Thanks to different defensive schemes, linebacker breakouts can take place in various ways. In a 3-4 defense, many outside linebackers are actually edge rushers (think Von Miller or Khalil Mack types), but in a 4-3 defense, an outside linebacker is a player such as Telvin Smith. My breakout player predictions were a mix of various positions, but the results weren’t what I hoped. What I wrote about the players leading into 2017 can be found here.
Leonard Floyd, Bears: While injuries hampered Floyd’s rookie season, the ability he showed had me thinking he could take the next step in 2017. Once again, his season was cut short as he was placed on injured with reserve with a right knee injury that required surgery. Before that, Floyd did show improvement in terms of efficiency as a pass rusher. Pro Football Focus had Floyd down for 36 total quarterback pressures, and his pass rush productivity ranked 12th among 3-4 outside linebackers.
With Pernell McPhee and Willie Young both departing this offseason, the Bears need Floyd’s pass rushing to shine more than ever. After a promising draft, and hiring of head coach Matt Nagy, some (myself included) thinks the Bears could be a darkhorse playoff contender in a tough NFC. Floyd emerging into a pass rushing force while playing a full season would certainly help.
Hit or miss: Push
Myles Jack, Jaguars: Last August I wrote that production from Jack would only strengthen the idea of the Jaguars defense making a leap in 2017. He delivered in that regard, especially when used in coverage. Jack ranked second among 4-3 outside linebackers by allowing a reception once every 12.3. coverage snaps, and for giving up just 0.73 yards per coverage snap.
Jack’s athleticism gives the”Sacksonville” defense flexibility as he can keep up with tight ends and even some wideouts in coverage. The Jaguars knocked the 2016 draft out of the park selecting Jack, Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue within the first three rounds. While Jack hasn’t received the accolades of those two, he’s a core piece of the defense and the team will try to ink him to an extension in the near future.
Hit or miss: Hit
Nick Vigil, Bengals: Vigil saw an expanded role as predicted, but struggled in 2017. While his coverage stats per PFF were middle of the pack for position qualifiers, he struggled in run defense. His run stop percentage of 3.9 checked in second to last among 4-3 outside linebackers. Vigil did flash when used as a pass rusher, so he could still have some untapped potential.
Hit or miss: Miss
Jordan Jenkins, Jets: While Jenkins leading up to last year focused on rushing the passer, his biggest contributions actually came as a run defender. Jenkins with 30 total quarterback pressures did increase his rookie output, but his 17 run stops ranked in the top third of 3-4 outside linebackers. Granted, that could be inflated as the Jets defense probably faced more rushing attempts at the end of games. The run defense contribution and pass rushing flashes make Jenkins a player to continue monitoring.
Hit or miss: Push
Jatavis Brown, Chargers: Brown’s athleticism in Gus Bradley’s scheme was really intriguing to me, but he didn’t take the leap I was expecting. Granted, there is a chance I underestimate the change of the Chargers going from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. Brown was actually used less as a pass rusher (22 pass rushing snaps compared to 45 last year), and saw his yards allowed per coverage snap go up around a tenth of a yard.
He still struggled in run defense, but Brown’s has the athleticism and shown flashes that he could be a potential as a defensive chess piece. For that reason, I’ll remain intrigued by his development.
Hit or miss: Miss