When Avery Williamson went down with a season ending injury in the pre-season the Jets wasted little time in adding to the inside linebacker mix on the roster, signing veteran linebackers Stephone Anthony and Albert McClellan. Along with Neville Hewitt and rookie Blake Cashman, speculation was that Williamson’s role in the defense would be covered by some combination of those players. Somewhat lost in the shuffle is James Burgess, a 25 year old third year inside linebacker out of Louisville.
James Burgess may have increased his chances of being included in the conversation with several big plays in the pre-season, including an interception returned for a touchdown to ice the second pre-season game against the Atlanta Falcons. Those kinds of big plays are Burgess’ calling card, and just might be enough to earn him a spot on the 53 man roster.
In two years with the Cleveland Browns, James Burgess had 722 defensive snaps and accumulated 78 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 7 QB hits, 4 sacks, 3 passes defended and 1 forced fumble. Those numbers may need some context to flesh out their value, so let’s give them some context.
Focusing just on high impact plays of course misses the part of the picture where a player is just doing his job, being in the right place at the right time, not blowing assignments, not missing tackles. Those routine plays are the bread and butter for any defender, and whether or not a defender can be relied on to routinely make the routine play is an important part of the evaluation of any player. However, high impact plays are also important, and making them at a rate significantly higher than the average player can help to cover up any deficiencies a player might otherwise exhibit.
For purposes of this article we’re going to define high impact plays on defense as tackles for loss, sacks, quarterback hits, interceptions, forced fumbles and passes defended. These are the kinds of plays that destroy the rhythm of an offense and stop drives.
Let’s take a look at each of the Jets inside linebackers with more than trivial NFL experience and see how they stack up with respect to high impact plays. James Burgess has made 28 high impact plays in his NFL career in a total of 722 defensive snaps. That works out to about 26 snaps per high impact play. How does that stack up against the other Jets inside linebackers with a non-trivial NFL track record? Here’s how that looks:
Defensive Snaps Per High Impact Play (Lower is better)
James Burgess 26
C.J. Mosley 37
Neville Hewitt 43
Albert McClellan 55
Stephone Anthony 56
Avery Williamson 58
That is kind of a shocking result. Burgess comes out on top, by a rather wide margin. Outside of Mosley and Hewitt, the two guys most likely to get playing time, Burgess makes big plays at better than twice the rate of his competition on the Jets.
Looking at some sub-categories where Burgess excels, we get the following:
Defensive Snaps Per Tackle For Loss (Lower is better)
James Burgess: 56
Albert McClellan: 110
C.J. Mosley: 115
Neville Hewitt: 121
Stephone Anthony: 143
Avery Williamson: 184
Again, this result is stunning. Burgess makes tackles behind the line of scrimmage at twice the rate of C.J. Mosley and better than three times the rate of Avery Williamson. In terms of tackles for loss, there is Burgess, there is a giant chasm, then there is everyone else among the Jets inside linebackers.
Here’s how James Burgess stacks up in terms of sacks:
Defensive Snaps Per Sack (Lower is better)
James Burgess 181
Avery Williamson 330
Neville Hewitt 388
Albert McClellan 441
C.J. Mosley 581
Stephone Anthony 1283
Again, Burgess laps the field, more than doubling the sack rate of every other Jets inside linebacker except Avery Williamson.
Finally, QB hits:
Defensive Snaps Per QB Hit (Lower is better)
James Burgess 103
C.J. Mosley 154
Neville Hewitt 162
Avery Williamson 192
Stephone Anthony 257
Albert McClellan 331
The differences aren’t quite so huge in this case, but Burgess still leads the field by a wide margin.
By now it should be clear that, at least as far as the limited sample we have of him thus far in the NFL indicates, James Burgess is on a completely different level than the rest of the Jets inside linebackers when it comes to making high impact plays. Whether that is enough to overcome whatever shortcomings he may have in other aspects of the game in the eyes of the Jets coaches remains to be seen. But in a Jets defense predicated on an aggressive, penetrating approach designed to produced big plays, it would be a bit of a surprise if the one guy at inside linebacker who stands head and shoulders above the others in his big play abilities ends up on the cutting room floor.