back-to-back weeks against the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. The bigger numbers came just after the 24-year-old adjusted his approach following 2.5- and three-sack seasons in 2016 and 2017.
“I guess one of the biggest differences is in the sack column. I had almost three times as many sacks as I had my rookie year, and that’s just the biggest difference,” Jenkins said. “That just shows all of the time and effort I put in this offseason and the past offseason.”
OLB Brandon Copeland, who signed with the Jets during free agency last March, quickly increased his role from solely special teams to becoming a presence on the defense. With three passes defensed and five sacks this past season (tied for second-most on the team), Copeland created career highs in multiple categories just a year after missing the entire season with the Detroit Lions from a pectoral muscle tear.
"Being a special-teams player, to come back and take on a bigger role and have the impact I've had, it's been great," Copeland said. "It’s also been great to become somewhat of a veteran presence in the locker room and a leader. It’s also been amazing to have guys respect me in the locker room and look to me for advice and mentorship and follow my lead on the field.”
The Jets had no dropoff at inside linebacker with the addition of LB Avery Williamson as an unrestricted free agent after Demario Davis moved on to the Saints. The 6'1", 246-pound Williamson racked up a team-leading 159 tackles (from coaches' video review), three sacks, one interception, seven PDs and two forced fumbles. The Kentucky product had nine 10-tackle games, and 10 of his tackles came at or behind the line of scrimmage. One of Williamson's many responsibilities was calling the defensive signals along with Darron Lee.
Third-year ‘backer Lee started the season with hot hands and a couple of career firsts. During the Jets’ Monday night season opener at Detroit, Lee had the first two-pick game of his career, against Lions QB Matt Stafford, returning one 36 yards for his first professional touchdown. But he didn’t stop there. The 6’1”, 232-pound play-caller then racked up his third INT in Week 6 against Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck. For the season, despite missing the last four games due to suspension, Lee totaled 99 tackles and six passes defensed.
Neville Hewitt took over as an ILB starter after Lee's suspension and posted 37 tackles and 1.5 sacks in the last four games. Undrafted free agent rookie Frankie Luvu out of Washington State flashed his potential with three sacks, 19 quarterback hits and a pass deflection. Young vets Jeremiah Attaochu, Tarell Basham, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Anthony Wint also made contributions on defense and special teams.
The Jets will have change on defense in general and at linebacker in particular with the arrival of new coordinator Gregg Williams. It's not known how Williams will deploy his Jets personnel but he's been known to employ an attacking 4-3 scheme, most recently the past two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Head coach Adam Gase's Dolphins also played in a base 4-3.
A number of the Jets LBs from this past season can also become unrestricted free agents. The list includes Copeland, Hewitt (who began his NFL career with two seasons on Gase's Dolphins), Attaochu, Emmanuel Lamur and veteran LB/ST leader Josh Martin, who was limited to one game in 2018 due to concussions.
On the Roster in 2018
(Def—defensive snaps; ST—special teams snaps)
Jonathan Celestin, Harvey Langi (PS/IR)
Potential Free Agents in 2019
Unrestricted: Jeremiah Attaochu, Brandon Copeland, Neville Hewitt, Emmanuel Lamur, Josh Martin. Exclusive Rights: Frankie Luvu, Anthony Wint.