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Scouting Jets linebacker BJ Bello

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NFL: Cleveland Browns at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

With the regular season well underway, we’ve been looking at the players the Jets have added since cutdown day, continuing today with BJ Bello.

The 24-year old linebacker is listed at 6’2” and 229 pounds and was undrafted out of Illinois State in 2017, having previously played for Illinois. He has played in 19 NFL games with no starts and recorded eight total tackles. The Jets are Bello’s sixth NFL team.

Background

Bello started his college career at Illinois but when he left in 2015, he had recorded just 13 tackles and one pass defensed in 21 games over three seasons. At that point, the Illinois coach told Bello he wasn’t good enough to play for them so he took the decision to transfer to Illinois State.

He proved himself at the lower level, starting 11 games and racking up 72 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

After a terrific performance at his pro day, Bello started to get some NFL buzz in 2017, but it was no real surprise when he went undrafted.

Having signed for the Browns as an undrafted free agent, Bello had a good camp and preseason and, having initially been released in final cuts, was re-signed to the active roster two days before the season began.

Bello played in all 16 games, albeit mostly in a special teams role. He did play 73 snaps on defense though, 70 of which came after the bye week.

The following season, Bello was again released in final cuts by the Browns but this time was not retained. After spending two weeks on the Cardinals’ practice squad, Bello signed to the Eagles’ practice squad in October and was promoted to the active roster for the final three games of the season. He played two defensive snaps.

After the season, Bello was cut in June by the Eagles, just two days before Joe Douglas was announced as the new Jets’ general manager. Houston signed him in July and he attended training camp with them but was waived/injured in final cuts and released with an injury settlement a few days later.

During the 2019 season, Bello spent just three days on the Packers’ practice squad and otherwise was not on a roster or practice squad all year. The Jets signed him earlier this week, having worked him out a while ago.

Now let’s take a look at what Bello brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Bello is undersized, but has long arms. However, his strength was an area that needed work when he entered the league as he only managed 10 bench press reps in his pro day workout.

His speed, explosiveness and agility numbers at his pro day were excellent. They included a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash, 6.71 in the three-cone drill and 129-inch broad jump.

Usage

Bello is a versatile linebacker who is capable of playing off the ball but also sometimes plays on the edge. He will also drop off to cover the slot or outside receivers. Bello mostly played off the ball at Illinois but started to get reps off the edge at Illinois State.

He’s probably too small to be an edge rusher at the NFL level, but did still rush off the edge with the Browns in his rookie season.

He’s more of a 4-3 outside linebacker type than an option to play the Mike role and he probably wouldn’t be someone the Jets would expect to wear the defensive headset.

Special teams

Bello’s ability to produce on special teams is one of the main reasons he’s been signed, along with the fact he knows Gregg Williams’ system having played for him in Cleveland.

In his rookie season, Bello racked up six special teams tackles and then had another two in three games with the Eagles in 2018. He shows his abilities on plays like this one:

Bello has also contributed as a blocker on the punt return and kickoff return units at the NFL level, although he had a holding penalty in preseason.

Run defense

Bello hasn’t graded out particularly well as a blocker, with his main problem being that he gets caught up on blocks. On this play, he overreacts to the initial flow and this enables the tight end to drive him downfield so he can’t get to the runner.

He’s probably got more of a chance of avoiding blocks in space, but this short yardage play sees him blocked at the point of attack by an offensive lineman who easily controls him to open up a running lane.

In space, Bello looks good. He had good range in pursuit and can get from sideline-to-sideline.

Physicality

Prior to the 2017 draft, his NFL.com scouting report indicated that Bello can be “passive” and implied he didn’t like to take on blocks much. However, here is a play where he took on a blocker and leveraged his way off him to make a play.

Coverage skills

Bello’s college film shows a player who is able to take deep drops to stay with his man and can locate and make a play on the ball. He broke up five passes in his college career. However, he hasn’t been required to do much more than drop off into shallow zones at the NFL level.

He’s only given up short passes, most of them dump-offs to the flat, in preseason and regular season action at the NFL level. He made a good play here to stop a receiver in the flat following a short pass.

Tackling

Bello closes well on the ball and uses his long arms to wrap up and take down his man with good technique. He also has a knack for bringing down his man even outside of his frame.

He’s only missed a few tackles on defense at the NFL level, and a few more in kick coverage, including this one.

Blitzing

Officially, Bello has one quarterback hit in regular season action, but he’s also recorded a couple of pressures and he has two sacks in preseason action.

Primarily, he’s generated his production from hustle in clean-up. One of his preseason sacks saw him chase down the quarterback as he tried to vacate the pocket and he ran down the quarterback to create a pressure here.

His other preseason sack came as he stunted and managed to get to the quarterback even though the guard picked him up initially.

At Illinois State, Bello showed signs of being a pretty skilled pass rusher. He has great burst, displays an ability to bend the edge and showed some good technique - especially working with his hands - on his pass rush moves. He was even effective on speed-to-power moves.

However, at a listed 229 pounds, he can’t realistically be expected to play on the edge too often.

Instincts/Intelligence

Bello admitted that he entered his second NFL season feeling more comfortable with the mental side of the game and with his preparation. He has good versatility and reaction speed.

Here’s a play where he realizes it’s a screen pass too late and can’t avoid getting walled off by a blocker. The play goes for a 22-yard gain.

He can be prone to mental errors at times, having once jumped offside on 3rd-and-short in a preseason game and false started twice on punts in the regular season.

Attitude

Bello has shown a good attitude in terms of his ability to bounce back, especially by finding his way into the NFL just a year after having been told he wasn’t good enough for Division 1 college football.

He had a similar reaction to initially being cut by the Browns because he had confidence he’d land a job somewhere. Of course, he ended up on their opening day roster anyway.

Injuries

Bello hasn’t missed any time with injuries at the NFL level, although he was a healthy scratch during the 2018 postseason with the Eagles. He did get checked out for a concussion during his rookie year, though.

During his college career, he missed one game at Illinois State. He had a shoulder injury that caused him to miss significant time in 2014.

Scheme Fit

Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator for two of the three training camps Bello attended and also 16 of his 19 NFL regular season games. He should therefore be comfortable within the system and will probably be listed as a backup at the Sam linebacker position, but could also play Will.

Bello was a teammate of James Burgess with the Browns and overlapped briefly with Blake Countess in Philadelphia.

Conclusions

Bello is a bit of a stop-gap, who lacks experience but at least provides the Jets with a healthy player that will know what he’s doing if called upon to fill in.

He produced well as a special teamer and that’s his best route to sticking with the team, especially now Albert McClellan is gone for the year.

As for his longer-term future, Bello arguably looks more impressive as an edge defender, but probably would have to bulk up more to be able to undertake that role on a full-time basis.