5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make New York Jets' Final 53-Man Roster

Philip SchawillieContributor IIIJuly 8, 2013

5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make New York Jets' Final 53-Man Roster

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    Let's not speculate about which players might be legitimate dark-horse candidates to make the New York Jets' 53-man roster in 2013 without reviewing a recent success story. After all, such a candidate not only made the team in 2012, he became a starter.

    In early July 2012, third-year lineman Austin Howard was the New York Jetsthird-string left tackle behind D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Stephon Heyer, according to Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services. Had things stayed that way through training camp, the odds of Howard making the 53-man roster would have been slim.

    On the other side of center, Wayne Hunter began that July as the starting right tackle with Vladimir Ducasse as his backup. However, things would soon turn in Howard’s favor. Near the end of the month, Howard became Hunter’s backup. Ducasse moved to left guard behind starter Matt Slauson.

    Howard’s ascension became complete when the Jets announced his promotion to starter at Hunter’s expense. They subsequently traded Hunter to the St. Louis Rams for reserve tackle Jason Smith.

    In 2012, Howard earned $548,120. He became a restricted free agent in 2013 and accepted the Jets’ second-round tender. That means he’ll earn $2.023 million for playing the 2013 season and could enjoy a bigger payday as an unrestricted free agent in 2014.

    That was a “dark-horse candidate” success story from 2012. It’s time to look at some possibilities for 2013. Let’s meet them.

     

    The source for general information about New York Jets' undrafted free agents (UDFAs) is Randy Lange's post "Snapshots of the 15 Undrafted Free Agents" on the New York Jets' website. Additional information pertinent to this slideshow was courtesy of Pro Sports Transactions, New York Jets Salary Cap and Spotrac unless noted otherwise.

LB Troy Davis

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    Of the New York Jets’ 15 UDFAs, 6'2", 249-pound Troy Davis is the only linebacker. However, he’d better work on raising his profile. If his standing on the Jets’ depth charts doesn’t improve, he’ll be looking for work before Week 1.

    According to Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services and Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com, he is the fourth-string, left-inside linebacker behind DeMario Davis, Josh Mauga and either Danny Lansanah (Ourlads') or Sean Progar-Jackson (ESPNNewYork.com).

    That’s not quite good enough. According to Ourlads, the Jets opened the 2012 season with three left-inside linebackers: Bart Scott, Josh Mauga and DeMario Davis.

    Yet, after rookie camp, ESPNNewYork.com’s Rich Cimini picked Troy Davis as one of four UDFAs with a chance to make the 53-man roster.

    Maybe it was the 11.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks that Troy Davis recorded during his senior year at Central Florida. Pressure behind the line of scrimmage is something the Jets have sought to improve. It’s up to Davis to show he can help.

    Jets’ senior reporter Eric Allen as much as said that during his “EA Q&A: An Independence Day Special” session. When asked about competition at linebacker. Allen closed his answer with, "…rookie Troy Davis is an interesting pass rushing prospect who hopes to make a push."

    He’d better find a way to do that before the cuts begin.

WR Zach Rogers

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    To make the Jets’ 53-man roster, a UDFA receiver will have to do more than play his position. He’d better be able to get open and catch passes. That’s a given. But if he can also contribute on special teams, he’ll see even more snaps. That’s the path 6'0", 172-pound, wide receiver Zach Rogers is taking.

    He demonstrated this versatility at rookie camp, where Rex Ryan observed, according to Randy Lange of newyorkjets.com:

    One guy who stood out was the receiver from Tennessee, Zach Rogers. He caught a lot of balls out there, he was a slot receiver, you saw him return punts. And he did a good job in the special teams drills.

    Rogers has continued to draw attention through OTAs and minicamp. According to Jets’ senior reporter Eric Allen, “…rookie Zach Rogers flashed at times and he could make a push for a roster spot.”

    It won’t be easy. Other receivers like Ryan Spadola and Vidal Hazelton have made positive impressions and are threatening to move up the depth chart. In fact, Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services considers Rogers the fourth-stringer at right wide receiver behind Santonio Holmes, Clyde Gates and Titus Ryan.

    Only Hazelton trails him. If that's not bad enough, ESPNNewYork.com rates Rogers sixth behind Holmes, Jeremy Kerley, Jordan White, Joe Collins and Hazelton. Only Ryan Spadola trails him there.

    Rogers’ best shot may lie in others’ misfortune. If Holmes’ rehabilitation from his Lisfranc foot injury takes longer than expected or if Gates tweaks another hamstring, opportunities might arise for those who might otherwise settle for a practice squad berth. After that, it would be up to Rogers to make his removal from the lineup impossible.

C Dalton Freeman

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    Nick Mangold has a few years left as Jets’ starting center. However, judging by Rex Ryan’s comments during rookie camp, the Jets may have found a worthy successor in Dalton Freeman.

