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The Curious Case of Jesse Lemonier

During the Cardinals’ woeful 30-12 upset loss to the Detroit Lions last year, it was difficult not to take special note of the edge play of Jesse Lemonier. At the time I did not know much about Lemonier, but the way he was bending the edge past LT D.J. Humphries on a direct line to Kyler Murray was impressive.

In that game, Lemonier collected 3 QB pressures, 2 QB hits on Kyler Murray and 1 sack.

During that game, I can remember doing some research on him, the way Bo Brack did on the day that the Cardinals claimed Lemonier off waivers back in the middle of May.

I was very excited to see the Cardinals claim Jesse Lemonier. For sure, he is an under-the-radar player who has yet to secure his present and future as an NFL pass rusher. But, when I watched his college tapes, rewatched his pass rushes versus the Cardinals and his sack of Aaron Rodgers, I got a little excited.

Then, this past weekend when Jesse Lemonier put up the same stats (3 QB pressures, 2 QB hits and 1 sack) versus the Bengals, on a mere 8 pass rushes, I got even more excited. The burst he showed off the edge on his rushes were the speediest that I saw all night from either team, that is, since Dennis Gardeck’s first pressure of the game. For Lemonier’s efforts he scored a near perfect PFF grade of 94.8.

Therefore, when I saw that the Cardinals’, having already made their required 5 cuts this week, went ahead and released Jesse Lemonier yesterday, my immediate reaction was:

I just can’t believe that the Cardinals’ GM and coaches, with 2 pre-season games remaining, did not want to see more of Jesse Lemonier. I thought other fans who saw Lemonier’s superior play at Cincy would concur. However, the pushback in support of the Cardinals cutting Lemonier was very forceful and immediate:

It always sticks in my craw when Cardinals’ fans make excuses for a player’s success. I mean, Jesse Lemonier showed up big-time when he name was called. He went out and answered the bell. Yes, he was rushing versus a backup tackle, but then again, so was every other Cardinal rusher in this game. Thus, my response to Jess’ tweet:

Maybe Jesse Lemonier was late to one too many meetings? Otherwise, why not take a longer look?

Another reason why it is good to have a few speed rushers is for the sake of helping the team’s own tackles prep for speed rushers. In my opinion, one of the reasons why the Cardinals struggled blocking speed rushers (like Von Miller) is that the Cardinals didn’t have speed rushers on their team last year, save for Dennis Gardeck, who was still fighting his way back from his ACL rehab.

Some fans on Twitter went on to argue that Myjai Sanders is a speed rusher. Yes, Sanders has god “quicks”, but with his angular 6’5” frame he is easier for a tackle to leverage and kick out wide of the pocket, than a it can be for smaller, more compact speed rushers who can seal the corner faster. Myjai Sanders is going to have to learn to “whirlybird” rush at times the way Chandler Jones did, and develop/incorporate and counter outside-in spin move. I think Sanders has the talent to be a dandy. But, to deem him a speed rusher at this point might be a bit of a stretch.

Clu Kerley makes an apt point about the OLB depth and the difficult decisions that Steve Keim and the coaches are going to have to make come August 30th.

However, I think too many Cardinals’ fans continue to trust in the coaches’ talent evaluations, when their recent history of evaluating players, particularly at linebacker, is dubious at best.

First of all, how many of the edge players whom Clu lists above are bona fide 34 outside linebackers? In other words, how many of them have the strength to set the edge and the speed and athleticism to be effective in pass coverage?

The only player above who fits the 34 OLB mold is Dennis Gardeck. We will have to see how well Myjai Sanders can hold up in pass coverage. I would say that Myjai is the only other player in that group who has a decent chance —- but he runs a 4.67 40, which will make it a challenge for him to cover speedy TEs and RBs.

Dennis Gardeck, at his pro day, ran a 4.57.

Haason Reddick, at the 2017 NFL Combine, ran a 4.52.

When the Cardinals drafted Cameron Thomas, Steve Keim immediately declared that Thomas would be used as a 34 OLB. Really? At 6-5, 267 pounds and 4.78 speed?

Is this yet another agonizing example of the Cardinals starting a player out at the wrong position?

Devon Kennard ran a 4.70 at his Combine.

Did you know that in Kennard’s two years with the Cardinals, Vance Joseph has only used Devon Kennard in pass overage 27 times?

Markus Golden ran a 4.90.

Chandler Jones ran a 4.77.

Did you know that last season Vance Joseph used Markus Golden in coverage 62 times and Chandler Jones in coverage 45 times —- and they gave up 117 yards on 9/11 completions (89%) and 8 of the 9 were for 1st downs, some on 3rd and long?

Victor Dimukeje ran a 4.83

Jesse Luketa ran a 4.87.

Therefore, the only 34 LB lineup that makes a modicum of sense this year is:

  • LOLB Isaiah Simmons: 4.39
  • LILB Zaven Collins: 4.66
  • RILB: Zeke Turner 4.57 or Nick Vigil: 4.65
  • ROLB Dennis Gardeck: 4.57

Anyone else is going to get picked on in pass coverage. NFL coaches are always looking for mismatches.

Strength and size up front and speed at the linebacker positions and in the secondary are the name of the game in the NFL today.

So, yeah, whenever a Cardinals’ player exhibits bursts of speed, I get a little excited, even if it is in a drill at practice or late in the 4th quarter of a pre-season game.