New York Jets Draft Pick Analysis: WR/PR Jalen Saunders

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The New York Jets used the first of their three fourth round picks on Oklahoma wide receiver and returner Jalen Saunders. Today we are going to take a closer look at Saunders’ game and where he fits on the team’s roster in 2014 and beyond. In case you missed it, here are previous breakdowns of Calvin Pryor, Jace Amaro, Dexter McDougle, IK Enemkpali, Trevor Reilly and Quincy Enunwa.

Measurables

  • 5 foot 9, 165 pounds
  • 4.4 forty yard dash, 34 inch vertical jump
  • 30″ arm length, 8 7/8 ” hands

Offensive Production

  • 2010: Fresno State: 30 receptions, 462 yards, 3 TDs. 19 carries, 166 yards.
  • 2011: Fresno State: 50 receptions, 1,065 yards, 12 touchdowns. 8 carries, 91 yards, 2 TDs.
  • 2012: Oklahoma: 62 receptions, 829 yards, 3 touchdowns.
  • 2013: Oklahoma: 61 receptions, 729 yards, 5 touchdowns. 5 carries, 44 yards.

Special Teams Production

  • 2010: Fresno State: 32 kick returns, 743 yards. 6 punt returns, 69 yards.
  • 2012: Oklahoma: 5 punt returns, 88 yards, 1 touchdown.
  • 2013: Oklahoma: 1 kick return, 55 yards. 20 punt returns, 308 yards, 2 touchdowns.

Feel good Mike Mayock quote

Saunders weighed in at a hefty 165 pounds at the Senior Bowl. At 165 pounds, he’s one of most physical receivers in football; he ear holes defensive backs. He can play in the slot or on the outside, and he can also play special teams.

Positives

Saunders is an extremely fluid and natural wide receiver. He is quick on his feet and demonstrates both precision and thoughtfulness in his routes. There is a clear understanding of how to set up defenders and he has the athleticism to sink his hips and pop cleanly in and of out his breaks. Saunders is elusive after the catch and dangerous in space, making him a threat as a returner and in the screen game. He is consistent catching the football and doesn’t have poor technique that will lead to drops at the next level. Saunders plays bigger and more physical than his diminutive size. He isn’t afraid to mix it up as a blocker and was able to line up and produce on the outside when asked to.

Negatives

There is inevitable limitations in the NFL that come with being 5 foot 9 and 165 pounds. Saunders isn’t built to regularly take a pounding over the middle or win contested balls in traffic. If he is asked to play on the outside too extensively, he susceptible to getting tossed around by bigger, stronger defense backs and struggle with releases. Saunders caught many passes at or behind the of scrimmage and wasn’t regularly utilized as a deep threat. He didn’t have injury issues in college but plays a reckless, fearless style of football that could lead to injury at the next level, if he doesn’t put on a little more muscle to his frame.

NFL Comparison: Andrew Hawkins, with lower top end speed.

Jets Comparison: A speedier, smaller Jeremy Kerley but with less overall polish and refinement to his game on offense but with more potential as a returner.

Roster Fit: Outside of Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley, Jalen Saunders is the biggest lock to make the Jets roster at the wide receiver position. He has the most NFL ready game of any of the team’s 2014 draft picks at receiver and was taken as their first pick on day three for a reason. His addition most likely bumped veteran minimum signing Jacoby Ford off the roster, as Saunders could potentially assume both punt and kick return duties. Offensively, it will be fun to see how Marty Mornhinweg utilizes his skill set. Saunders figures to be active in the screen game and to work behind Jeremy Kerley as the team’s primary slot receiver. Kerley and Saunders could share the field at the same time in certain formations, particularly making one up one of the bunches that Mornhinweg loves to use so much.

GIF-Sanity

Lined up at X (split end). Gets open, sits in the window, takes a hit and moves the chains

Saunders from slot on a dig route. Takes a hit and picks up YAC

Willing, scrappy blocker despite size limitations

165 pound problems

YAC

27 thoughts on “New York Jets Draft Pick Analysis: WR/PR Jalen Saunders

  1. I hope Saunders can add about 10 lbs. and develop into a DeSean Jackson type of player. In college, both were smallish, agile return specialists that made plays in space and gained yards after the catch as receivers. They are even similar in their measurements at the Combine.

