New York Jets: Early Rookie Progress Reports
We may only be a few weeks removed from the draft, but it is never too soon to see how the rookies for the New York Jets are progressing.
These players have only been through rookie minicamps and organized team activities (OTAs) so far, but these camps have given us a first look at how these players look both against their fellow rookies and experienced veterans.
Here are some early progress reports for the Jets' rookies so far.
Calvin Pryor's start with the Jets has hit a bit of a speed bump, missing the first few days of OTAs with wisdom tooth pain. Unable to put his helmet on because of swelling, the Jets will have to wait a bit longer to see their first-round selection in action with his veteran teammates.
Pryor did get to see some time on the field in rookie minicamp, where he garnered as much attention with his trash-talking ways as he did with his play.
The Jets have a lot of work to do when it comes to defining roles for their safeties—missing out on limited practice days must be irritating for Rex Ryan and his defensive coaches.
In any case, judging a player like Pryor in an OTA or minicamp setting is more or less a waste of time. Pryor's game is built around physicality, which he will have to wait until the pads go on in training camp to unleash.
Of all of the Jets' rookies, the Jets need Jace Amaro to contribute early and often given their needs on the offensive side of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg appears to be wasting no time getting Amaro integrated into the offense:
Rex Ryan on Jace Amaro: "Looks like Marty thinks he has a new toy and we're trying to feature him." Says Amaro will create mismatches. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) May 16, 2014
Amaro slid to the second round in large part because of his lack of experience as a blocker, but he has tremendous upside as a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers. A prototypical "joker" tight end who can be moved all over the formation, Amaro can easily be the receiving presence at the position the Jets have lacked since moving on from Dustin Keller last offseason.
How much Amaro will be involved will directly depend on how quickly he can adapt to a new playbook and the NFL game pace.
The one area on the roster where the Jets can be classified as "desperate" is the cornerback position, where they just might get the young help they need based on what they have seen from McDougle from now.
McDougle was impressive enough in OTAs to draw comparisons to the best cornerback to ever wear a Jets uniform:
Rex said Dexter McDougle doesn't like to let the offense catch passes in walkthrough, like Revis used to do. #nyj— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) May 28, 2014
Darrelle Revis comparisons would be lofty for any player, veteran or rookie, but the fact that a third-round pick like McDougle has been so impressive is big news for a Jets team that needs as much help as possible at such a vital position.
The Jets planned on starting Dimitri Patterson opposite Dee Milliner, but McDougle's performance may cause the Jets to retract their premature decision.
Electing to take the "volume" approach to rebuilding their receiving corps this offseason, the Jets are banking on one of their young pass-catchers to emerge as a key contributor next to Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley.
Most of the rookie receivers have had quiet minicamps and OTAs so far, but fourth-round pick Jalen Saunders has stood out more so than any other rookie at his position.
Saalim Hakim and Jalen Saunders getting upfield in a hurry with their routes today. #NYJ— Chris Lopresti (@CLoprestiWFAN) May 28, 2014
With tremendous speed, agility and toughness, Saunders has all of the ingredients of someone who can play right away. However, at 5'9", finding a role outside of the slot will be a challenge.
Saunders may also contribute on special teams as a punt returner, but he will have to battle veteran Jacoby Ford for such duties.
While Saunders has started to turn heads, the Jets' second fourth-round receiver has yet to make an impact at all.
Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger reports that because of UCLA's quarter-semester system, Shaq Evans has yet to join the team for OTAs.
From an on-field perspective, Evans is the antithesis of Saunders as a big-bodied target who wins with his body positioning. While he has the size to play on the outside, his lack of quickness and acceleration limits his effectiveness on the inside.
While this is certainly a less than ideal situation for a rookie looking to make a good first impression, Evans will have plenty of time between now and the start of the season to show off his skills and find a role on the team.
With Willie Colon's status up in the air as he undergoes knee surgery, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, the Jets will become more and more reliant on their young depth until Colon's status becomes a bit more clear.
For now, last year's fifth-round picks Oday Aboushi will assume the starting guard duties until Colon's return, but this move shifts everyone up a spot on the depth chart, catalyzing competition. Suddenly, fourth-round pick Dakota Dozier is within striking distance of the backup guard position, albeit a temporary spot.
Dozier will have to beat out second-year pro William Campbell for the job, who is still making the transition from defensive tackle to guard. The fact that Campbell spent every game on the inactive list hardly suggests he is making tremendous strides in his development.
Dozier comes from a smaller program at Furman, but he has a ton of physical ability that translates well to the NFL if he can adjust to the pro game quickly enough.
Outside of being one of the first draftees to sign his contract with the Jets, Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George has had a quiet few sessions of minicamps and OTAs so far.
Things will not be quiet for George for long, however. He will fight fierce competition for a job as a backup inside linebacker this offseason, primarily with the incumbent Nick Bellore. Bellore is a trusted special teams ace, but George offers more upside as a rangy, athletic specimen.
