By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
With holes to fill at multiple positions, the Jets are heading into free agency and the NFL Draft with some work to do. One of the positions that needs to be addressed by the team is inside linebacker. Even if the Jets can get Erin Henderson to agree on a new deal to keep him around for 2016, they will need to bring someone in to at least be part of the rotation.
Considering that Harris and Henderson are likely to be the starting duo in the upcoming season, it is not necessary to find someone who could start from day one. It would also be beneficial for the Jets to get younger at the position since both of the incumbent starters are over 30.
Finding an option in free agency that is affordable, young and filled with potential could end up being quite a difficult task. Therefore, the draft would probably be the best place for the team to look towards the future at ILB, where they can find someone to develop alongside Taiwan Jones, under the tutelage of Harris and Henderson.
While the majority of this year’s prospects at the position do not have the ideal size to play inside on a 3-4 defense, the 2016 draft is not without its options. Alabama’s Reggie Ragland and Missouri’s Kentrell Brothers appear to be the highest rated of the bunch, but both will likely be gone by the early second round.
Since the Jets have more pressing needs at other positions, they might want to wait until Day 3 to find their man. Unfortunately, the potential prospects at the 3-4 OLB spot seem to tail off after round 2. However, there is a senior out of the University of Kentucky that is worth looking into on the final day of the draft.
Josh Forrest is an incredibly versatile athlete who starred at wide receiver in high school and joined the Wildcats with the goal of doing the same. In 2011, his first year as a redshirt freshman, Forrest got his wish to start at wide receiver, but was later begrudgingly moved into a hybrid linebacker/safety role. After about a week of convincing by defensive coordinator Rick Minter, Josh embraced the new position and has not looked back since.
During his true freshman season in 2012, as a backup playing mostly on special teams, Forrest was responsible for blocking a field goal and a punt to go along with 13 total tackles and one for loss. Still playing as a reserve in 2013, he compiled another 16 tackles and an interception.
In 2014, Forrest was asked to replace All-Southeastern Conference middle linebacker Avery Williamson as the team’s starter at the position. Switching to arguably the most physically and mentally challenging position on defense, Josh hit the ground running with 110 tackles, 8.5 for loss, a sack, two interceptions, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. For his efforts, he was named to the All-SEC third team by Phil Steele’s College Football.
Forrest did not slow down his ascension in his senior season, recording 93 tackles, six for loss, 3.5 sacks, five passes defensed, a forced fumble and two interceptions, one of which he returned for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Sporting the perfect build for a 3-4 ILB, Forrest is a true thumper who looks quite comfortable playing downhill and is an excellent run defender in the tackle box. He also displayed some good pass-coverage skills and sideline-to-sideline range at the Senior Bowl. Overall, Josh demonstrated a rare blend of speed and athleticism for a 6’3, 245-pound man.
Although still a bit raw, due to the fact he just started playing football in his junior year at high school and made the full-time switch to middle linebacker in his junior year at college, Forrest appears to have the athletic abilities and skills needed to play the position.
On the other hand, he does seem a bit overwhelmed as a 4-3 MLB and would most likely benefit from being the Jack ILB in a 3-4, where the key role of his job would be to keep the Mike ILB clean. If picked by the Jets, Josh could specialize in taking on the offensive guards to keep them away from Harris.
When watching him on tape, Forrest seems to recognize what the offense is doing, but appears to be thinking too much instead of acting. He also needs to work on his tendency to grab and pull down ball carriers as opposed to hitting them head-on and wrapping them up. Additionally, Josh is slow to react at times and overanxious at others, and in general he does not play with the level of aggression you would want to see from a guy with his abilities.
A big part of the reason for his lack of aggression at times is most likely due to the fact that it is quite a complicated position that he is still in the process of learning. Josh would undoubtedly benefit from studying under veterans such as David Harris and Erin Henderson as he becomes more comfortable in his role.
With prognosticators grading him anywhere from the 3rd to the 7th round, it is difficult to get a read on where he will be chosen in the draft. Personally I think that if he is still around when the Jets are up in the 5th round, and they have not taken an ILB yet, he would be worthy of consideration at that point.
There is no doubt that Forrest will be a bit of a project, but he has shown considerable growth the past two years and certainly has the tools to eventually develop into a solid starter. He would also add to a youth movement at the position, where he and Taiwan Jones could be cultivated to possibly take over in the near future.