New York Jets Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts
The results of spring practices don't count when the NFL season kicks off in early September, but organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp give us a first glimpse at how a brand-new roster will look before the pads come on.
The Jets are not necessarily looking for their known stars to dominate spring practices—rather, they would much prefer to see young rookies or under-the-radar players show promise, giving them unexpected help at need positions.
The Jets have some lingering questions on their roster, but these up-and-coming players may help fill their needs or at least provide some quality depth.
Here are some of the most impressive players from the Jets' spring workouts.
Most of the young receivers the Jets brought in have had uneventful spring practices so far, but fourth-round rookie Jalen Saunders is separating himself from the pack with his quickness.
Saalim Hakim and Jalen Saunders getting upfield in a hurry with their routes today. #NYJ— Chris Lopresti (@CLoprestiWFAN) May 28, 2014
His stature (5'9") will limit him to the slot position, but what he lacks in size he makes up for with quickness and physicality. Unafraid to go over the middle and lay out for passes, Saunders has the ideal skill set of a slot receiver.
Assuming he makes the roster, the real challenge for Saunders will be to find a role in the regular offense. With Jeremy Kerley entrenched as the team's go-to slot receiver, the Jets will have to get creative to find a role for Saunders.
If he cannot find a way to get touches on offense, he could still contribute on special teams as a returner. He will compete with veteran speedster Jacoby Ford for return duties, as Chris Lopresti of WFAN notes that he was getting reps in that area during minicamp.
An under-the-radar acquisition near the end of last season, the Jets are reaping the benefits from the New England Patriots' frustration with linebacker Jermaine Cunningham.
The former second-round pick from the 2010 draft had a disappointing career with the Patriots, leading to his release. After a month-long stint with the San Francisco 49ers, the Jets picked up Cunningham last October and have watched him slowly ascend the depth chart since, appearing in two games last year.
Cunningham's ascent has carried over into the spring. Brian Costello of the New York Post notes that Cunningham was getting work with the second-team defense and stood out at times with his speed.
As Costello mentions, Cunningham is still only 25 years old with plenty of room to develop. The timing of his emergence is most convenient for the Jets: With Antwan Barnes' availability for training camp unknown (h/t Dom Cosentino of NJ.com), the Jets are in desperate need of a young linebacker to step into a role as a situational pass-rusher.
The Jets have made their share of bad transactions over the years, but their recent track record of bringing in young talent on the defensive line is most impressive.
Their latest prospect to emerge on the scene is Texas Tech defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, who was among the first undrafted free agents to sign with the Jets after the draft.
According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, Hyder was getting some quality time with the second team and looked like he belonged. He was active and always around the ball, showcasing the impressive hand use that made him a priority free-agent signee.
Unfortunately for Hyder, the odds of him making the final 53-man roster are slim to none no matter how well he practices. Not only is he competing with 12 drafted players who will undoubtedly get preferential treatment, but he plays a position where the Jets are as talented and deep as any team in the league.
Hyder can still earn a spot on the practice squad or showcase his talents in preseason games for other teams looking for defensive tackle help.
Jermaine Cunningham is not the only Patriots castoff to shine in Florham Park this spring. Cornerback Ras-I Dowling is rewarding the Jets for giving him a second chance so far in OTAs, showcasing the talent he always had as a former second-round draft pick.
Ras-I Dowling is having a nice practice. Jets need some corners to step up #nyj— Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) May 28, 2014
The reason for Dowling's release from the Patriots was simply his inability to stay healthy for more than a few weeks at a time. He has played in just nine games since he was drafted in 2011 because of recurring hip and thigh ailments.
Dowling appears to finally be healthy for now, but the real test for the Virginia product will be how long he will hold up. If Dowling can stay healthy, he would give the Jets a huge boost at a cornerback position that needs as much help as it can get after losing Antonio Cromartie this offseason.
Speaking of unexpected help at the cornerback position, third-round rookie Dexter McDougle has looked better than any other rookie on the roster so far.
McDougle has been so impressive that he has drawn comparisons to a recent great corner who used to call Florham Park home:
Jets rookie CB Dexter McDougle hasn't been in pads yet, but Rex already compared him to Darrelle Revis: http://t.co/eL7l8FFVo5— Jane McManus (@janesports) June 3, 2014
Darrelle Revis comparisons are a bit premature, but the fact that McDougle has been so impressive gives the Jets some relief that they will have some fallback options at cornerback. Reliant on the young Dee Milliner and the oft-injured Dimitri Patterson to start, security at cornerback is a luxury the Jets do not have.
Moving forward, the biggest obstacle for McDougle will be to stay healthy. He missed the last nine games of his college career because of a shoulder injury, which still forces him to wear a red non-contact jersey.
If McDougle can put his injuries behind him, he should be in the mix to start over Dimitri Patterson on opening day if he truly is as impressive as his coach has made him out to be.