Over the next few months, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ rookies. We continue today with linebacker Jamien Sherwood.
The 21-year old Sherwood is 6’2” and 216 and was the 146th overall pick in the fifth round of this year’s draft. He racked up 140 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception and 10 passes defensed in three years at Auburn.
Sherwood was a four-star safety prospect in high school and was eventually recruited to Auburn where he contributed in a reserve role as a true freshman in 2018. He ended the season with 22 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two passes defensed and an interception.
In his sophomore year, Sherwood’s role continued to increase and he saw his first career start in a game against LSU where the Tigers adopted a 3-1-7 base personnel package, racking up a career-high 10 tackles and two passes defensed. He ended the season with 43 tackles and career highs in tackles for loss (four) and passes defensed (five).
As a junior, Sherwood moved into a full-time role, starting every game. He racked up a career-high 75 tackles, adding a sack, three passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
Sherwood decided to enter the draft at the end of the 2020 season but his stock took a hit when he only ran a 4.76 at his pro day. The Jets drafted him with the second pick of the fifth round and announced him as a linebacker despite the fact he played his entire college career at safety.
Now let’s take a look at what Sherwood brings to the table, divided into categories.
Sherwood has good safety size but is small for a linebacker. However, he has outstanding length with an 82-inch wingspan. That’s big even for a linebacker. He’s a similar size to former first round pick Keanu Neal, who has made the same transition from safety to linebacker and almost signed with the Jets in the offseason, but could look to add 10 pounds or so for the role.
As noted, Sherwood ran a disappointing 4.76 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, although that would be less concerning for a linebacker than for a safety and he does play faster than that on film.
His numbers weren’t all bad as he had good explosiveness numbers with a 36-inch vertical and 123-inch broad jump. His agility and strength numbers were also below average though.
As noted, Sherwood played at safety with Auburn, although he often lined up in the box or came up into the box to make plays.
He was often used as a “money” linebacker on passing downs, which sometimes saw him lining up in the A-gap or up at the line on a tight end.
In the LSU game where he made his first start, he primarily lined up six yards deep directly behind the middle linebacker.
The Jets obviously plan to make him a full-time linebacker that can lean on his defensive back experience to exhibit range and flexibility, but he does also have plenty of experience of playing in the box.
Sherwood has a reputation as someone with an extremely high football IQ. Even going back to his high school days, he put in extra work in terms of pre-snap preparation and on-field communication, displaying an ability to anticipate plays and call defenses. Could he potentially be a player who one day wears the headset and calls defensive signals at the pro level?
He shows those anticipatory skills here, as he’s already on the move anticipating the jet sweep to the man in motion. This allows him to get out in front of two blockers and make the play.
Here’s another example of him making an immediate read and making the play with no wasted motion. He’s able to engage the blocker before he has time to set up his block and disengages to make the play in the backfield.
There are, however, some occasions where he will take himself out of a play by being too quick to shoot a gap or break into the backfield. He’s also been susceptible to being looked off by opposing quarterbacks downfield and can let players get behind him in coverage.
Any time a defensive back converts to linebacker, the concern is that they might be overpowered in the box and unable to get off blocks. However, the Jets have a strong front four working ahead of him and he’ll be on the field with players like CJ Mosley and Jarrad Davis who can take on blockers.
His anticipatory skills are useful here because he can get out in front of or avoid getting caught up on a block if he reads the play early. If you’re able to keep him clean, then he can rely on his instincts to meet runners in the hole or shoot gaps into the backfield to make plays.
When he does have to take on blocks, he shows some ability to use his hands to leverage his way off them, but can get overpowered by bigger blockers.
In an ideal world, Sherwood will be able to fly around in space and operate going sideline-to-sideline which he does here to stretch out this outside run.
Sherwood displays good range in space, although his slow timed speed perhaps led the Jets to conclude that range would be better suited in pursuit and coverage closer to the line of scrimmage rather than down the field.
This play provides a good example of how he could still be useful in coverage as he lines up in the A-gap but then drops deep to bracket a slot receiver. This could enable the Jets to operate some Tampa-2 style coverages with him dropping into the deep middle so the safeties can provide deep coverage support outside.