    Jackson – 5′ 9.75″, 169 lbs., 4.35s 40 w/ 1.53s 10-yd split and 2.52s 20-yd split, 34.5″ vertical, 122″ broad jump
    Saunders – 5′ 9″, 165 lbs., 4.37s 40 w/ 1.55s 10-yd split and 2.50s 20-yd split, 34″ vertical, 122″ broad jump

    Jackson is a sliver taller and a blink faster than Saunders. If Saunders can similarly learn to use his speed and agility at the LoS to pressure corners, then he could become a mainstay of the team. The one thing I will say is that, similar to Jackson, Saunders is probably too slight to contribute on kick returns. He will not be able to withstand somebody tackling him after winding up the entire length of the field.

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  5. This guy should be fun to watch. I’ve seen it reported that he’s the nephew of former Jet Webster Slaughter.

    I’ve noticed Saunders plays with an awareness of the goal line, & the 3rd-down & out-of-bounds lines.

    My biggest concern with his size is that he may “wear down” if he plays “too many” snaps & lose effectiveness.

  6. Love the player, hate where they picked him. DeSean Jackson is an outlier, so comparing Saudners to DJax is a bit aggressive, IMO. No doubt the kids has some skills, but he’s not likely ever going to be more than a role player. I don’t care how ‘scrappy’ he is, as a blocker, at 165-175lbs, he is not going to be an effective blocker if he’s asked to do it for 50 snaps a game-physics tells me that. On a team we believe will likely be 50/50 run/pass, that simply means less snaps. I simply think right now E Decker is there only known quantity at the WR position, and picking a WR, who’d be small in HS, here, wasn’t a good move. All those big WR drafted in rounds 1-3, and the NYJ didn’t trade up, and then grab this guy? I hope the kid turns out to be DJax 2.0, but the probabilities are on my side…

  7. Everyone has a perspective about size, speed, abilities, durability, etc.
    The part that you don’t mention is the size of the young mans’ heart and commitment to provide valuable input in spite of the negatives that he is fully aware of in the minds of his critics.
    We will use this negativity in criticism, to grow beyond the expectations of a critic.
    This young man will prove each contrary opinion to be inaccurate.
    I just hope that you critics will be big enough to watch him develop, watch him contribute, and watch the success that he will help to bring to this organization.
    Maybe at that point, your criticism will become “Encouragement” instead.

  8. Thanks for reading Walter! We will pulling for Jalen in 2014 and beyond

  9. I haven’t seen any game tape, but I love his change of pace and the way that makes defenders miss in some of the highlights. He could be a really fun guy to watch the coming seasons.

  10. BTW, This Walter Saunders, is Jalen’s Grandfather!!!!!
    I am thankful for the opportunity to state information that will be in support of the journey that Jalen has been well prepared for. Like his father, Jalen will accomplish his objectives and be a major support and inspiration to his teammates and the organization.
    I am proud of my Son and my Grandson.

  11. JJ..nothing guarantees success. I’m simply looking at the probabilities. Go check out the statistics for the top 20 WR, in terms of catches or yards…then tell me how that 80+% of the leaders are over 6′ and 210lbs?

    Mr Saunders,

    You should be proud of your grandson. He has beaten long odds just to get to this point. My favorite phrase, regarding my own ‘fan-dom’ is: “I root for laundry”. I hope Jalen continues to beat the odds, and becomes a great NFL WR. When that happens I wil gladl be the first one to stand up and say: “I was so wrong here”.

  12. Lidman, what sense is there in comparing “measurables” when you completely discount a very obvious & relevant comparison in the 2nd sentence of your initial comment? Furthermore, your suggestion that the team would’ve been better off by trading up is comical considering how that worked out last time.

    If you’d bothered watching any of Saunder’s film before continuing your routine of spewing negativity, you’d see there is a very strong likelihood he will be an impact player for this team. Here is a nice TD catch against Clinton HaHa Dix: http://draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=248145&gif=BruisedAbsoluteGeese

    Drew, you can find that info here: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1766841/jalen-saunders

  13. I think Lidman is right you can’t compare Saunders to De Sean Jackson, but Marty was successful with Jackson, and I think he has a plan. First, my six receivers are, Decker, Evans, Kerley, Saunders, Ford and Hill supplemented by three receiving TE’s. I think that Saunders, Ford and Hill will have the same role as DeSean Jackson did with Marty’s Eagles and that is to attack the top of the defense with a deep vertical game. Decker, Kerley, Evans and the Tight Ends will work a traditional West Coast Offense. The third aspect is a strong running game, and when the defense brings a Safety into the box, the Jets will work their passing game.

