By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
It is no secret to any New York Jets fan with a pulse that the team has been in need of a dominant pass rusher for quite a while now. That spot has remained vacant for the most part since the days when John Abraham wreaked havoc upon opposing quarterbacks, which was a decade ago. Since Abraham was traded to the Falcons for a first round pick in 2006, which helped the Jets in landing Nick Mangold, there has been a revolving door at the position.
Although Calvin Pace has been effective in the OLB role for the past eight seasons with 46 quarterback sacks and 462 tackles, he is nowhere near the dominant edge rusher that John Abraham was.
Bryan Thomas, who was a first round draft pick in 2002, filled in admirably, adding 27 sacks of his own between 2006 and 2012. Despite the fact that BT was a solid player with the Jets for 11 seasons, he too was not in the mold of an Abraham.
With about two months left before the 2016 NFL Draft, the Jets are once again on the hunt for a player that will strike fear into the heart of quarterbacks around the league and change the course of games in their favor.
This year’s class of 3-4 OLB’s is an interesting mix, filled with several potential candidates to fill that elusive role as the next speeding bullet to set the edge on the Jets defense. There are numerous possibilities available at the position throughout the draft.
One of the bigger names that is expected to go early on in the process, yet has a good chance of being there when the Jets pick in the bottom third of the first round, is Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun.
Expected to go anywhere between the mid-to-late first round and the end of the second, the Spartans 6’5, 252 pound superstar might just be what the doctor ordered to cure the ills of the Jets edge-rushing game.
Combining his outstanding initial burst with his lengthy strides and significant strength, Calhoun was able to record 26 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss in his three years as a starter with Michigan State. He added in four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries during his college career.
As a sophomore for the Spartans, Shilique was named as Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and received an abundance of All-American votes. Calhoun also earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades for all three of his seasons in the starting lineup. Additionally, he was a 2015 Finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is rewarded to college football’s top defensive end each year.
After stacking up impressive numbers while demonstrating exceptional abilities in his first two seasons as a starter, Calhoun showed no signs of slowing down his production in his senior year, recording career highs in sacks (10.5), tackles (49), and tackles for loss (15).
Over the course of his college career, he was also a two-time Lombardi Award and Bednarik Award semi-finalist, and served as a team captain for two years. Calhoun received an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but unfortunately had to pull out of the contest due to a wrist injury that he noticed while preparing for the game.
Considering the fact that Calhoun spent most of his time with the Spartans lined up at left defensive end in a 4-3 alignment, it goes without saying that there will be an adjustment period in switching to the 3-4 OLB position on the NFL level. On the positive side, especially from the standpoint of the New York Jets who utilize a multitude of defensive fronts, he is an extremely versatile player that can fit into numerous roles.
Although it will take time for him to develop and improve his coverage skills, Calhoun is a remarkable pass rusher who also displays tremendous strength, range and agility when defending the run. His flexibility while playing in space, which is a major asset to his pass rushing proficiency, will surely help in his transition to OLB.
Just as with any other player coming out of college, Calhoun will need to improve upon his deficiencies in order to thrive on the NFL level. Some of the areas of his game that he needs to progress in to make it as a solid pro are his snap anticipation and his ability to fight his way through blocks once he is engaged with an offensive tackle. Calhoun also needs to work on eliminating his tendency to stand too upright when defending the run.
It is inevitable that the Jets will take at least one OLB in the upcoming draft, and with OSU’s Joey Bosa and Clemson’s Shaq Lawson expected to be gone by the time the Jets pick in the first round, Calhoun is quite an attractive option for Gang Green to consider.
It is incredibly rare that a player coming out of the draft is fully prepared to dominate from day one, so the fact that Calhoun needs some work on his overall technique should not scare the Jets away as long as they feel that he has the proper mindset to modify his game as a pro. He is certainly equipped with the tools to do so.
You can read my Jets Pre-Combine Mock Draft article from 2/24/16 by clicking below:
You can read my article from 2/19/16 on NYJetsNews.Com about a few options for the Jets in the 1st Round of NFL Draft by clicking the following link: