Earlier today, the Jets announced that they had signed 34-year old pass rusher Jason Babin. Babin, a two-time pro bowler had worked out for the Jets on Monday and will presumably be in the mix for a situational pass rushing role, with Antwan Barnes currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
The 6-3, 267-pound Babin was a first round draft pick in 2004 and has made stops with several teams since then. He was a pro bowler with Tennessee in 2010 when he registered 12.5 sacks, but he topped that in 2011 with the Eagles when he led the league with 18 sacks and was named as an all-pro. While he hasn’t threatened that number since, he did have seven sacks in 2012 and 7.5 last year.
After the jump we review footage from the 2013 season to try and assess what he still has in the tank and how he might fit into the Jets defense.
Who is Jason Babin?
As noted, Babin was a first round pick in 2004. However, this was a surprise. While he was recognized as a first-team all-American after a breakout senior season where he recorded 15 sacks, he still wasn’t a projected first rounder in many places, even after showing an impressive slate of workout numbers at the combine, including a 4.62 forty, 28 bench press reps and a 121-inch broad jump. However, the Texans traded 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th round picks to get back into the first round and selected him with the 27th pick.
In his first three years with the Texans, he recorded 13 sacks but never more than five in a season. He was then traded to Seattle, which was frustrating for Babin because they had a set rotation which meant he barely played in 2007. In 2008, the Seahawks released him early in the season, but the Chiefs picked him up and he did record two sacks in seven games for them.
In 2009, he joined the Eagles, for whom he had 2.5 sacks but it was in 2010 when he joined the Titans and finally got an opportunity to break out. His 12.5 sack season saw him reach the pro bowl for the first time and enticed the Eagles to bring him back.
In 2011, he was outstanding, peaking towards the end of the season when he had a run of three games where he recorded eight sacks. The third of those games was against the Jets and saw him spark them to a 45-19 win as he lit Wayne Hunter up in a three sack performance. Big deal, right? Everyone was tearing Hunter up that year, weren’t they? Actually, no. Prior to that game, Hunter had really settled down, giving up one pressure or less in six of the previous 10 games. Babin entered the last two games with 18 sacks and a chance to challenge the all-time record, but came up empty.
In 2012, Babin was having a reasonably good season with 5.5 sacks in the first 11 games but the Eagles struggled as a team and fell out of contention early. That’s why Babin was released just prior to the waiver deadline, enabling the Eagles to create additional cap room for the following season when he was claimed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After some initial speculation that Babin wouldn’t be motivated to play for the Jaguars because he was hoping to get picked up by a contender, he committed himself to playing hard for them and recorded nine sacks in 21 games for them.
After opting out of the final year of his contract, Babin actually re-signed with the Jaguars but then was released when they signed Chris Clemons and brought in a couple of other pass rushers. He joins the Jets on a two-year deal with the second year apparently being a team option.
12 passes defensed
14 forced fumbles
Three fumble recoveries
Here’s what I observed from watching footage of Babin, divided into categories:
Babin was primarily used as a conventional 4-3 defensive end most of the time. He typically lines up wide, well outside the tackle, in an unconventional four point stance. He sometimes stood up and played as a 3-4 linebacker, but rarely more than a handful of snaps in a game. He played both on the left and the right, which was a departure from his Eagles days, where he was almost exclusively on the left. While Babin has been a starter for the last few seasons, he has typically played around two-thirds of the snaps and when he does rotate out, it’s typically on running downs.
This is obviously Babin’s forte and he still demonstrated a burst off the edge and some good speed and techniques. He has a knack for coming up the middle untouched on stunts, partly due to good timing but also because he disguises the inside rush well before making a hard plant. A pure speed rush off the edge is something the Jets didn’t have much of last year, especially once Barnes got injured. However, what sets Babin apart is that when he is initially repelled, he transitions from speed to power really well and often drives his blocker back, either collapsing the pocket or creating separation to enable him to regain a leverage advantage. When a second blocker comes across to pick him up, perhaps off a stunt or if he beats the first man, you’ll often see Babin drive that guy back.
Babin uses the spin move a lot. In fact, at times, he arguably may have overused it. However, it was extremely successful against certain teams. As well as a conventional or clean spin move, Babin seems to have a knack for spinning off his man while driving him back towards the quarterback and falling to the ground to pressure the quarterback low. This is interesting because there aren’t many Jets who use the spin move and it’s believed Karl Dunbar favors other techniques. Could Babin mentor someone like Quinton Coples to get him to add this to his arsenal?
As noted, if he doesn’t beat his man off his initial move, he keeps moving forward and this creates opportunities for him to rock them with a secondary thrust, or duck under to get to the quarterback.