In zone coverages, Sherwood displays an ability to pick up and close well on underneath routes to break up passes and limit yardage on short throws.
He can also pick up a back coming out of the backfield or match up in man to man coverage with tight ends and slot receivers.
Sherwood was called for two defensive pass interference penalties in his college career, with one downfield and one near the goal line.
He has had 10 passes defensed in his career, but only one interception which came as he was ranging deep and was able to pick off an overthrown deep ball near the sideline.
His overall college numbers were pretty good as he didn’t give up any 40-yard plays and only one touchdown during his career.
Sherwood has a reputation as a good tackler and his tackling efficiency in 2020 was very good. This is despite the fact that he often unloads some big hits.
He had a few issues with missing tackles in 2019 but his number of missed tackles dramatically reduced in 2020 despite an increase in playing time and total tackles. In fact, he didn’t miss a single tackle in the last eight games.
One concern with some of these hits are that they could potentially draw penalties if he’s seen to be leading with the helmet or forcibly hitting a defenseless player. He was only flagged for this once in college, but it was a costly one because it saw him ejected for targeted in the second half of a blowout win over Samford. That meant he was forced to sit out the first half of Auburn’s next game - the 2019 Iron Bowl against Alabama.
Despite a lot of big hits on his highlight reel, Sherwood didn’t record any forced fumbles at Auburn. He did recover three though.
While he lined up close to the line of scrimmage on a regular basis and often bluffed an A-gap blitz, Sherwood usually just bailed out and dropped into coverage. However, when he did blitz, he generated pressure at a decent rate.
He only registered 2.5 sacks in his college career, 1.5 of which came in his true freshman season.
As alluded to above, Sherwood brings some good physicality to the safety position, which is part of the reason he is seen as a linebacker conversion project.
As noted, he’s a big hitter when tackling or breaking up passes and he can be aggressive in how he takes on blockers.
Sherwood has plenty of experience on special teams, seeing playing time on all the main units and in a variety of roles. There’s no doubt he would be expected to do the same with the Jets, certainly early on in his career.
In 2019, he had some success covering both punts and kickoffs with five special teams tackles. He did also have some missed tackles, too.
Sherwood has been called for two special teams penalties during his college career.
Sherwood is a player whose teammates had a lot of belief in. Current NFL players Marlon Davidson, Noah Igbinoghene and Daniel Thomas all commented that they expected him to become a key defender at Auburn and future NFL talent after leaving the program.
He’s regarded as someone with good energy and a good work ethic who leads by example. While he isn’t regarded as a vocal leader, he does communicate well on the field and his defensive backs coach at Auburn described him as a “high productive player with low maintenance”.
Sherwood played in 34 games in three years at Auburn, so injuries weren’t a major issue for him. However, he had some ongoing issues with both ankles in 2020 and had to leave the LSU game when he reinjured one of them.
It’s not that rare these days for a college safety to become a linebacker at the NFL level, especially if they played in the box a lot or had a hybrid role.
There may be some growing pains at first but Sherwood has plenty of skills that will make him a good fit as the Will linebacker in Robert Saleh’s system. Ultimately, the Jets are trying to create a brand of “positionless football” which means anyone capable of playing multiple positions can be a flexible chess piece rather than a tweener as they might be in a more rigid system.
Sherwood was a teammate of fellow Jets rookie Jordyn Peters at Auburn. Peters will likely remain in the safety rotation with the Jets so they won’t be competing directly for playing time. However, he is not the only one making this safety-to-linebacker transition, so there will be a few other players in camp that are in the same boat.
Clearly the Jets have identified Sherwood as someone who has value as a linebacker and, if they’re correct, they could have scored themselves a bargain as other teams may have overlooked him by only considering him at the safety position.
Sherwood won’t be under immediate pressure to contribute on defense because the Jets are expected to have CJ Mosley and Jarrad Davis on the field most of the time in 2021.
However, with Davis on a one-year deal and Mosley’s long-term future uncertain as he seeks to reestablish himself after missing most of the last two years, there could be a good long-term opportunity for a player like Sherwood to transition into a full-time role as early as 2022 if he develops quickly.