Assessing the Roster- Inside Linebacker Tweet
David Harris- Harris is paid as an elite level linebacker and is far from it. Between Bart Scott slowing down and Sione Pouha becoming a non-factor the deficiencies in Harris game have become apparent. He is incredibly slow. He seems to always get hit by a lineman on every single play. He is a liability in coverage. He canít make plays on his own. It is a terrible combination and Im not sure what relief the Jets can find.
Pro Football Focus rated Harris as the 4th worst starting Inside Linebacker in the NFL. Going deeper into some of the numbers as I often like to do he really isnít that terrible. He ranked below average in tackles per snap (8.96% vs 9.12%) and what I call active breakups per target in coverage (4.1% vs 7%), but he does rank around average in terms of generating pressure, missed tackles per snap, stops per snap, and is actually far above the average in YAC/Rec (4.5 vs 6.1 YAC/R). I think the problem with Harris is that there is no upside play to balance him out in their ranking systems, plus there are likely some plays where he is identified as a player who should get his hands on a runner and fails to do so. Harris also has far too many plays where he is dragged by a runner coming at him with a head of steam.
All that being said to pay someone who at best would grade as an average linebacker $9 million a year is absurd. He certainly is not a playmaker and to even mention Harris in the same breath as someone like Patrick Willis is a joke. The Jets need someone more dynamic than Harris to make plays off errant passes and to keep the game in front of him rather than trailing from behind.
Bart Scott- Its no secret that I donít care much for Bart Scottís game. I always understood the reason why the Jets brought him here and he was a very good player for the Jets in 2009 and 2010, but that was years ago. Scott has slowed down terribly in these last two years and only lasted with the Jets this year because of a guaranteed salary that no other team in the NFL was willing to absorb.
In terms of those same metrics I mentioned above Scott was below average in tackles per snap (7.75%), YAC/R(11.3), active breakups (6.3%), and missed tackles per snap (1.9%). In those same categories he ranked 41st, 47th, 25th, and 45th among 47 players who played at least 350 snaps this past season. That is abysmal. He just is not the same player. In 2010 his YAC was only 5.5 and his missed tackles an incredible 0.33%. You could deal with the lower impact numbers elsewhere in his play because he did not make bad plays on the field.
What he can still do well is rush the passer and make plays that are considered stops at a decent pace, but can you make use of that? The problem is ILB is not a pass rushing position to have a specialist in that role and for Scott to achieve stops in the NFL he has to be on the field, which is a liability as shown in the numbers. You cant be so bad in coverage in todayís NFL and be on the field. But the Jets staff feels indebted to Scott and they are at a bit of a crossroads where they canít justify benching a starter like Scott even to get a look at a younger player.
Demario Davis- I have a hard time getting a feel for Davis because he played so little this season. He did not play at all early on, came in when Scott was injured, and then pretty much got glued back to the bench after that. There were certainly a lot of mistakes made by Davis when he played and I donít know if most people would find much promise in him based on that.
The Jets run a more complex scheme for the ILBs than most, but in general the position is a lot like a running back in that you either have it or you donít. When Jon Vilma replaced Sam Cowart you saw Vilma had it right away. When Harris replaced Vilma you saw he had it right away. Davis, though not as talented on paper as those two, did not have it right away. He was not good in coverage. He was not a tackling machine. The only thing he did better than the others was that if he had a chance for the tackle he was going to make it. I would have liked to have seen more but I guess that comes next season.
Josh Mauga- Mauga showed some promise in 2011 and was likely going to see an increased role in 2012, but injuries got in the way and he spent most of the season on the injured list. Because Mauga was with the team longer and showed that promise they were going to favor him over Davis. Mauga seems to be a pretty versatile player that would be a solid contributor on a good football team.
Nick Bellore- Belloreís big claim to fame this year was the big catch on a fake punt from Tim Tebow. Some thought that might get some extra reps on defense but it never really materialized. His way to maintain a roster spot is through special teams which can maybe one day get him looks in the base defense packages.
While most of the focus has been on Mark Sanchez for bringing the team down this is a position that has been a terrible money pit for the Jets. For the most part you can pick up ILBís off the street and get average play. Most, not all, teams do not spend in a 34 defense to this level on interior play. You pay people to make plays and there are only so many plays that two linebackers can make. This is exactly the reason why the Ravens had no intention of keeping Bart Scott in Baltimore. They had a guy to man the inside. In 2011 the Jets spent $9.65 million in cap room on Scott and Harris. In 2012 it was $17.95 million. In 2013, assuming Bart is cut, it will be $14.5 million.
Think about those salary figures for a minute. $17.95 million for a full time linebacker that at best is average and a 55-60% time linebacker that is among the worst in the NFL. The 49íers last year spent about $19.8 million in cap dollars for Willis and NaVorro Bowman, and the only reason that spend was so high was because the 49ers did some wild accounting in Willisí deal to eat up their cap room in 2011 and 2012. Next year those two will cost $6.71 million combined. Harris will cost $13 million by himself, most of which is guaranteed with no offset.
This is why Mike Tannenbaum is gone. It is not a winning formula and it has compromised the Jets for 3 seasons. The Jets will likely need to rework Harrisí contract to bring his number down. It is only a 4 year deal so the Jets might have some leverage in extending him to bring his numbers back down into a normal range which is closer to $5.5 million a season. Scott just needs to be cut for the organization to move forward. He has had a very good career and he helped the Jets immensely for two seasons, but its time to move on.
If the Jets cant make a move with Harrisí deal its best to let it just play out and plan for escape in 2014 unless he really turns something around next season. The Jets options are to either plan for Davis to jump inside or find a minimum salary veteran to start next season. Because it is such a safe draft pick I would not be stunned if the Jets opt to draft Harrisí successor and simply begin phasing him and the big cap charges out. Clearly a position where the salaries need to get in order and better, more athletic players need to be found.