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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Jets draft preview: Linebacker

By Rich Cimini

This is the eighth installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:

Position: Linebacker

Current personnel: David Harris (signed through 2014), Demario Davis (2015), Quinton Coples (2015), Calvin Pace (2015), Antwan Barnes (2015), Nick Bellore (2014), Garrett McIntyre (2014), Jermaine Cunningham (2014), Tim Fugger (2016), Troy Davis (2015).

Projected starters: Harris (MLB), Demario Davis (WLB), Coples (Rush linebacker), Pace (SAM linebacker).

Newcomers: None.

Departures: None.

Top salary-cap charge: Harris, $7.0 million.

Scouting report: There are hidden needs at both inside and outside linebacker. The return of Pace, who signed a two-year, $5 million contract after recording a career-high 10 sacks, is a positive step. But it doesn't change the fact that the Jets are a middle-of-the-road pass-rushing team. They recorded sacks on only 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, lowest in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their conventional rush was underwhelming. In fact, only the Houston Texans (two) intercepted fewer passes than the Jets (six)when using four or fewer pass rushers. They need a big season out of Coples and they need Barnes (ACL surgery) to return to his pre-injury form, which may be asking a bit much. The depth at inside linebacker is sketchy, with no proven players behind Harris and Demario Davis. Harris is heading into a contract year, so they have to prepare for the possibility of losing him next year.

Last LB drafted: Demario Davis was taken in the third round of the 2012 draft. Coples, a first-round pick that year, was originally selected as a lineman.

Potential targets: Look for them to draft at least one inside linebacker; whether they select an outside linebacker will depend on value. The pool of edge rushers isn't deep. There's a considerable dropoff after Khalil Mack (Buffalo), who will be long gone by the 18th pick. Anthony Barr (UCLA) could last, but it would be a surprise if they go in that direction. Barr, with only two years experience on defense, is talented, but raw. One name to watch in Round 2 is Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State), a hybrid player who visited the Jets. At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, he has the right dimensions to make the conversion to outside linebacker. He recorded 20 sacks over the last two seasons, mostly as a down lineman. Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech) and Kyle Van Noy (Brigham Young) are players of the same ilk. Undersized Kevin Pierre-Louis (Boston College), who also visited, is a late-round possibility. So is tweener Larry Webster (Bloomsburg), the son of former NFL defensive lineman Larry Webster. At 6-5, 252 pounds, he ran a 4.58 40 at the combine. The only defensive lineman with a faster time was Jadeveon Clowney.

Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 7.