Over the next month, we'll be sharing in-depth scouting reports on each of the Jets' free agent signings. Today we're taking a look at former Detroit Lions linebacker Brandon Copeland.
The 26-year old Copeland is listed at 6'3" and 263 pounds and was undrafted out of the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. He bounced around the league for a couple of seasons before finding a role with the Lions in 2015 and 2016, as a versatile rotational defender and special teams contributor. However, he missed the entire 2017 season due to injury.
Copeland was a dominant defensive lineman in college, racking up 160 tackles and 11 sacks in four seasons. He also had 26.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.
Having gone undrafted, Copeland signed with the Baltimore Ravens and played for them in preseason. After being released in final cuts, he spent time on the practice squad for the Tennessee Titans and played for them in preseason in 2014.
In 2015, he initially signed with an Arena League team but then an impressive performance at the veteran scouting combine earned him a shot with the Lions and he was a useful back-up and special teamer for them in 2015 and 2016, racking up 30 tackles, half a sack and a forced fumble.
Copeland has nice size and seems to have excellent length, although he's reinvented himself a couple of times since entering the league.
At his pro day in 2013, he was 260 pounds and posted an impressive 4.72 40-yard dash and 122" broad jump. However, his agility scores were poor, which shows up on film.
After finding himself out of the league following his first two seasons, Copeland slimmed down to 246 for the 2015 veteran combine and posted an outstanding 4.52 40-yard dash.
He's since bulked back up to his listed weight of 263, although his playing weight for 2018 might depend upon his role.
The fascinating thing about Copeland is that it's difficult to work out whether he's an off-ball linebacker or an edge defender.
In college he was a defensive end, but when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Ravens, they employed him as an off-ball linebacker. With the Lions he started off as a defensive end but then moved back to strongside linebacker, playing off the ball and sometimes matching up with receivers in the slot, although he still also had some reps in 2016 with his hands in the dirt coming off the edge.
In 2017, he was continuing to do both and was reportedly in the mix for a starting role at strongside linebacker in preseason, having earlier in camp been groomed for more defensive end work.
Copeland is pretty strong at the point of attack and explodes to the ball carrier well. When playing on the defensive line, he's effective at shooting gaps.
As a general rule, he's at his best coming downhill. He's not as good when forced to change direction.
On this play, Copeland (#51, lined up as an off-ball linebacker on the right side of the defense) is initially blocked out, but he recovers to wrap the running back up from behind, forcing a crucial fumble:
Here, Copeland is up at the line as the outside linebacker. The tight end handles him well at the line and this leads to a long run for Demarco Murray:
Copeland doesn't look particularly natural dropping into coverage, but has made some nice plays and hasn't given up much in man or zone coverage. As an indication of his usual role, in the game where he saw the most playing time in 2016, he rushed the passer seven times but dropped into coverage 14 times. However, over the rest of the season he dropped just 10 times and rushed the passer 29 times.
On this play from his rookie preseason, he shows excellent hands to make an athletic play on a bad throw.
Copeland had one other interception in preseason, but that came after he was rushing the passer and another player batted the ball right to him. He also had an interception in college, but again that was as he was rushing the passer. This time, he batted it to himself.
In the wild card game against the Seahawks two years ago, Copeland stayed with Jimmy Graham well on an incomplete pass down the seam.
Copeland has been a good special teams contributor with the Lions and that's probably the main reason why the Jets have signed him.
He had 10 special teams tackles in his two seasons with the Lions and played in multiple roles, including the punt rush unit:
Copeland also had a blocked field goal in college, penetrating up the middle to deflect an attempt short.
Copeland closes explosively to the ball and uses his long arms well to drag down ball carriers. He's been consistent in terms of his tackling with the Lions too, only missing a couple of tackles in his two years with them.
Here was one of those, as he got off the tight end's block but failed to wrap up on a hit at the second level, giving up a few extra yards:
Although he's seen plenty of action on the edge, Copeland hasn't been very effective so far. He has just half a sack in regular season and preseason action and that was a clean-up sack for no gain.
He hasn't generated much pressure off the edge and where he has much of it has been either unblocked or via a stunt. In college, most of his production came from explosiveness and power rather than using pass rush moves to out-technique a player.
For example, on one play, he had a sack off a spin move, but it was more of an instinctual decision to roll off the block than a well-executed or planned-out move.
Copeland (wearing #95 here) shows some good speed-to-power here off the left edge, moving the fullback off his spot to flush the quarterback from the pocket:
On this example, he uses a bit of a jab step to the inside to get outside leverage and almost gets to the quarterback, who releases the quick pass before he can get there:
As you can see, Copeland generally lines up and rushes from a four-point stance when playing on the edge.
Copeland works hard in the trenches, is relentless in pursuit and plays to the whistle. On this play he hustled back to the ball for a fumble recovery after his pass rush was repelled:
Copeland once played 60 snaps in a 2014 preseason game with the Titans. The highest number of snaps he's played in a regular season game is 34.
While Copeland has obviously been brought in for his special teams contributions, his versatility is useful. He can potentially back up either of the inside linebackers or Jordan Jenkins and might even be able to fill in as a situational edge rusher.
His size could also be an asset in short yardage packages defensively.
Having attended an Ivy League school, it's no surprise that Copeland is regarded as an intelligent player. He reportedly works on Wall Street during the offseason and saves 90% of his NFL salary for the future.
On the field, particularly when playing off the ball, there is often a beat of hesitation before he breaks for the ball.
Having been cut five times, Copeland has displayed tremendous drive and perseverance to get back into the NFL and establish himself and has shown to have a great work ethic and be willing to do anything to contribute. He's an intense player on the field.
Copeland's grandfather was an 11-year NFL veteran who played in two Super Bowls, including Super Bowl III against the Jets.
Copeland missed all of last season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the preseason opener. However, as a sign of his drive and toughness, he was back on a treadmill while still in a sling. He had played in all 32 games in 2015 and 2016.
The Jets desperately needed some depth at linebacker, even though the starting roles are locked up with Darron Lee and Avery Williamson under contract for the next few years. Copeland addresses this and also brings good special teams abilities and versatility to the table.
He's a big linebacker with good athletic ability, although his lack of natural agility might be exploitable if he were ever forced into a full-time role and required to make plays in space. However, his ability to take on blockers and get penetration could be useful in certain situations. It's not realistic to expect him to bring much in terms of pass rushing off the edge though.
If Copeland can make the team, he'll likely be used in a full-time special teams role. Hopefully he can be a useful role player for the team in 2018.