    ESPNNewYork.com and Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services agree that the 6'5", 285-pound Freeman ranks third on the depth chart behind Mangold and last year’s backup Caleb Schlauderaff.

    However, Schlauderaff’s lack of playing time in 2012 combined with Freeman’s All-American credentials make the thought of a new second-string center plausible. It gets more credible when you hear Rex Ryan talk about his rookie-camp performance.

    At rookie camp, Freeman played on a line with draft picks Brian Winters, William Campbell and Oday Aboushi. After the first day of practice, Ryan assessed the line as follows, according to newyorkjets.com:

    I was encouraged by the looks of it. I went in and I saw our offensive line. Here’s a group that as people are familiar with us, when you went into the second half of the preseason games, it was like you never wanted your son to play quarterback or running back for us.

    Hopefully, that will be a little different this preseason, because I think we’ll be able to block some people. But it is an impressive group, when you consider that you have three draft picks on that offensive line and the All-American from Clemson [Dalton Freeman] at center, who looked really impressive to me.

    It’s a good-looking group. I was impressed with those guys.

    ESPNNewYork.com blogger Rich Cimini echoed Ryan's praise, naming Freeman as a leading contender among Jets' UDFAs for a spot on the 53-man roster.

    Since Willie Colon, Stephen Peterman and Austin Howard become unrestricted free agents in 2014, it’s possible that Aboushi, Campbell and Winters will compose most of the Jets’ future offensive line.

    Freeman may have to wait until Mangold retires to join them as a starter. But if he demonstrates that he can play with these men while they compose the second team, he should get his chance to join them on the Jets’ offensive line of the future. He’ll have to bide his time as Mangold’s backup for now.

S Rontez Miles

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    It doesn't look like the Jets know where to put Rondez Miles, the 6'1", 210-pound UDFA safety from Division II California University (PA).

    ESPNNewYork.com's depth chart puts Miles in a third-string slot behind Dawan Landry and Bret Lockett. Ourlads' NFL Scouting Services paints a bleaker picture, making Miles a fourth-string safety behind Josh Bush, Antonio Allen and Lockett. Either way, Miles' chance of surviving the final cut don't look good.

    Worse, most coverage of the Jets’ competition at safety, like newyorkjets.com, discusses the battle between Josh Bush, Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Miles' presence seems like less than a footnote to the conversation.

    However, if there’s a sentimental favorite for making this team, it has to be Rontez Miles. Although from a Division II school, he has Division I talent, having begun his collegiate career at Brian Winters' alma mater Kent State.

    He is also trying to salvage his half of a dream that two brothers once shared. Now Rontez pursues that dream while his half-brother Vondre Griffin pursues the dream of freedom following his arrest and upcoming murder trial.

    Miles comes to the Jets as their highest-graded defensive UDFA according to Pro Football Weekly (h/t Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com). He was twice named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference's Defensive Player of the Year.

    This should come as no surprise, as he only left Kent State because the school expelled his brother. Rontez took a two-year sabbatical from football until resuming his career at California University.

    Miles intercepted nine passes during senior year. He combined that nose for the ball with a love of contact. Former college teammate and current Jets’ receiver Thomas Mayo told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini, "I don't want to say he tries to hurt you, but" -- a smiling pause -- "he tries to hurt you."

    He’ll have to display that same combination of ball hawking and hard hitting to move up the depth chart.

DT Jake McDonough

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    According to one unofficial depth chart, 6'5", 290-pound defensive tackle Jake McDonough is in the best position to make the Jets' 53-man roster of any player on these slides. However, that sentiment isn't universal. But at this point in McDonough;s life, disagreeing depth charts probably seem insignificant.

    Jake McDonough is second-string defensive tackle according to ESPNNewYork.com, behind projected starter Sheldon Richardson. He’s third on the ourlads.com defensive tackle depth chart behind Richardson and Antonio Garay. Believe ESPNNewYork,com and McDonough is in great position for a roster spot. Believe ourlads.com and the veteran Garay provides a formidable obstacle.

    However, climbing a mere depth chart can't be as imposing a challenge as the one he faced four years ago at Iowa State.That year, a combination of food allergies and parasites caused a 70-pound weight loss..He recovered and regained the weight. However, he had to re-establish his football reputation to a relatively new coaching staff.

    MicDonough came through that trial and made All-Big 12 defensive tackle.

    In other words, he succeeded in winning his job back in the face of doubters before he joined the Jets. The Jets' stress on competition  is something he's faced before.

    Rex Ryan had indicated an interest in McDonough in a most flattering way. Once he called him “Mike DeVito,” in reference to the recently lost free agent with a great work ethic. What's more, according to Jane McManus of ESPNNewYork.com, Ryan has said, "I like him. He’s tough, he competes. If he doesn’t make the team, it’s not because of his work ethic or anything else. He’s a hard-playing kid."

    That sounds like what the Jets want in their new team culture, players who fight to keep their jobs every day. McDonough has lived the experience. He’s ready.

     

    Follow Phillip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid