Get ready for Michael Clemons, Jets fans. Chances are pretty good you’re going to like him.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound edge rusher, who on Friday met with reporters for the first time since the Jets drafted him in the fourth round (117th overall) out of Texas A&M last Saturday, came off as equal parts intimidating and charming with a good dose of confidence added in.
“I know a little bit about the Jets history,” the physically imposing Clemons said Friday after his first rookie-camp workout with the team, “but I plan on making an impact no matter what the history was.”
Good answer, considering how starved the Jets are for impact players on both sides of the ball.
For those Jets fans not well-versed in the history of the team’s pass rush (and most of you surely are), here it is: You have to go back seven seasons to find a player who had double-digit sacks for the Jets ( Mo Wilkerson, with 12 in 2015).
The Jets’ high last season was six by Quinnen Williams, who also led them with seven in 2020. Before that, the team highs were eight in 2019, seven in 2018, five in 2017 and seven in 2016. You can’t win football games with those numbers. Not coincidentally, the Jets were 10-6 in 2015, when Wilkerson had the 12 sacks.
Sacks have come as frequently as we’ve been graced with 70-degree days during this prolonged and unusually chilly spring.
Will Clemons be a part of the answer to ending that paltry pass-rush production?
I believe so.
“As soon as I made the decision that football was what I wanted to do, I committed to it and I’ve always had faith that I would make it — even if it looked rocky, even if I wasn’t recruited, even if I didn’t get much playing time in high school,” Clemons said, pretty much mapping out his arduous journey from high school to junior college to Texas A&M to becoming the Aggies’ defensive captain in 2021. “I never lost that faith in myself that it may not be smooth, but it’s going to happen.”
It’s difficult to imagine when looking at his frame, but Clemons was a running back in high school.
“You all know Brandon Jacobs?” Clemons said of the former Giants running back. “I was trying to be Brandon Jacobs 2.0.”
He moved to linebacker his senior year, but was injured and never was able to put enough on tape to get recruited.
He walked on at Cisco Community College, where he played well enough to be recruited by Texas A&M, where he played in 39 games (25 starts) and had 93 tackles, 12 ½ sacks and 21 tackles for losses. Last season, he had seven sacks, 11 TFLs.
Clemons said he was “grateful” for his JUCO experience because “it taught me hard work, dedication [and] that I had to be my own disciplinary in order for me to make it out of there.”
Jets general manager Joe Douglas, after drafting Clemons, described him as “one of the nastier players in the entire draft,” adding, “We don’t think you can have enough of that on this team.”
Clemons delivered one of a handful of funny moments in his meeting with reporters, when he was asked how he can turn that nastiness on and off, snapping his fingers, mimicking flipping a light switch.
“It’s just a switch in me,” he said. “I turn it off when I’m getting ready to be a civilian again. It’s who I am. On the field, animal. When I get off the field, I’m chilling and low key. As a defensive player, you need that nastiness. That’s definitely one of the biggest assets to my game.
“I just have to make sure I turn that thing off when I walk off the field.”
That will be a key for Clemons, who made some questionable off-the-field decisions in college, including getting arrested in August 2021 on charges of marijuana possession, unlawful carrying of a weapon and failure to identify, according to Brazos County, Texas, court records.
Keeping clean will be as important to him as a pro as chasing quarterbacks.
Asked what his favorite pass-rush moves are, Clemons smiled and said, “I can’t give you my whole book. But I definitely like power moves for sure. You make a guy quickly respect you when you hit him in the mouth over and over again. He’s going to be thinking about that all day.”
Head coach Robert Saleh said on Friday that Carl Lawson, the team’s veteran pass rusher, has already been watching college tape of Clemons.
Clemons said he has had his eye on this moment since he was an 8-year-old child watching an NFL game for the first time, on Thanksgiving.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to do that,” he said. “I remember sitting in our apartment looking at it on TV. I forget who was playing, but I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be me.’ ”
Well, here he is.
“I’m ready to get to work,” he said.