The one benefit of Jim Leonhard’s Injury

Jets safety Jimmy Leonhard runs on the field. Picture is before Jim's knee injury

New York Jets’ safety Jim Leonhard suffered another season-ending leg injury in Week 14 against the Kansas City Chiefs, but while this hurts the team in the short run there is one long-term benefit: an upgrade at safety. Leonhard was a major contributor for the Jets’ defense since his arrival from the Baltimore Ravens in 2009 and his contributions are not meant to be undermined.

However, an apparent weakness in the secondary has been the Jets’ safeties who are overmatched in height and athleticism by opponents’ inside receivers (New England’s tight end Rob Gronkowski for one). The Jets are now forced to address the team’s safety positions in the 2012 draft. 

Injury leads to player upgrade

The Jets’ have a tendency of upgrading critical positions once players suffer an injury. Most recently, the Jets’ defensive line was aging and depleted. They relied on veteran defensive end Shaun Ellis and nose tackle Kris Jenkins to provide the Jets’ pass rush and failed to cultivate their young replacements. Jenkins suffered two season-ending injuries early in the 2009 and 2010 seasons while Ellis faced injuries of his own (remember the clubbed hand in the 2010 playoffs?) which left a void in the defensive line.

Ellis eventually left the Jets for the New England Patriots and Jenkins retired. Luckily, it was the injuries at the defensive line that focused the general manager, Mike Tannenbaum, and Rex Ryan to select defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Kenrick Ellis for their first two picks this past NFL draft. If not for these injuries the Jets would not have been fixated on acquiring rookie linemen and would have instead stuck with the current veterans.

The Need at Safety

Similarly, the Jets have overlooked their weakness at the safety positions. Jim Leonhard is an aggressive player that leads the defense but he is still undersized and overmatched by tight ends and slot receivers. This wouldn’t be a major concern if not for the fact that the other safety, Eric Smith, is also undersized and overmatched. Opposing teams like the Patriots have exploited the middle of Jets secondary with taller and faster players.

The Jets tried to address this issue by acquiring Brodney Pool last year to contribute with his height, however, he has proven t0 be a liability. Last season he was inconsistent in his tackling and allowed big plays with his blown coverages. This is the reason why Pool was demoted as a starter to Smith.

With Leonhard’s starting position in question for next year and Pool and Smith inability to maintain his impact on defense, the Jets may once again be forced to address another hole in their defense in next year’s draft. The Jets can’t rely on the safeties currently in their roster and will need to attain rookies to solve this issue. The Jets picked up Gerald Alexander this week but they shouldn’t rely on free agents. Aside from Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, there is no dominant safety in the league the Jets should be trading for.

Besides, the Jets need to go young and develop their future stars. It’s unfortunate it takes injuries for the Jets to address and upgrade their weak positions but this is the positive that comes about from a negative situation.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall

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Written by Nassau Jones

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