Barring an unexpected performance for either player, Rex Ryan appears to have already mapped out a plan for how to use his two backup linebackers, Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger notes:
Jets coach Rex Ryan said after the draft that George and Nick Bellore, a valuable special teams player, would back up Harris and Davis – and that George and Bellore would probably work as backups at both the middle linebacker and weak-side linebacker spots, splitting practice time at both positions to develop depth.
There seems to be a good chance that George, like Bellore, could develop into a special teams contributor this season.
The real test for George will be next season when David Harris could potentially leave in free agency, opening up a spot in the starting lineup. More than anything else, George needs to convince the Jets' brass that they needn't look elsewhere for linebacker labor should Harris leave.
Despite his tremendous speed, sixth-round pick Brandon Dixon is going through all of the expected growing pains a Northwest Missouri State product would undergo in their early NFL careers.
Dixon is quickly learning that he may have been the fastest player on the field in college, but he is more of a dime a dozen when compared to everyone else on an NFL field.
Vick another nice deep ball ... but dropped by Hakim. Rookie Brandon Dixon beat badly in coverage. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) May 28, 2014
Again, such plays are expected from Dixon this early in the process as he begins to understand that his 4.41 speed is not enough to survive in the NFL. Barring an incredible turnaround in his game, Dixon's rookie season will likely be spent on the inactive list or special teams while he develops his game as a cornerback.
With so much competition at the receiver position this summer, the last place a young pass-catcher should want to be is on the stationary bike—which is exactly where sixth-round pick Quincy Enunwa has started his OTAs.
Quincy Enunwa was in the rehab area. Shaq Evans finishing up school. Calvin Pryor was limited by a swollen mouth (wisdom teeth). #NYJ— Chris Lopresti (@CLoprestiWFAN) May 28, 2014
As unfair as it sounds, every rep Enunwa misses hurts his chances of keeping a spot on the final 53-man roster. Even if Enunwa was healthy, making the roster was going to be an uphill battle, but not being available will only make stashing him on the practice squad or even cutting him outright even easier.
The Jets will give Enunwa opportunities to show what he can do with his 225-pound frame, but his margin for error is shrinking by the day.
After having played defensive end at Louisiana Tech, the Jets have all but confirmed the fact that sixth-round pick IK Enemkpali will indeed make the expected transition to outside linebacker.
This news is not at all surprising, but it does not make Enemkpali's life any easier this summer. There are only so many positions open at linebacker to back up Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples, and there may not be enough to support both Enemkpali and seventh-round pick Trevor Reilly.
Working in Enekmpali's favor is his acumen as a pass-rusher. His disastrous 5.01 40-yard dash made him drop in the draft, but he plays much faster on tape when accelerating and transitioning his speed into power.
If he can at least flash the ability to develop into a useful edge-rusher, he stands a good chance of reserving a spot on the final 53-man roster—assuming he plays well on special teams.
A teammate of Rex Ryan's son at Clemson, Tajh Boyd is an immediate favorite of Ryan's. However, none of these relationships will matter if Boyd does not improve upon his lackluster minicamp performance.
Boyd will be in direct competition with Matt Simms for what will presumably be the third and final quarterback job. Boyd has a lot of upside with his arm strength and mobility, but Simms will not give the job up easily, especially on the heels of an impressive 2013 preseason in which he stole No. 3 job from Greg McElroy.
No matter what happens over the next few months, there appears to be no chance that Boyd will make a position change anytime soon:
Talk of Jets QB Tajh Boyd changing positions is premature http://t.co/HVSmLUEfrE— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) May 18, 2014
The idea that Boyd would play another position besides quarterback seemed odd in the first place. Boyd has good athleticism, but not the type of athleticism that transcends his upside as a developmental quarterback.
Trevor Reilly has defeated plenty of odds by being a 26-year-old draft pick, but the real challenge of making an NFL roster has just begun.
Reilly claims he is keeping up with veterans his age just fine so far, but he is constantly reminded of the fact that he will always be playing catch-up because of his late entry into the NFL.
"Some of these vets have been in the NFL for 3 years and I'm still older than them...so maybe it's old-man strength." Trevor Reilly— Austin Horton (@austinhorton) May 28, 2014
Knee injuries and a mission in Sweden delayed Reilly's career, but his versatility (he was a walk-on safety) and production at Utah still made him impossible to pass up in the seventh round of the draft.
Reilly's biggest competition will be fellow draftee IK Enemkpali for backup outside linebacker duties. Enemkpali has the edge on Reilly in terms of upside and raw ability, but Reilly's maturity and versatility may make him the better option in the short run.
Undrafted Free Agents
According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, Kerry Hyder has stood out at defensive tackle, running with the second team already in OTAs. The Jets' incredible talent and depth at defensive line will make it almost impossible for Hyder to make the roster, but it looks like Hyder plans on making it as difficult as possible for the Jets to cut him without at least giving him a job on the practice squad.
The huge Arizona product appears to be headed for a position change. According to OurLads.com, Miller is listed as a tight end. With a 6'4" 234-pound frame, it is easy to see why the Jets thought it would be best to keep Miller out of the crowded receiver group and add competition to the relatively thin tight end corps.
Miller has a lot of ground to make up as he learns a new position on the fly, but his size and athleticism will always give him a chance to stick around on the roster or the practice squad.