New York Jets Rookie Recap – Undrafted Free Agents

Nikki Charlesworth reviews the performance of New York Jets UDFAs…

Last preseason, we featured each of the rookies drafted or signed as an UDFA, breaking down their college career, strengths, weaknesses and potential. Despite the temptation, as a knee jerk reaction, to write off the entire team, last year’s groundwork is still relevant, as a number of these rookies showed great future potential.  They may not have all had immediate impact, but some are certainly positive building blocks. Now that the season is over, how did they fare? Lets start by taking a look at what happened to the UDFAs.

Of the 13 undrafted players signed immediately after the draft, eight remain with the team in some capacity.  Lets dive into each group, click each player’s name to read the original TOJ breakdown.

The active roster

Name Position College Appearances Starts
Jalin Marshall WR Ohio State 12 1
Robby Anderson WR Temple 16 8
Doug Middleton S Appalachian State 4 0

There was much interest in young receivers Jalin Marshall and Robby Anderson following training camp last year, and both at times showed themselves to be worthy of this praise during the season, where they cemented their positions on the depth chart. Marshall was pinned as punt returner, another void on the Jets’ roster. His week one 65 yard return was the longest for New York since 2014, but he wasn’t able to perpetuate this.  Injuries to Eric Decker and Devin Smith, certainly opened up opportunities at wide receiver and Marshall saw increased time on offense as well as special teams as the year progressed. With a couple of key drops, Marshall is not a finished product by any means, but with two touchdowns and a smattering of yards per game, he continues to be a promising prospect.

Following the preseason, Marshall was probably the more hyped up of the  UDFA receivers, but Anderson had a greater impact in the regular season. His 587 yards and 2 TDs were a great return from a played listed low on the depth chart, and once given an uncertain chance of even making the roster. Aside from weeks one and two, Anderson appeared in every game; and although his targets slightly increased towards the end of the season, when the Jets were clearly trying out new things, his involvement was pretty consistent week on week. He certainly showed off his ability to use his length and height to pull off some clutch catches. Next year, he’ll need to turn this into more TDs, but it was an impressive debut.

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000755165/Robby-Anderson-secures-leaping-catch-for-40-yards

Doug Middleton was initially waived, and resigned to the practice squad following training camp. He was promoted to the active roster in week 14 and saw time on special teams as well as defense. His performance was patchy, with a couple of missed tackles balancing some impressive plays.  His highlight came in week 17, with his first career touchdown, when he recovered a kickoff in the end zone after Buffalo failed to take possession. The Jets have a lot of work to do in the secondary this offseason, whether Middleton will play a role in this remains to be seen.

Injured/Reserve

Name Position College Appearances Starts
Lawrence Thomas DE Michigan State 3 0
Julian Obioha DE Texas A & M 0 0

The Jets really like Lawrence Thomas, who immediately cemented his position in the d-line rotation following an impressive pre-season and training camp. This alone, considering the depth at that position, indicates his promise and talent. He racked up four tackles in the season opener against Cincinnati. He was placed on IR with a shoulder injury, following the Kansas City game. Todd Bowles at the time expressed is disappointment with the loss of Thomas; expect to see more of him next year.

Reserve / Future

Name Position College Appearances Starts
Ross Martin K Duke 0 0
Jason Van Der Laan TE Ferris State 0 0
Claude Pelon DE USC 0 0

The Jets keep coming back to these three guys, who will get a second look at making the roster for the 2017 season. With no appearances, its hard to say more than we did previously, but all three remain interesting prospects. Van Der Laan, in particular; the QB turned TE, could be one to watch, as the Jets will surely look to develop the TE position under the new OC, whoever that turns out to be.

Late additions

Throughout the season, as injuries depleted the roster, a number of other UDFAs, not initially signed by the Jets, were acquired. Those who made appearances are listed here:

Name Position College Appearances Starts
Brandon Wilds RB South Carolina 4 0
Bryson Keaton CB Montana State 1 0
Brandin Burks RB Troy 1 0
Braedon Bowman TE South Alabama 3 0

Wilds, Keaton and Burks, who were all signed in the last weeks of the season to shore up depleted positions and may not make it into the 2017 squad. However, Bowman joined the Jets in September after being waived by Jacksonville. He played in three early games and was placed on IR in November.  He received no targets, which is unsurprising, considering the lack of TE play in Chan Gailey’s offense, but like Van Der Laan,  Bowman may be kept around to test him out in a new system.

The big picture

Signing UDFAs is always an unknown; after all, these guys where not drafted for a reason, and many quickly fade into obscurity. To stick on an active roster is an achievement. Research in 2014 found that the Green Bay Packers came out top when combining the playing time given to UDFAs with the % retained on the active roster. They retained 24% on average over five years (ranking fifth in the league based on this stat in isolation).  If we take Marshall, Anderson and Thomas as truly ‘making it’ on the active roster (as Middleton was promoted later), the Jets retained 23% this year, meaning the retention rate in 2016 was in line with the league’s best in recent years. Obviously, Green Bay’s success in this department comes from consistently operating at this level, but in the dark days of an off-season such as this there is some solace in the fact that the Jets have a GM who is able to spot the talent others may have missed. The Jets are a long way off a finished product, and the NFL is a ‘win now’ business, but last year’s UDFA haul at least spawned some glimmers of future hope.

Photo credit: www.newyorkjets.com