  14. @Drew

    You can see those numbers on the CBSSports NFL draft tracker or you can use nfldraftscout.com, which is where CBS Sports get their numbers from. Most prominent college prospects also have such measurables listed on their Wikipedia pages (which also happens to reference nfldraftscout.com, but archived pages that the website itself might have already deleted). I do not know how nfldraftscout.com gets its numbers, but the NFL combine does record such information and they must make it available somehow.

    @Lidman

    If you are looking for commonalities between the top WRs, I have another one for you: teams that never go anywhere. Receptions are the same whether it is a screen pass for a loss or a forty yard TD and yards/catch gives you lots of players that caught ten passes all year and averaged 20+ yards on them, so yards/game is the best statistic to show on-field production. And for 2013, no receiver in the top 5 in receiving yards/game was in the playoffs, only two receivers in the top 10 made the playoffs, and only five more receivers in the top 20 got to the playoffs. In all, the receivers in the playoffs were 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th, 15th, 19th, and 20th. Your idealization of the receiver that is a fantasy heartthrob ignores the fact that few of these guys are part of successful offenses. The best receivers average ~110 yards/game; the best offenses put up an average of ~400 yards/game. The best receiver in the league needs three other guys to put up the same numbers as him every game in order to be successful. Or in other words, a single receiver cannot change the fate of the offense, no matter if he is 6′ 6″ or 5′ 9″.

    Second, if you are building a team by statistics, you are always playing catch-up. Statistics are what someone has already done in the past. That someone is evolving too, so you will always be inferior unless you can break the chain. The only way to do that is with outliers. DeSean Jackson is an outlier, which is why the Eagles got their best receiver for the last five years in the second round, 49th overall. A good late round pick is better than a good first round pick, as it is always the outlier that brings about a revolution.

  15. JJ…how is calling DJax and outlier a contradiction? What I’m saying is because Saunders is the same size as DJax, it’s a bit aggressive…no, it’s very aggressive, to suggest he will have the same impact. Could he? Sure, anything is possible. The question is: is it likely? Let’s let the kid play before we annoint him, that’s all.

    Kash,

    Sample size? Go back and do your little analysis over the past 5yrs and come back to me. In each of the previous 5yrs, the number is in double digits for yardage. Second, this year, Wayne, Cobb and Gronkowski all suffered season ending injuries, and it’s likely all would have fallen in the top 20. This isn’t a ‘fantasy football’ based argument. Teams that make the playoffs generally have better players, no? Only 12, or 40%, of teams make the playoffs. So, you’re right, last year only 8 of the top 20 WR, made the playoffs, or exactly 40%. In the 4 previous years, that number climbs to anywhere from 60-75%. In most cases, numbers can be tortured into saying what you’d like them too. Also, gettting a star in the 2nd round, isn’t an outlier. DJax size makes him an outlier. Tavon Austin and Brandin Cooks’ size also make them outliers, but they were still 1st round picks.

    Finally, your last statement is flawed. Early picks simply have more riding on them, as numbers show us 70+% of All-Pros come in rounds 1 and 2. So, missing early is costly, because finding an All-Pro later is very much against the odds. But, I understand your premise because finding a guy late, stands out more. So, if you’re Seattle, and you blow your 2011 1st rounder, by taking James Carpenter, you get a pass because you found Richard Sherman in round 5.

  16. Lidman, how about we let the kid play before we say things like “picking a WR, who’d be small in HS, here, wasn’t a good move?”

    I find calling the DJax comparison an outlier without providing any support for your argument & later implying he won’t be successful because he isn’t 6′ and 210lbs to be a funny inconsistency & either trolling or a serious lack of reasoning. Or should we expect you to gush over the Shaq Evans analysis when it gets posted because he is 6’1″ & 213 lbs?

  17. JJ..a couple of things:

    -At 165lbs, would he be a smaller WR in HS? I think he would. How is that a criticism? That’s simply a matter of guaging his size, against his peers.

    -I didn’t call the comparison to DJax and outlier. I wrote “Jackson is an outlier, so comparing Saudners to DJax is a bit aggressive, IMO”. I think Joe’s comparing him to Hawkins and Kerley is certainly more realistic. Kash showed he had similar combine numbers to DJax (yet, then Kash goes on and tells us catches/yards don’t necessarily tell us who is, or isn’t a good WR…again, he loves to use numbers/stats when they work for him). DeSean Jackson is a top level WR in the NFL, and I just opined that comparing Saunders to him isn’t realistic. Again, anything is possible, but what is probable?

