Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at each of the Jets draft picks. We’ll still be looking at each of the undrafted rookies, but today we wrap up this year’s draft class with an in-depth look at Texas A&M defensive end Micheal Clemons, selected by the Jets with the 117th overall pick.
The 24-year old Clemons is listed at 6’5” and 270 pounds and was the defensive MVP for the Aggies in 2020 and 2021. He had a career-high seven sacks in 2021.
Clemons barely played in his last two years of high school, due to injuries and transfer rules, so he had no offers at the end of his high school career and opted to walk on at Cisco college.
After redshirting his first season, Clemons had eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in his second year and was named as a three-star junior college prospect. Plenty of schools wanted him, but he opted to head to Texas A&M where he showed promise in a rotational role in his first season, registering 19 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Unfortunately, an injury ahead of his second year meant that he missed the entire 2018 season.
In 2019, he moved into a starting role as he ended up with nine starts in 11 games and registered 28 tackles, two tackles for loss and half a sack.
2020 was looking like a breakout season for Clemons as he started the first five games and racked up four sacks. However, another injury ended his season prematurely. Even so, he was named as the team’s defensive MVP.
In 2021, he was able to gain an extra year of eligibility due to the special Covid-19 rules and had his best season with 32 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He also returned a fumble for his first career touchdown. Clemons was once again awarded the team’s defensive MVP award.
After attending the senior bowl and scouting combine, some sources had Clemons listed as a possible day two pick. However, he lasted into the fourth round and the Jets selected him with their final selection of the draft.
Now let’s take a look at what Clemons brings to the table, divided into categories.
On the field, Clemons - who has a powerful frame and excellent length - shows strength and explosiveness but can be stiff in his movements. However, his workout numbers are average to above-average across the board.
He posted 24 bench press reps at the combine and a 35-inch vertical at his pro day. His 40-yard dash time at his pro day was 4.85.
Clemons, who was a linebacker in high school, played on both sides at College Station and both with his hand in the dirt and standing up. He occasionally lined up inside but not very often.
Clemons has a reputation for having a non-stop motor and will keep battling to get to the quarterback even when initially repelled.
He’s active and hustles in pursuit, working downhill and chasing plays from the backside and will display his power even when double-teamed.
He’s proven to be capable of handling a starter’s workload, having played over 60 snaps in five games for the Aggies.
Clemons developed his pass rush skills over the course of his career, which is usually something you’d like to see. However, in his case, his late breakout meant that he was doing a lot of damage against players who were three or four years younger than him.
Despite these concerns, his pass rush production was good in his final two seasons. In fact, he had the same number of total pressures as Jermaine Johnson last season despite Johnson having almost 100 more pass rush attempts.
Clemons is best known for his power coming off the edge. He is an effective bull rusher, capable of walking linemen back in the pocket or even running over them.
He can also generate pressure on a speed rush coming around the edge, even though at times he can be too stiff and upright, making him too easy for quality tackles to redirect.
With his impressive play strength, Clemons can be an asset setting the edge and holding his ground in the trenches, while also having the explosiveness to shoot gaps.
There are, however, times where he needs to be more consistent with his pad level to avoid getting driven off the line.
Within this role, Clemons can shed blocks and get downhill or move laterally in order to stay in front of ball-carriers:
He displays good awareness and is disciplined in the running game, staying at home here to make a good play.
While Clemons generates a lot of pressure with his power as a bull rusher, he has started to master a few go-to pass rush moves so he can vary up his approach.
His best move is the cross-chop, which he showcases here. The fact he literally hops across to the left is perhaps unnecessary and probably not advisable, but the key to this working is how well-timed his hand strike is to prevent the tackle from staying in front of him.
He generally uses his length well to extend his arms and create separation and the cross-chop move can be even more effective if he can transition into a rip move.
Some analysts have said he might need to expand his pass rush arsenal even more, but that might not be necessary if he can win with these two moves most of the time and has a couple of counters he can go to. For example, he goes to an inside spin move to pick up the sack here.
Clemons’ main special teams role has been on the field goal defense, where his ability to create a surge can create opportunities for blocked kicks. He’s also played more sparingly rushing punts, in kick coverage and in punt protection.
Since Clemons isn’t a player who can change direction quickly, he can be susceptible to missed tackles if a ball carrier can cut back or a quarterback has some escapability.
He’s never been a particularly productive tackler, and only has one forced fumble in his career, but he can hit hard when coming downhill and he hustles hard in pursuit.
Clemons has hardly ever dropped into coverage, although he will drop off to pursue to the flat on short passes at times. He was credited with two pass breakups last season, although in each case this was as he pressured the quarterback and disrupted his throw.
Clemons has developed many aspects of the mental side of the game, including his play recognition in the running game, awareness of down blocks and his approach to winning his matchups when rushing the passer.
He has good eyes and discipline in the running game and can make quick reads on short passes.
In four seasons with the Aggies, Clemons only jumped offside twice and the penalty was declined on each occasion.
Clemons has a few red flags because he had an arrest and some other legal issues while in college. Most of the more serious charges were dismissed and the Jets have satisfied themselves that these issues are in the past, but it’s a rare case of the Jets making a move for someone with this kind of history.
On the field, though, his discipline has been good. His only three accepted penalties were two face masks and one illegal hands to the face penalty. These actually negated a sack, an interception and a tackle for loss, though.
Head coach Robert Saleh has praised his attitude, discussing his physicality and toughness, along with his ability to bring nastiness, violence and intimidation. He has a hardworking mentality and has been a charismatic and popular teammate.
Injuries are another concern for Clemons. Although, the Jets have once again satisfied themselves that nothing in his past will affect his longer-term potential, he does have an extensive injury history.
Having already dealt with injuries in high school, Clemons missed time with injuries in 2018, 2019 and 2020, including the entire 2018 season. He had foot surgery in 2018 and ankle surgery in 2020.
Once again, Clemons worked with the Jets coached during the senior bowl, so they’ll have a good idea about his suitability for their system. His ability to go from speed-to-power off the edge would seem to fit well in the system, because John Franklin-Myers impressed with his own ability to do this last season.
The Jets have plenty of depth at the edge defender positions, but they do like to rotate eight or nine defensive linemen each week so he should get opportunities to contribute at some stage.
The only current Jet who was a teammate of Clemons during his college career was the punter Braden Mann.
Another redshirt year for Clemons wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for him, even though he’s an older draft prospect at 24. However, it would make sense for the team to try and find him some quality reps where they can.
There’s no real pressure on Clemons to produce because he has players ahead of him who will be expected to perform. Therefore, anything he can bring will be viewed as a bonus.
In addition, a lot of the attention will be on his fellow draftee, Jermaine Johnson II, so a slow start for Clemons won’t be a cause for concern if Johnson is producing and will be overshadowed by concern for Johnson it he isn’t.
In terms of his breakout age, off-field concerns, injury history and limited skill-set, there are reasons why Clemons fell to where he did. However, the Jets may feel he potentially has first round talent and if they can harness those areas where he excels, he could be a useful piece for their defense down the road.