It took them four rounds, but the New York Jets finally pulled the trigger on a wide receiver prospect, adding Oklahoma product Jalen Saunders to their depleted wide receiving corps.
The first thing that jumps out about Saunders is his size, and for all the wrong reasons. At 5'8", 165 pounds, Saunders will be limited to the slot in the NFL—but he certainly plays much bigger than his size would otherwise suggest.
Saunders is one of the toughest receivers in the draft, especially considering the fact that he is smaller than just about every defensive player he has ever lined up against. Saunders is unafraid to go over the middle and lay out for contested catches and blocks as ferociously as any receiver in the draft.
Saunders makes up for his lack of size with his speed and quickness. Boasting a solid 4.44 40-yard dash, Saunders can get to top speed in a hurry. He can change direction in the blink of an eye, making him a perfect fit as an NFL slot receiver.
Despite his underwhelming size, Saunders is a tremendously durable player—an underrated quality that is not often found in slot receivers that are subject to taking hits from bigger linebackers and safeties.
Hey, Jalen Saunders, describe your style of play. Says he's "like a gorilla," and then says "a terrier." #Jets— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) May 10, 2014
His speed and quickness can also make him a dangerous return man. After adding Dexter McDougle in the third round, the Jets have more than enough competition for Jacoby Ford at both kick returner positions.
While he may be limited to the slot, that does not mean he is incapable of going deep. Saunders can track the ball well down the field, playing like a receiver 10 inches taller than he really is.
He does, however, have small hands that make life difficult for him when competing for 50/50 passes. His size also makes him easy to push around—the primary reason why it will be nearly impossible for him to play on the outside in the NFL.
Saunders has the talent and character to warrant this selection in the fourth round, but for the Jets, the fit does not quite match up with the need. At this point, the Jets should be in the market for a bigger "X" receiver to play opposite Eric Decker, not an interior slot player.
One of the few bright spots of the Jets offense is their incumbent slot receiver, Jeremy Kerley. Should they really be using their draft resources on extra slot receivers with so many other needs to address on their roster?
Saunders will find himself in an odd situation—he may start training camp as the third-best receiver on the team, but limitations as a slot receiver will prevent him from ever reaching the starting lineup. Unless the Jets believe Kerley can play on the outside, Saunders will have to rely on the innovation of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to make an impact on the regular offense.
It appears as if the Jets picked Saunders for his on-field demeanor as much as his ability. He may not get as much playing time as his talent would otherwise suggest, but he will set a tone in practice and training camp that will be infectious. His toughness and attention to detail are a coach's dream.