    -Finally, where did I write he ‘wouldn’t be succesful’? Today, if you asked me if I thought he was going to be an All-Pro, I would say ‘no’, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be successful. Troy Brown was never an All Pro, and he was successful. Davon Bess has been successful. Andre is successful. When I look at Saunders, that’s what I see. If that’s a criticism, I can live with it.

    -Explain how I was inconsistent? Explain my ‘lack of reasoning’? Using whatever stats or rationale you want, tell me who, in your opinion are the 20 best WR in the NFL. Then show me how many of them are ‘big’. I think overall ‘big’ is better than ‘small’. Will that prove to be wrong sometimes? Yes, it will, but I think the probabilities favor that approach, that’s all.

    -No opinion on Evans, other than I saw him play a couple of times this year, and can’t say he ‘stood out’ (but I also wasn’t looking at him specifically).

    -Idzik’s now had 2 drafts. If he keeps the majority of this class, than it’s likely guys like Aboushi, Campbell and maybe Bohanon could be in trouble of losing their roster spot. But, the reality is, the team is likely going to cut some of this year’s draftees. I thought the chance to get a bigger, higher rated WR was there and was both surprised and disappointed they didn’t get one. It doesn’t mean I’ll root against the guys they picked, so I can be right though. I’ll happily take all the grief you can give me if Saunders turns out to be the next DJax.

  18. Yards/game counts only the games played. And the receivers in the playoffs are clearly trending downward. The number for the position of the average starting playoff receiver in an average year is something lower than twentieth. The averaging best receiver on a playoff team is something close to fifteenth. Anyway, that does not get around the fact that the best passing teams in the NFL are not those with big receivers but those that spread the ball around to multiple targets. You need reliable receivers getting separation, not big receivers that break the top 10 at their position. Your illusion that a top receiver that averages 100 yards/game somehow gives you a top offense that averages 400 yards/game is why I called your insistence on big receivers a fantasy football argument.

  19. Lidman, i find it interesting you require paragraphs to “clarify” a sentence.

    So the Saunders pick “wasn’t a good move” even though you think he will be successful? I’m not sure I agree with your logic, but fair enough.

    My point about the DJax comparison was that you completely disregarded the similar measurables for no reason while also finding fault with receivers because they don’t meet certain measurables (6′ 210 lbs) without additional reason(s).

    I was also surprised they didn’t choose a WR until round 4, but perhaps because of the depth of WR talent the draft, he felt he could get quality WRs deeper in the draft, while still getting top talent at other positions that wouldn’t have been available later in earlier rounds. Regardless, I’m not a fan of “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” & prefer not to let that affect my judgement of the situation at hand. Which, in this instance, is that Saunders: “should be fun to watch,” looks like he “plays with an awareness of the goal line, & the 3rd-down & out-of-bounds lines,” & “there is a very strong likelihood he will be an impact player for this team.”

    It’ll be very interesting to see who gets cut this year.

  20. Really? Go to your list of top passing offenses http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/team/_/stat/passing

    First and foremost, they all have good QBs. Yes, good teams do spread the ball around, but if I look at this list of the most effective passing offenses, in the NFL, most teams have a minimum of 2 ‘big’ targets:

    Denver: Thomas, Thomas, Decker
    New Orleans: Colston, Graham
    Detroit: Johnson (the 4some of Burleson, Fauria, Pettigrew and Durham combined for over 1500yds)..but this is your best argument because of how they use Bell and Bush
    SD: Allen, Gates
    Chicago: Jeffrey, Marshall, Bennett
    GB: Nelson, Jones, Boykin
    Atlanta: Douglas, Gonzalez (not taking into consideration injuries limited Jones and White-their top 2 receivers)
    Cincy: Green and Jones (Gresham and Eifert)

    That’s the top 8, and I’m sure you’ll come up with some other argument, but I’m done arguing. The evidence is there. So, either teams are discriminating against sub 6′ WR, or the maybe…just maybe they are better equipped to deal with today’s NFL. It’s comical the way you’ll argue in the face of overwhelming evidence…

    Just for fun, list who your top 10 WR. You can use any metric you want. Tell me if you were builiding a team, who the top 10 for you would be today.

