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Scouting Jets edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu

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San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

A few days ago, the Jets signed former Chargers outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, who is a former second round pick. Today, we’re taking an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.

The 25-year old Attaochu is in his fifth season and has 83 tackles, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles in his career. His best season was 2015, which saw him start 12 games and record six sacks. However, he’s not played much since then, as he fell down the depth chart due to injuries. He left Georgia Tech as the school’s all-time sack leader.

Background

Attaochu, who was born in Nigeria, was recruited to Georgia Tech and immediately contributed in a reserve role in his freshman season, as he recorded 23 tackles and three sacks before becoming a starter the following season. His sack total increased each year to 12.5 in his senior year, as he was a second-team all-ACC selection and third-team all-American. He had registered a career high with 69 tackles in his junior year and ended up his career with 196 tackles, 31.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Despite injuries at both the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, the Chargers opted to trade up for Attaochu in the 2014 draft, selecting him with the 50th overall pick. As a rookie, he made an immediate impact with a couple of big plays in his first ever game but ended up with just 10 tackles and two sacks in a reserve role.

In 2015, Attaochu became a starter and responded well with a career high 52 tackles and six sacks. He was expected to go from strength to strength thereafter but had an injury-plagued third season with just eight tackles and two sacks in eight games. In 2017, Attaochu was hoping to win a reserve role behind starters Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, but he missed most of camp and preseason with another injury and, despite being healthy during the season, was a healthy scratch in 12 out of the 16 games and didn’t contribute much in the other four.

Attaochu signed a $5.1 million deal, half of which was guaranteed, to sign with the 49ers, but once again missed some time in camp and ended up not making the roster. He joins a Jets team desperate for outside pass rush and lacking in experience on the edge.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Attaochu brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Usage

The Chargers operated a 3-4 system when Attaochu was first drafted but they converted to a 4-3 system last season. His lack of familiarity with the scheme was perhaps a factor in him not playing much last year even when he was healthy. However, he did play in a 4-3 in college and his role with the Chargers called for him to line up on either side of the formation with a mixture of snaps standing up and playing with his hand in the dirt.

The Chargers also lined him up on the interior in some pass rushing packages, from where he had some success stunting around the edge.

Measurables/Athleticism

Attaochu is listed at 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds and reportedly has an 81-inch wingspan to go with an athletic build. He couldn’t work out at the combine but posted an excellent 4.58 40-yard dash and 37.5-inch vertical jump at his pro day.

His other numbers were less impressive and he had a poor short shuttle time, which shows up on film because he looks better going straight ahead or coming downhill than he does when required to react and change direction.

Motor

Attaochu’s motor was regarded as one of his best attributes coming out of college. He’s capable of handling a big workload, plays to the whistle and makes the effort to chase down plays that go away from him.

That attitude is personified by this pass rush, where he didn’t give up on the play and was eventually rewarded with a sack.

Run defense

Attaochu proved he can handle run defense assignments when he produced well in a starting role back in 2015. He was consistent and showed improvement over the course of the season, grading out well above average. He plays with good leverage and has worked to improve his strength since entering the league.

This was one of his best plays in preseason, as he drove the tight end back off his spot to set the edge and then quickly disengaged from the block to get in on the stop.

Here was a negative play, though, as he tried to shoot a gap and allowed himself to be taken out of the play.

Attaochu will battle hard in the trenches, using his length well, and looks good pursuing runs to the outside or chasing runners down from the backside.

Pass rush

Attaochu’s production in terms of generating pressure has been consistent throughout his career, even though most of his sacks came in his one season as a full-time starter.

His role often called for him to contain the quarterback in the pocket or just to drive his man back off his spot, but he also flashes the ability to beat his man to get into the backfield. Crucially, he possesses the ability to beat his man around the outside, which the players currently on the Jets’ roster do not do with any kind of consistency.

Since entering the league, Attaochu has been working to improve his speed-to-power transition and seems to have made improvements in that area. Nevertheless, there are times when he allows himself to get redirected upfield too easily after initially gaining outside leverage on a pass rush attempt. Scouting reports when he entered the league indicated that Attaochu usually has more success against the more athletic tackles than those who can overpower him with their strength and that still seems to be the case at times.

While Attaochu will use a variety of ways to get off blocks, he still hasn’t really showcased an arsenal of pass rushing moves and doesn’t show much in the way of setting his man up or going to a counter move. However, he has a quick get-off and can be effective on inside moves, enabling him to exploit a tackle who is inexperienced or loses focus.

