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Why Do The Jets Hate Linebackers?

A look at the Jets' history of refusing to draft linebackers.

Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE

Why Do The Jets Hate Linebackers?

It is no secret the New York Jets went into the 2013 draft desperately seeking linebackers. Three of the four starting linebackers from the prior year departed over the offseason (although an ancient and ineffective Calvin Pace was inexplicably re-signed just before the draft), and the Jets were left with a way past his expiration date Calvin Pace, an aging and increasingly mediocre David Harris, an untested DeMario Davis, a career part time pass rush specialist in Antwan Barnes, and a bunch of scrubs nobody outside of die hard Jets fans had ever heard of. The Jets arguably needed an infusion of linebacker talent from the draft more than any team in football. So when the draft was concluded, we all were presented with a shiny new class of linebackers, right? Uh... No. To the surprise of many, the Jets selected zero linebackers in the 2013 draft. It should not have come as a surprise.

The Jets have had 5 drafts since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. In those five drafts NFL teams collectively selected 140 linebackers, an average of just less than 5 per team. The Jets selected one, DeMario Davis. No team in the NFL selected fewer linebackers over that period. This is particularly odd given that Ryan has always run a 34 base defense which relies heavily on linebackers to be the primary tacklers and playmakers. Yes, he switches things up and runs exotic schemes, but everything has always riffed off the 34 base, linebacker heavy defense. For a Ryan team to ignore linebackers in the draft is certainly a bit unexpected.

Five years is not an eternity, and the Jets' aversion to linebackers could possibly be explained by the quirks of a best player available draft philosophy and a draft board that stubbornly fails to fall in such a way as to make linebackers an attractive choice when the Jets' slot comes up. However, the Jets failure to invest in linebackers began long before Rex got here.

To fully examine how much the Jets seem to be linebacker phobic, we have to go all the way back to 2000, the year Bill Parcells resigned as head coach of the Jets. Since Parcells' resignation there have been 14 NFL drafts. In those drafts 433 linebackers have been chosen, an average of 31 per year, or just about one linebacker per year per franchise. The average NFL franchise over those 14 years has drafted 13.5 linebackers. The Jets have drafted 6. That is the lowest number of drafted linebackers in the league during that stretch, and it isn't close. Over that stretch Denver drafted 8 linebackers. Houston drafted 9. Kansas City, New Orleans and Oakland drafted 10. And every other team in the NFL drafted 12 or more. Which means the Jets drafted 50% or less linebackers than all but 5 other NFL franchises since 2000.

It is a startling record of neglect of the linebacker position, particularly puzzling given that the Jets have played primarily from a 34 base during most of that time period. It is even more surprising given that the scouting department was filled by Parcells disciples during all of that time frame, and Parcells was notorious for building linebacker centric defenses. Throw in the 5 years of Rex's stewardship, another regime running linebacker centric defenses, and one is at a complete loss to explain the Jets' aversion to linebackers.

Not counting Vernon Gholston and Quinton Coples, who are/were converted defensive linemen, the Jets have not drafted a linebacker in the first round since Jonathan Vilma in 2004, and they quickly traded Vilma away to New Orleans. Since that time 26 linebackers have been drafted in the first round, none by the Jets. The Jets have not drafted a linebacker in the first 2 rounds since David Harris in 2007. Since that time 43 linebackers have been chosen in the first 2 rounds, none by the Jets. It is inexplicable.

The Jets go into the 2013 season with 12 linebackers on the current roster. Only 3 of those 12 were drafted by the Jets, and only 2 were drafted as linebackers by the Jets. Six of the 12 were never drafted at all. Add in a scrap heap pickup (Ricky Sapp), an ancient and ineffective converted defensive lineman (Pace), and a part time pass rush specialist (Antwan Barnes), and the Jets are seriously hurting at the linebacker position, a direct and all but inevitable result of their long term neglect of the position.

The record is clear, the conclusion inescapable, the result inevitable. The Jets hate linebackers. And that hatred has resulted in a linebacker depth chart nearly devoid of talent. The Jets hate linebackers so much no other NFL team comes close in terms of never drafting them. They hate linebackers so much they'd rather fill the position with a motley crew of scrap heap pickups, over the hill veterans, out of position defensive linemen and undrafted free agents than invest a few draft picks in shoring up a glaring weakness. The Jets hate linebackers so much they have invested as many 1st and 2nd round draft picks in KICKERS, for gosh sakes, as linebackers over the last 9 drafts.

Oh yeah, the Jets hate linebackers. The Jets draft board is seemingly a linebacker free zone. The hatred is so deep, so pathological, so profound one wonders if the front office wears special glasses that screen out linebacker names leading up to the draft the way sunglasses screen out UV rays. Perhaps the Jets believe linebackers cause cancer? Think back to all those predraft rumors of players the Jets were supposedly interested in. How many were linebackers? My memory may be failing, but outside of Mingo, I can't think of any. The Jets hate linebackers so much that over the last 14 drafts they have invested 7% of their draft picks to fill a position that traditionally fills 15% of the roster.

So we are left with this: a linebacker roster that has no competent full time options at outside linebacker, other than the Coples experiment, and no proven options at inside linebacker, other than the fading David Harris. A roster filled with the likes of Josh Mauga, Nick Bellore, Ricky Sapp, Danny Lansanah, Garrett McIntyre and Troy Davis. A roster of has beens, wannabes, never weres and conversion experiments. Much to the detriment of the team, the Jets hate linebackers, with a passion. The question is, why?