    Mine would look something like this:
    Calvin Johnson
    Julio Jones
    AJ Green
    Dez Bryant
    Vincent Jackson
    Jordy Nelson
    Josh Gordon
    Jeffrey
    Marshall
    DeSean Jackson…and I would prefer guys like D Thomas, Keenan Allen, Pierre Garcon and Larry Fitzgerald, but I’ll recognize DJax’s abilities.

    Now, I’m sure you’ll find a way to shoot holes in to that list of very overrated guys, but you notice anything about them?

  21. JJ..I do that, because you put words into people’s mouth. Read the first line, from the first post I put on here: “Love the player, hate where they picked him.”

    You wrote this:
    “So the Saunders pick “wasn’t a good move” even though you think he will be successful? I’m not sure I agree with your logic, but fair enough.”

    -I never wrote picking him wasn’t a good move. I think they picked him early and I think they should have addressed the position, with a bigger player earlier, that’s all. It’s just an opinion.

    -I never wrote he would, or wouldn’t be successful. It all depends on how you define success. I think if you start out by suggesting he’ll be as good as DJax, the odds are he won’t be successful.If like Joe does, you look for something like Hawkins or Kerley, the odds are much better of fans seeing him as ‘successful’.

    -n I ‘disregard the similar measurables for no reason…’ is a false statement. I told you why: a guy this size becoming an All-Pro is an outlier. DeSean Jackson has been an All-Pro level WR, and he was a 2nd round pick. This kid is a 4th round pick and just looking at history tells me he’s unlikely to be a star. If he is great. That would be awesome for him and Jet fans. It’s simply a probabilites game. I’m not disaparaging the kid in any way here.

  22. Lidman, apparently I misunderstood your comments.

    I’m thankful that Joe & his staff put in all this time to analyze the Jets & their players & illustrate/support their analysis with GIFs, pictures, & occasionally statistics so we (or at least most of us) can discuss them on a deeper level than “This kid is a 4th round pick and just looking at history tells me he’s unlikely to be a star.”

  23. Lidman, I have let it go, but I also deeply disagree with your assessment of how the draft went. Wide receiver was a deep position, meaning that it had a lot of good players, not that the top guys were great players. Watkins and Evans, in my opinion, were overhyped and went too high for their ability. So was Beckham. It does not really matter, as this allowed good players to drop. The Jets with the 18th pick could choose between all the safeties, Dennard, or Verrett. But if you take a look at the entire first round, I would say not a single receiver was taken where he should have been. Out of all of them, I think Cooks is in the best situation to justify his selection, and that is purely based on his offense and quarterback, as my assessment of Cooks’s abilities has not changed at all. No wide receiver in the draft was without flaws and limitations. In a draft that has a ton of good talent, but no real great talent, you get more value by having multiple picks at the end of the draft than one pick closer to the beginning. You can look at last year’s draft picks for further proof. In a great year for o-linemen, Winters fell to the third round, while he would have been a second-round pick in most other years, and Aboushi fell to the fifth, where he would have been a third-round pick in another year. So I am not crying about not drafting a wide receiver early. I did not want the Jets to draft one in the first three rounds. Finally, when the Jets had the choice and the time (an entire day’s worth) to consider who to select with the third pick in the fourth round, they went with the 5′ 9″ Saunders over any other remaining receiver.

    As for your question, if I was building a team, the first receiver I would go with is Calvin Johnson. My next receiver would be someone like Reggie Wayne. Once I have Calvin Johnson, I have more uses for Reggie Wayne than I do for AJ Green or Julio Jones. The Lions themselves when looking for a complement to Megatron went out and got 5′ 10″ Golden Tate.

    In fact, most of teams that “have a minimum of two big targets” (the two almost always being their X receiver and tight end, or in other words, the guys that have to line up at the LoS and face the press) have the rest of their roster made up of smaller receivers that constitute about 50-60% of all passing yards. San Diego has Allen and Gates, and then they have Royal, Woodhead, and Brown combine for just as much production. New Orleans has Colston and Graham, and then they have Stills, Sproles, Pierre Thomas, and Lance Moore eclipse the first two in yards. Green Bay has Nelson and Quarless, and then they have Jones and Boykin exceed the six-foot requirement by an inch.

    The determining factor for whether the team has just two major contributors over six feet or most of them seems to be whether they play in the colder parts of the American Midwest rather than anything football related; those teams even have taller tight ends and main receivers. Well constructed offenses need a big receiver to take on press corners, but then use faster, quicker, more agile receivers and running backs to confuse the defense and create mismatches. A big receiver by himself does not do much.

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