The addition of Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni has had less than impressive results so far for the defense, but at least some of that can be attributed to the change in scheme the team started to begin 2018. Teryl Austin’s 4-3 scheme required the team keep lean and fast linebackers, a big reason that DeAndre Levy thrived in that scheme and that Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin were drafted for it.
Patricia’s scheme, which was carried over from his time working with Bill Belichick, requires linebackers who are larger and prioritizes gap discipline over speed and elite athleticism. With how poorly the defense has performed in 2019, there’s a lot that can be said about the scheme itself and how it was implemented, but that likely won’t change the type of players they’re going to target in the 2020 draft. We’ve already looked at a player who may be able to replace Jarrad Davis’ role on the team, today we’re going to look at someone a bit more suited to the role currently played by Devon Kennard.
Previously: OSU linebacker Malik Harrison
Anfernee Jennings, LB, Alabama
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 259 pounds
2019: 67 Tackles (37 Solo), 7.5 Sacks, 12.0 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 1 FF
2018: 50 Tackles (26 Solo), 5.5 Sacks, 13.0 TFL, 1 Interception, 11 PD, 2 FR
2017: 41 Tackles (20 Solo), 1.0 Sacks, 6.0 TFL, 2 PD, 2FF
2016: 19 Tackles (7 Solo), 2.0 TFL
2015: No Stats Recorded
Current Projection - 3rd-5th Round
Jennings doesn’t possess the mind-blowing athletic traits that you see from some of the top-tier talent in most drafts. He does look like a very good “for his size” kind of athlete. You don’t generally see Jennings trailing running backs running a wheel or being asked to drop with a tight end up the seam, but he’s explosive enough to cover the flats on occasion, and as an edge rusher, he’s adept at tracking the running back on runs to his side and bringing them down. He can also burst through the line to take out any kind of cutback lane.
I would be surprised if Anfernee Jennings measured out as an elite athlete, but it would be a pleasant surprise considering his tape. Playing in a hybrid role, Jennings is larger than most linebackers and smaller than most edge rushers. His speed is pretty good for an edge rusher but not good enough to be a positive trait as a linebacker (though not bad enough to be a liability). He is fairly explosive, but his lack of agility can limit what he’s able to do in terms of rushing the passer on the edge.
Initial scouting report
I first noticed Jennings while trying to watch his teammate Dylan Moses. Moses is considered the top linebacker by many, but all I could think while watching him was that I should be watching Anfernee Jennings instead. I didn’t come away quite as impressed in my initial review as I had expected from watching him tangentially during my Moses review, but I was still impressed with him as a player.
Jennings brings a mentality and approach that would fit right in here in Detroit. Not a dominant pass rusher, he wears his blocker down by an aggressive and physical attack that gives blockers more reliant on quickness and agility trouble on every play.
Setting a very hard edge, teams that value run defense in their ends or Jack linebackers will value his skill set, but it will likely limit his projection for other teams. His limitations in terms of athletic talent could garner the most attention during the draft process unless he firmly puts that to bed at the NFL Combine, but I suspect teams that like him for his ability to set the edge in the run game and his high motor will look past such things.
Jennings is a hard worker on the field, taking his responsibility on every play and sticking to it. That sort of job accountability will endear him to many coaches.
Detroit Lions team fit
Anfernee Jennings plays a role similar to both Devon Kennard and Christian Jones. Primarily tasked with setting the edge in the run game and providing pass rush, he is an every-down player in a defense like Patricia’s, and he would step immediately into a role with the team. Like every linebacker currently on the roster, he has the ability to be moved around with ease from position to position to try and find the best matchups, but should remain primarily on the line of scrimmage with his eyes in the backfield. Rushing from both the left and right side, Jennings doesn’t seem to have a preference or difference in play with whatever matchup he is employed at.
Like Jahlani Tavai, I think the Lions are going to value Anfernee Jennings higher than his projected draft slotting. He could be a prime target in the second round, and considering how early the team is drafting at the moment, it’s not out of the question they take him there despite many projections lower. Also like Tavai, I think Jennings would start the year with a defined rotational role and work himself in early in the season for a larger one.