Last month, the Jets confirmed that they had re-signed edge defender Corey Lemonier, having previously claimed him off waivers at the end of last season. Lemonier played in the season finale against the Bills.
The 25-year-old Lemonier is listed at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, and was a former third round pick out of Auburn in 2013. He spent his first three seasons with the 49ers, but was regarded as a disappointment after recording just one sack. He spent time with the Browns and Lions in 2016, before being claimed by the Jets, who recently re-signed him to a one-year, minimum salary deal.
Lemonier made a name for himself at Auburn with a break-out sophomore campaign that saw him record career highs in tackles (47), tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (five). Despite a drop-off in production in his junior year (only 5.5 sacks), he opted to enter the draft early and was selected by the 49ers in the third round.
Over the course of three seasons with the 49ers, Lemonier played in 42 games, recording 37 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and two passes defensed. After showing some promise as a situational rusher in his rookie year, Lemonier failed to move up the depth chart and, although he made his first two NFL starts in 2015, he wasn’t able to make enough of an impression to win over the coaching staff or the fanbase.
Despite an impressive preseason, Lemonier didn’t make it through final cuts last season and ended up being claimed by the Browns. While he showed some flashes there, registering two sacks, they eventually let him go and the Lions claimed him only to then let him go before he had played for them. In the final game of the season, he saw action for the Jets and, while he didn’t record any statistics, he looked sharp coming off the edge.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Lemonier brings to the table, based on my research and film study.
Lemonier was almost exclusively a defensive end in college, but lacks the ideal size to play the position on an every-down basis at the NFL level, so has been used primarily as an outside linebacker. He has still played with his hand in the dirt from time to time though, both in San Francisco and in Cleveland. He also played three of his 16 snaps with the Jets last year with his hand in the dirt.
Despite his low sack totals, Lemonier has primarily seen action as a situational pass rusher.
Lemonier has decent size for an outside linebacker and good length. He’s athletic enough to play the position too. He ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at the scouting combine and the rest of his athletic numbers are also solid.
He’s considered to have stiff hips and an NFL.com scouting report suggested he lacks powerful hands.
The book on Lemonier is that when he’s engaged with a blocker on the edge he can be easily controlled at times. However, a review of his 2016 film suggests that he actually does a pretty good job of getting upfield and holding his ground at the point of attack.
Where he was blocked out of plays, it was more likely to be from a lack of awareness, as he got caught inside when a runner bounced to the edge or didn’t anticipate a double-team or a tight end crashing down on him.
Here’s a good example of Lemonier’s quickness and ability to shoot gaps.
Lemonier hasn’t been a particularly productive tackler, which is often the case for players employed primarily in pass rush packages. He hasn’t missed many tackles either, but can have a tendency to overrun plays in space at times.
Lemonier is regarded as a player who gives a good effort the majority of the time. This was regarded as one of his best traits coming out of Auburn. He has shown he can handle a large workload, playing on 58 snaps in one 2015 game and over 40 on several other occasions.
The fact that Lemonier only had one sack in his first three seasons has got a lot of attention, but he did post adequate pressure number as a rookie. Over the next couple of years he struggled to generate much in the way of pressure, but he showed an improvement after moving to Cleveland, almost doubling his pressure rate from the previous two years and recording two sacks, including this strip-sack.
As you can see from the previous gif, he makes good use of a rip move once he gains the outside leverage on his blocker. Scouting reports suggest he’s not great at bending the edge but he came around the corner with good lean once he got around his blocker on this play.
His only other regular season sack came late last year on a play where he was initially blocked on a stunt and then picked up a coverage sack when the quarterback was flushed from the pocket.
However, he’s shown more flashes in preseason action though, with a much healthier pressure rate and five more sacks. Of course, some of that will be a product of facing back-ups most of the time though. A lot of his pressure has been quality pressure, with three of his pressures last year leading to interceptions and two seeing him get into the quarterback’s face to deflect the pass, including one of each during the regular season.
There was nothing intricate about how Lemonier generated his pressure, almost always coming off the edge and getting upfield on his man to force the quarterback to step up. He also showed an impressive ability to translate speed to power and knock his blocker back off his spot. However, with the interior linemen the Jets have, that would create a lot of chances for them to clean up.
Although he was primarily taking advantage of back-ups, Lemonier’s preseason performance was actually quite impressive and I’m somewhat surprised he didn’t make the 49ers roster. However, that low sack count loomed large over him and generating plenty of pressure but no sacks in preseason obviously did little to assuage any concerns. I’m equally surprised neither the Browns or Lions decided to hold onto him though.
Lemonier obviously didn’t have much experience of dropping into coverage as a college player, but has done so from time to time in the pros. He’s given up some receptions but no real big gains, although that’s partly because he will primarily be employed in short zone coverage or just jamming and passing off his man near the line.
In run defense Lemonier's awareness was sometimes an issue, as noted earlier. However, he seemed to be consistent in terms of staying in his lane and not missing assignments, although when dropping into zone coverage he was exploited a couple of times against bunch formation-type looks.
Lemonier has also jumped offsides four times so far in his career.
Lemonier has seen plenty of action blocking and covering kicks on special teams. He’s recorded nine tackles in coverage, but also missed a few and had four penalties. He also blocked a kick in college.
Here’s a nice play in kick coverage, taking on the block and leveraging his man into a running lane to make the stop:
Lemonier has been somewhat penalty-prone over his first few seasons, with 11 in limited playing time. These included costly penalties in consecutive weeks – a facemask that negated a safety followed by an unnecessary roughness call that led to him being berated by Navarro Bowman on the sideline.
Lemonier doesn’t seem to have suffered any injuries over the course of his career, as the only time he was listed on the injury report was when he was doubtful for personal reasons and ended up playing anyway. He’s missed 13 games over the last two seasons as a healthy scratch.
The Jets’ edge defenders were a young group last year and the coaching staff seemed to be high on a few of the players but none lived up to expectations. When Lemonier played in the last game, his energy seemed to stand out, so perhaps he has a good chance to compete for a roster spot along with whichever players the team adds via the draft and the current incumbents; Jenkins and Lorenzo Mauldin.
The 49ers and Browns systems have similar elements to those of the Jets under Todd Bowles, so he should fit right in.
This has the potential to be another reclamation project for the Jets. Lemonier was a huge disappointment with the 49ers and wore out his welcome as an underachieving high draft pick. However, as a cheap addition with low expectations, perhaps he can continue to build on some of the flashes he started to show with the Browns last season.
If it turns out that the 49ers gave up on Lemonier right before he was about to “get it” or even that being released by three different teams in one year was a wake-up call for him, then a second chance with the Jets might be just what he needs to finally deliver on his pre-draft potential.
I have to admit, Lemonier’s 2016 game tape was much better than I expected, both rushing the passer and against the run. Having already made an appearance from the Jets in which he brought the sort of energy and disruptiveness that was sorely lacking off the edge all season, I’ll be eager to see if he can build on that and compete for a role in camp.
Maybe it’s a long shot, but on a team regarded as devoid of talent and in one of their weakest areas, he’s in a good place to receive such an opportunity.
UP NEXT: We’re going to take a look at Chandler Catanzaro, who was signed to a one-year deal to compete for the placekicker role next season.