Tackling

Attaochu’s tackling efficiency numbers are solid, as he’s only missed one tackle since the 2015 season. He can deliver a pop when he hits and uses his long arms to wrap up ball carriers. His length is also an asset in pursuit, as he has shown the ability to trip runners up when at full stretch.

He had a couple of missed tackles in preseason though, including this one which saw the quarterback slip through his grasp in the pocket.

Attaochu has shown a decent knack for forcing fumbles when rushing the passer. He had four forced fumbles in his senior year at Georgia Tech and has three in his NFL career so far.

Coverage skills

Attaochu hasn’t dropped into coverage much and, when he has, it’s nearly always been just dropping off into a shallow zone rather than tracking someone in man-to-man coverage. His poor agility numbers suggest probable hip stiffness and that can be seen on film.

Attaochu did intercept a pass in college and has shown an ability to knock down passes at the line, which he’s done a couple of times at the NFL level. When isolated in space though, he has a tendency to try and grab.

Making reads/instincts

Attaochu does a good job in the trenches of locking out his long arms and seeing the play unfold ahead of him, but he can be susceptible to play fakes and deception. He’s less comfortable in space – a point reinforced by the fact that scouts said he looked like a fish out of water when coaches tried him out as an off-ball linebacker during Senior Bowl week.

While he didn’t seem to blow too many assignments, Attaochu has jumped offside a couple of times at the NFL level and there was one play where the Chargers ran a twist stunt with their inside linebackers but the back was wide open on Attaochu’s side of the field for a big play. With both inside linebackers blitzing, the edge defender would typically be responsible for dropping off to cover the back, so Attaochu seemed to have misheard or misunderstood the call there.

Physicality

As noted, Attaochu battles hard in the trenches and can hit. However, he doesn’t have major issues with penalties. In fact, he only had one since his rookie year. He was called for lowering the head on a pass rush move during preseason, but that seemed to be a bogus call.

Special teams

Attaochu should be able to contribute on special teams, as he’s seen plenty of action on every unit at the NFL level. He has eight special teams tackles on kick coverage in his career and he showed a knack for blocking kicks in high school and college, before contributing a blocked punt in his first ever NFL game.

Injuries

Attaochu’s career was side-tracked by injuries in the 2016 season as he had been dealing with a high ankle sprain early in the year and then broke his foot to land on injured reserve. Over the rest of his career, he’s had constant problems with hamstring injuries. This affected him at the Senior Bowl, in his rookie season and in preseason in both 2017 and 2018.

Once the 2017 regular season got underway, Attaochu was apparently healthy again but had lost his spot on the depth chart to Chris McCain and ended up being a healthy scratch in 12 of the 16 games. A hamstring injury also affected his efforts to make the 49ers roster prior to his release last week.

Attaochu also missed a few games in college with a high ankle sprain and a chest injury and also couldn’t work out at the combine due to a finger injury.

Attitude/Demeanor

Despite being a fifth-year pro, Attaochu is still only 25. However, there have been no suggestions of maturity issues, as he refused to complain about his lack of opportunities last season and has an excellent work ethic. A team captain at both college and high school levels, Attaochu brings intensity and a fiery temperament, although he needs to ensure he keeps that under control.

In one game at Georgia Tech, Attaochu lost his temper and threw a punch, which led to him being suspended for the first half in the following week’s game. He otherwise hasn’t been suspended or fined at the NFL level and doesn’t seem to have any character issues.

Scheme familiarity

As noted above, Attaochu should be comfortable with the various packages the Jets run, having played in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. While the Jets are desperate for pass rushing help, it will be interesting to see if he can play himself into the mix for an every-down role.

Conclusions

For many fans, the approach to upgrading the edge rusher positions was relatively straightforward. The perception is that they are so weak at generating pressure off the edge that anyone with any kind of pass rushing résumé was sure to be an upgrade. Hopefully that will prove to be the case with Attaochu (and any other pass rushers the Jets may yet bring aboard).

However, his inability to win playing time over players like Chris McCain and Kyle Emmanuel does little to provide a guarantee of success. Injuries have obviously been a big factor, so remaining healthy will be key to Attaochu being able to contribute with the Jets (so it’s not great news to see him already limited in practice due to a calf issue). As noted, when he has played, he’s generated pressure at a decent level and he has shown an ability to rack up some sacks, even though this was a few years ago.

From Attaochu’s point of view, the Jets are a good opportunity because there aren’t many players ahead of him to prevent him from eventually taking on a key role. His film shows he does have some ability, both as a pass rusher and, if necessary, against the run, but he needs to display that in practice. Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 25 so may not have reached his ceiling yet.