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Scouting Jets linebacker Patrick Onwuasor

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NFL: DEC 22 Ravens at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the offseason underway, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ new signings. We continue with a look at linebacker Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor.

The 27-year old is listed at 6’0” and 227 pounds and was undrafted out of Portland State in 2016. Onwuasor has started 32 games over the past four seasons, racking up 234 tackles, six passes defensed, 9.5 sacks and one interception.

Background

Coming out of high school, Onwuasor was a three-star wide receiver prospect, although he had also played on defense. He was originally recruited to Arizona, where he redshirted his first season.

In 2012, he played in 12 games and registered 36 tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass defensed. However, he was kicked off the team at the end of the year following some legal troubles.

Onwuasor transferred to Portland State, where he started six games at safety and two at linebacker in his first season in 2014. He racked up 53 tackles, three tackles for loss, two pass break-ups and a sack. He also had a pick-six against Washington State.

In his senior year, Onwuasor was an FCS first-team all-American after racking up 85 tackles and an FCS-leading nine interceptions. After a solid performance at his pro day, he was hoping to be drafted but opted to sign as an undrafted free agent with the Ravens having gone unselected.

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

Measurables/Athleticism

Onwuasor was only 210 pounds when he did his pro day workout but put up good speed and explosiveness numbers with a 4.6 40-yard dash, 36.5” vertical and 127” broad jump. He also put up 24 bench press reps. However, his agility numbers were poor.

Usage

Although he had played some linebacker at Portland State, Onwuasor arrived at Baltimore as a safety. He was apparently told on the first day of rookie camp that they were converting him to linebacker.

Over the next few years with the Ravens, he lined up alongside CJ Mosley at inside linebacker, but when Mosley departed to join the Jets 12 months ago, Onwuasor became the Mike linebacker. However, that experiment lasted just a month before they moved him back to the Will position and into a rotational role having brought in Josh Bynes and LJ Fort.

Within those roles, he’s primarily played off the ball, but he will creep up to the line at times and sometimes match up in the slot.

Other than at the start of last year, Onwuasor has rarely been employed as a three-down linebacker.

Run defense

Onwuasor is capable of going sideline-to-sideline, always around the football and a productive player against the run. In 2017, 59 of his 90 tackles came against the run.

Like most smaller linebackers, he is at his best when kept clean so he can navigate traffic. His speed is an asset in terms of his ability to shoot gaps.

However, he does have some physicality to his game and so he is also prepared to take on blockers.

Coverage skills

With his experience as a defensive back, Onwuasor looks comfortable in coverage and has some excellent ball skills. As noted, he was among the leaders in the nation with nine interceptions in his junior year, although this was his only interception so far at the NFL level.

At the pro level, he shown an ability to pick up man coverage assignments and drop off into zone coverage. He’s been picked on at times and opposing quarterbacks have had a quarterback rating of over 100 in each of the last three seasons, albeit only just on two of those occasions.

On this play he drops off and shows good reactions to not only prevent a completion to AJ Green but also set up an interception.

Onwuasor has been called for just one penalty in coverage during his career so far. That was a defensive holding penalty.

Tackling

As noted, Onwuasor has been a productive tackler and is constantly around the football. He closes well on the ball and generally finishes with good technique.

He does miss tackles from time to time and had a career high of 11 missed tackles in 2019, but his overall tackle efficiency has been solid. Here was a bad example of one he did miss.

Onwuasor has a knack for forcing fumbles with six in his career, including one in the postseason, with three of these being returned for touchdowns by his teammates. This forced fumble and recovery clinched a preseason win.

Blitzing

Onwuasor has been a productive blitzer, generating a pressure on approximately one in every seven pass rush attempts, including 9.5 sacks, 5.5 of which came in 2018.

Some of those sacks have come in clean-up or as he’s been spying a quarterback but he’s also effective at getting home on a blitz. He’s good at eluding blockers but on this occasion he mowed over the running back.

Onwuasor has been called for roughing the passer once in his career so far.

Special teams

Onwuasor initially made the Ravens’ team by dedicating himself to special teams, where he had eight tackles on kick coverage units as a rookie, forcing a fumble on this play.

He’s played less on special teams since he’s had a full-time role on defense but still generated some production in kick coverage, albeit that all three of his special teams tackles last season came in the same game. He’s also had three special teams penalties, two for holding and one false start.

In high school, Onwuasor also had some success as a kick returner.

Physicality

Onwuasor’s physicality was cited as one of the things the Ravens liked about him when they brought him in as an undrafted free agent. He displays his effort, relentlessness and hustle on plays like this.

He can be reckless at times because he’s had two unnecessary roughness penalties so far in his career, but he has yet to be fined. His aggressive style will also see him make some big, clean, hits though.

Instincts/Intelligence

As a child, Onwuasor was diagnosed with a learning difficulty but he overcame that to have a successful football career so far and now does charitable work in that field.

Onwuasor has been versatile over the course of his career and obviously has a good understanding of everyone’s role on defense. However, his move into Mosley’s role at the Mike position, which required him to call the defense and wear the headset, did not go as well as hoped.

He makes decisive and quick reads at times but can be caught out by play fakes and misdirection.

On this play, the Ravens make a pre-snap adjustment but Onwuasor is late moving into position and not only gets caught inside but also gets in his teammate’s way at the second level.

When playing zone coverage, Onwuasor has good reactions, but occasionally can be exposed in space.

Attitude

Portland State gave Onwuasor a second chance after he was kicked off Arizona’s team following four drug felony charges that were later dropped. He made the most of that opportunity to make it to the NFL.

He reportedly works hard and has always had a mature attitude to preparation. However, his aggressive style rubbed some teammates the wrong way in team practices, causing some on-field altercations.

Onwuasor has always been soft-spoken, but Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson made a point of encouraging him to be more vocal after Mosley’s departure and he developed into a good leader. Together with three other veterans, Onwuasor was integral in forming a group called “The Council” which was designed to create accountability throughout the team.

However, by the end of the season, he’d picked up a reputation as a malcontent after being kicked out of a December practice following an argument with coaches.

Injuries

Onwuasor’s most significant injury issue at the pro level was last season as he missed two games with a high ankle sprain that limited him throughout most of the rest of the season and may explain why he graded out poorly and saw his playing time reduced. He’s reportedly 100 percent healthy now.

Scheme Fit

Onwuasor played well alongside Mosley in the past, although he showed that he’s perhaps not an ideal fill-in for him if he gets hurt again.

He obviously has a lot of connections to players and front office staff on the Jets, starting with Joe Douglas and Chad Alexander who were with the Ravens as he joined them as an undrafted rookie.

Conclusions

Onwuasor definitely has a chance to win a starting role in the Jets’ defense next year, but that will depend on whether the team is going to retain Avery Williamson. Even if they did retain Williamson, it seems likely they might use Williamson on running downs and still use Onwuasor on passing downs.

The rest of his competition - James Burgess, Neville Hewitt and Blake Cashman - should challenge him for reps, but last season probably showed that all three are good as potential fill-ins but not necessarily when forced into a full-time role.

If Onwuasor can find a role and contribute to the Jets’ culture change then he should at least provide them with extra depth at a position where they were injury ravaged last season and will be relying on players returning to health in 2020.