New York Jets UDFA Breakdown – TE Jason Vander Laan

Nikki Charlesworth breaks down New York Jets UDFA TE Jason Vander Laan

It’s no secret that tight end has been a weakness on the Jets roster for the past few years, but can former college quarterback Jason Vander Laan make his mark on this position?

Player Card

  • Name: Jason Vander Laan
  • School: Ferris State
  • Position: Tight End 
  • Height:  6’3″
  • Weight: 244 lbs

Background

Jason Vander Laan was Division II school Ferris State’s starting quarterback since his freshman year in 2012. He led the Bulldogs to their most successful seasons in many years with a 37-9 record. He also racked up school, division and NCAA records in the process. Vander Laan is one of only four players to have ever been twice awarded the Harlon Hill trophy, an award given to the most outstanding Division II player. In 2015 he received 51 first-place votes among the 101 ballots cast. With 5,953 yards, Vander Laan also holds the entire NCAA QB rushing record and is  the only QB in NCAA history to rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. In 2015, he passed for 2,626 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1,542 yards and 24 scores.

Pre Draft Projections

As a predominately rushing QB from a small school, Vander Laan was always unlikely to make the NFL as a signal caller, so most draft analysts expected him to  change  position in order to have a chance. It was suggested he could transition to full back, tight end, safety or even inside linebacker. Of course, all of Vander Laan’s impressive stats are rendered irrelevant in light of this, and his lack of testing at any of these positions meant he was at best projected to be picked up in free agency.

Strengths

Having never played the position for which he has been drafted, its hard to analyse Vander Laan’s strengths. However, in terms of transitioning to tight end, he has reasonable size and weight on his side, in line with the average for the position.  His QB tape shows he moves well in space and has proven a real load to tackle. His rushing ability is self evident and endeared him to NFL scouts. He is also touted as a dedicated, hardworking and driven competitor. He apparently even trained as a long snapper, should this be the position to give him his opportunity at the next level.

Weaknesses

As a small school rushing QB with pass accuracy issues, Vander Laan has flaws which NFL coaches don’t have the time or patience to correct.  Entering the league as a tight end he is also at a disadvantage given his lack of experience, especially in terms of blocking. Ferris State ran a similar type of offense to the one Oregon ran with Marcus Mariota so he’ll have a lot to learn transitioning both position and system.

Overview

If Vander Laan made the Jets’ 53 man roster, it would be a real Cinderella story. “From a small school quarterback to an NFL tight end” may be a romantic narrative,  but considering his lack of experience both at the position and in a pro-style offense, this may be a step too far. If he can impress in training camp, the Jets lack of depth at TE may benefit Vander Laan, giving him a possible opportunity on the edges of the roster.

Photo credit: www.NCAA.org