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Scouting Jets’ edge defender Sharif Finch

NFL: JAN 03 Jets at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Saturday, the Jets signed edge defender Sharif Finch to the active roster after having activated him for special teams duties in the previous two games. Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at his strengths and weaknesses.

The 25-year old is listed at 6’4” and 250 pounds and was undrafted out of Temple in 2018. Finch has played in 25 NFL games with three starts, mostly with the Tennessee Titans. He’s registered 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in his career so far.

Background

After establishing himself as a productive linebacker in high school, Finch had several scholarship offers and eventually decided to go to Temple.

As a true freshman, Finch earned himself a couple of starts at linebacker and recorded 30 tackles and two sacks. He then moved to defensive end and started 11 games as a sophomore, recording 35 tackles, two more sacks and an interception. He scored defensive touchdowns in consecutive weeks at the start of the season, on a fumble and a 65-yard interception return.

Finch’s junior year saw his production and playing time reduced as the team began to operate a rotation and then in his senior year, he only played four games and ended up getting a medical redshirt.

Returning for his redshirt senior year, Finch set career-highs with 55 tackles and 8.5 sacks to earn second team all-AAC honors and establish himself as a potential draft pick. However, he wasn’t invited to the scouting combine and ended up signing as a priority undrafted free agent with the Titans.

After an impressive preseason, Finch made the Titans opening day roster and was active for 15 games as a rookie. He recorded 22 tackles and 1.5 sacks while also contributing on special teams.

In his second season, Finch made the first three starts of his career and registered two sacks in eight games. However, he had some injuries and was released close to the end of the season.

After initially signing for the Bengals last December only to fail his physical, Finch ended up getting signed by the Raiders during training camp this summer, only to be released in final cuts. He would later spend three weeks on the Bears’ practice squad.

The Jets signed Finch to their practice squad back in November and he contributed on special teams in the wins over the Rams and Browns after being elevated from the practice squad. He was signed to the active roster on the eve of the team’s final game against New England.

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

Measurables/Athleticism

Finch has good size for an outside linebacker with adequate length. In college, he bulked up for the defensive end role and this contributed to his injury issues so he lost some weight ahead of his senior year and had his best season.

At his pro day, Finch had mixed results with an impressive 40-yard dash (4.65) and three-cone drill (7.00). His explosiveness numbers were poor though and his 23 bench press reps were about average for an edge defender.

Usage

As noted, Finch played linebacker initially before converting to the defensive end position in college. At the NFL level, he’s mostly played on the edge as an outside linebacker but he has played some snaps off the ball and with his hand in the dirt.

Motor

Finch works hard in the trenches and in pursuit on defense and special teams. On this play, he flushes the quarterback from the pocket and chases him all the way across the field.

Here’s an example of him working in the trenches, as he outmuscles the tight end to gain a leverage advantage and then works his way upfield to draw a holding penalty in the end zone for a safety.

While Finch has just been part of a rotation even in the games he started at the NFL level, he did play over 40 snaps in a couple of games at the start of last year. He played over 600 snaps in his last year at Temple so he has shown he can handle a starter’s workload.

Pass rush

Until his redshirt senior season, Finch had just six sacks in four seasons, although he had 17.5 sacks in his last two seasons in high school. After he broke out with 8.5 sacks in his final year at Temple, the Titans gave him some reps off the edge in his first two seasons.

Finch has proven to have some pretty decent pass rushing tools with speed off the edge, some flashes of power and an arsenal of moves. However, he hasn’t generated pressure at a particularly high rate in regular season action. His pressure rate in preseason was slightly better.

Here’s a play where he comes off the edge and shows some bend to get pressure on the quarterback.

He had an impressive performance against longtime NFL starter Byron Bell in preseason action. On this play, Finch shows some power by driving Bell back on a bull rush.

He was credited with a sack on Baker Mayfield here as he made a sharp change on direction on an inside move but allowed Mayfield to wriggle away from him and was lucky to get the phantom in-the-grasp call.

Run defense

Finch made some good plays against the runs while with the Titans, although he graded out better and had more run stops in his rookie year than he did in year two.

On this play, he gets a leverage advantage with initial quickness and keeps his outside hand free as he works his way downhill.

He does a good job of fighting off blocks against tight ends, although he can get overpowered by offensive linemen at times.

Technique

As noted, Finch has had success with a variety of pass rushing moves, including speed, power and spin moves. A few times in preseason action he busted out a spectacular Reggie White style hump move.

However, what his game perhaps lacks is an ability to transition into a second move when his initial move is repelled.

Two things Finch said he worked on specifically since entering the league were coming tight around the edge and his hand placement. Here’s a good example of him slapping the tight end’s hands away to get a clean run at the quarterback.

Tackling

Finch had 10 missed tackles in his last year at Temple, but he’s been a reliable tackler at the NFL level so far. Here was a rare example of a missed tackle from his time with the Titans.

He has a knack for stripping the ball away from ball carriers with five forced fumbles in his college career and two since he came up to the NFL level.

Coverage

Finch will drop into coverage from time to time and obviously has the experience of playing at the linebacker position. So far, he hasn’t been exploited in coverage very often.

In college, Finch intercepted two passes - returning one for a touchdown and the other to the one-yard line - and broke up another five, but one thing he hasn’t done is get his hands up to bat down passes on a rush.

Instincts/Intelligence

Finch has the benefit of having played a few different roles during his career and makes some plays where he reads his keys early and is fast to the ball. He apparently studies hard with a desire to know his role.

This was an impressive play, which saw him read and react to make the stop on this screen pass.

Special teams

Finch has the athletic tools to make some good contributions on special teams and he made an immediate impact as a rookie with seven tackles in kick coverage.

In addition to his kick coverage contributions, Finch has been employed as a blocker on the return units at the NFL. However, in college, he displayed a real knack for blocking punts, often leading to touchdowns. He had five in all, including three in 2015 when he was second in the nation in blocked kicks.

Attitude/Demeanor

Finch is regarded as a humble player who was a leader in college and is a good teammate.

At Temple, he was awarded a single-digit number for his final season. This is traditionally given to those players who exude the most toughness and Finch in particular had impressed by playing through pain during his time there.

He grew up as one of 22 siblings and sadly lost his mother while he was in college and his father during his first training camp, providing him motivation to keep working hard.

His on-field discipline has been good, with no penalties in regular season action. However, he did jump offside once in preseason.

Injuries

Finch had a lot of injury problems in college, where he had to have an offseason shoulder surgery and two arthroscopic knee procedures. He missed one game in 2015 due to a knee issue and his 2016 season was cut short due to more knee problems.

At the NFL level, he has been a healthy scratch a few times but missed some time due to a shoulder injury last year. He also had a minor ankle injury.

Scheme Fit

So far, Finch has only been used on special teams by the Jets but his pass rushing ability could at some point see him get involved in the mix to be a situational rusher.

Finch has never been a teammate of any current Jets, other than for the one day he was a Cincinnati Bengal, when Brady Sheldon was on their team.

Conclusions

When a player is added to the roster right at the end of the season, they’ll usually get a deal that keeps them on the team through the following year, so we can expect Finch to be back at training camp next year.

Finch’s ability to contribute on special teams will always give him a chance to make it onto an NFL roster but if he’s to realize his potential to become a defensive contributor, he’ll have to make the most of any opportunities he gets if there’s a preseason next year.

Titans fans thought that Finch had some potential during his first couple of seasons and some were disappointed that he got released. If this does prove to be a mistake, the Jets will be hoping to profit from it.