Babin made plenty of positive plays against the run, as you might expect making use of his speed and athleticism to shoot gaps, fight off blocks and hold his ground.
He has one major weakness though and that sees him caught inside quite a lot. If there’s ever a counter, a run that’s bounced outside or any other misdirection, he is at risk of being caught up in traffic, which means the Jaguars gave up a lot of yardage on outside runs where he wasn’t able to set the edge. It also seems like his instincts in the running game are lacking because if the other team ever motions a guy in his direction or gets someone lined up outside to block down on him, it’s rare that he anticipates this and eludes the block. He also overpursues to the inside on occasion.
You expect a pass rushing specialist to create running lanes by being too focused on getting upfield but this wasn’t an issue very often for Babin. If the plan is to use him in passing situations, then any deficiency in his run defense would be less of an issue anyway.
Babin is impressive in pursuit and still has pretty good speed. On one play, the 49ers ran a naked bootleg that looked to set Colin Kaepernick up with a chance to make some decent yardage, but Babin reacted quickly, closed on him and forced a throw away. On another, he chased all the way across the field to tackle CJ Spiller on an 18-yard run.
Statistically, Babin is a very reliable tackler. According to PFF, he only has 11 missed tackles since 2006. Having said that, his four in 2013 were the most he’s had since then. A sign that he’s lost a half-step, perhaps? One of these was a play where he blew up a run and someone else finished the play off though and two were near-sacks.
Babin has played primarily with 4-3 teams in recent years, but as noted they did use him as a linebacker at times, so he will at least have some level of familiarity there. While Barnes was healthy, the Jets primarily operated out of a four-man front on passing downs, but they went to three-man fronts with Wilkerson playing the nose more in the second half of the year. Either way, using Babin in these packages and getting him to do what he does best shouldn’t be alien to him.
Coverage isn’t really part of Babin’s job description. However, he did drop into coverage 24 times last year after having done so just 35 times from 2007 to 2012 inclusive per PFF. On a couple of plays, he reacted well to a short pass and made the tackle. One of these was an outstanding play where he blew up a shovel pass near the goal line. In terms of actually dropping into coverage, there was actually one play where he took a deep drop and jumped to deflect a pass incomplete down the field. On another he dropped back and then when there was a dump-off pass underneath he came off his man to try and make the tackle, but overpursued in the open field.
One concern could be penalties. Babin has averaged 11 per season over the last four years. He jumps offside a lot and also had a couple of unnecessary roughness calls for getting into it with another player after the whistle last year. I could see him getting some roughing penalties for hitting the quarterback low, although he didn’t in 2013. He did get one for a helmet-to-helmet hit though. On the other side of the ledger, he does draw a lot of holds.
At 34, I wouldn’t anticipate much in the way of special teams contributions from Babin. However, the Jags did use him on the punt rush unit a handful of times.
As noted, Babin’s instincts in the running game may be lacking, but he should know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to generating pressure. In 2008 he admitted he was much more comfortable rushing the passer as an end and that learning to stop the run was a challenge for him.
Maybe Babin has lost a step but he still shows impressive flashes of speed, strength and power. I don’t think there’s any question he still has gas in the tank.
Unlike most of the low-cost, potential value moves the Jets have made under John Idzik, Babin is a player without major injury concerns. He hasn’t missed a game since 2009. He did miss some time in preseason in 2012 when he hurt his calf and he was playing through a groin strain last year.
As noted, Babin played about two-thirds of the snaps in 2013. The most snaps he played in any game was 66. If he ends up in a situational role with the Jets, then he’ll surely be able to handle a lower workload and remain fresh enough to put forth a consistent effort. He did play hard with the Jaguars, but there were plenty of games where they were getting blown out and you sensed everyone was just going through the motions.
If you asked me yesterday if I thought the Jets should sign Jason Babin, I’d have probably said no. However, he is a talented pass rusher and does still seem to have the athleticism to contribute consistently.
I really hope this is a case of “you can never have too many good players” rather than a sign that Antwan Barnes isn’t expected back any time soon. Babin would seem to be a short term stop-gap, but if he’s able to mentor or pass on any knowledge to some of the younger players on the roster, then maybe his influence will be wider-reaching.
One thing of relevance to the work I’ve been doing recently is the fact that he did seem to draw a lot of double teams for someone lining up exclusively on the outside. As we’ve learned from my research in recent weeks, it might not be possible for offensive teams to give him the same level of attention with the Jets that he was getting in Jacksonville. Therefore the optimistic view would be that he could easily surpass last year’s production. However, as he’s a year older, he’ll also have to fight off Father Time, who might be a more formidable opponent than any double team blocker he might face.
Exclusive stats from PFF were used in this article and we thank them for giving us access.