For most undrafted free agents in the NFL, the road to relevance is usually long and always painful. Third year linebacker Josh Mauga is no exception, as he has already been waived by the Jets twice, only to be resigned at a later date. With the recent news of Bart Scott's likely departure, Mauga may be going into this offseason facing his best chance to make a name for himself on an NFL roster. To gain a better understanding of Josh as a person and as a player, you're going to have to jump!
Brief Biography: Josh Mauga was born on June 20th, 1987, in 'Ewa Beach, Hawaii. He attended high-school in Nevada, where he was both All-State and All-Region in the football circuit. He proved to be a versatile athlete, as his high-school wrestling career was not far behind his performance on the football field. At the University of Nevada, Mauga once again stood out as an impact player. He was a solid contributor in all four of his seasons there, recording 224 total tackles (20 for a loss), 3 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles. He displayed elite athleticism throughout his college career, and showed flashes of all-around talent that is rare even in the NFL. Before his junior year, Josh Mauga was named a team captain, and lived up to expectations with a spectacular first 7 games, racking up 82 tackles and a sack before tearing his MCL and missing the remainder of the season. His senior year also featured a quick start (54 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, and 3 sacks), but was also cut short due to injury, this time a torn pectoral muscle. This injury prevented Mauga from participating at the Combine and also restricted his preparation for Nevada's pro-day, so his draft-stock unsurprisingly plummeted. He didn't hear his name called during the 2009 draft, but was picked up by the Jets and has stuck around as a fringe player ever since.
Why should he be given a chance? Much like Eron Riley (whom I profiled last week), Josh Mauga's physical features are rarely found on a football field. He is very strong, but carries his weight well and is extremely agile in patrolling the entire field. Mauga is fantastic at pursuing the ball carrier, as his elite speed for his position (4.61 40-yard dash) allows him to make plays that most linebackers wouldn't even dream of. He is adept at shedding blocks, and is proficient in pass-coverage. There are only a handful of NFL players lucky enough to have been blessed with Mauga's tools, and his considerable upside might make him the most attractive candidate to replace Bart Scott.
Things to Improve On: For all his natural talent, Josh Mauga is very raw and tends to make bone-headed mistakes. He is prone to biting on play-action and often over-pursues the action, leaving him completely out of position to make a play. His interest in the game was questioned at times during his college career, and he was also criticized for taking plays off. The character concerns are definitely disturbing, but I haven't heard murmurs of anything similar to this in his time with the Jets. As it is, his technique often looks in need of refinement and there are worries about his ability to hold up against the run. Furthermore, he has a relatively extensive injury history and hasn't been able to stay on the field.
NFL Resume: Josh Mauga has already logged 24 games with the New York Jets, racking up 39 total tackles and an interception. The interception should probably be attributed to poor quarterback play on Luke McCown's part, but Josh Mauga should nonetheless be lauded for properly identifying the opposition's play and making a play on the ball. He has also been a solid contributor on special teams, and looked impressive during the pre-season. In the Jets' first preseason game last summer, Mauga recorded a sack and an interception. In this case, Mauga made a solid adjustment on a ball that was tipped by Kenrick Ellis, and came away with the pick. He has been inconsistent, but has shown flashes of solid play during his brief opportunities at NFL action. In fact, the coaches thought highly enough of Mauga to play him over Bart Scott in coverage situations last season.
Give Josh Mauga's College Highlight Reel a look. I found it to be impressive.
How he fits into the Jets' 2012 plans: Unlike most of the fringe players that I plan to discuss in the "Diamonds in the Rough" series, Josh Mauga has a clear path to a major role with the 2012 New York Jets. Incumbent starter Bart Scott is reportedly on his way out, and Josh Mauga was his primary backup last season. Gang Green may look to plug this hole through the draft or through free agency, but there are more pressing needs and having a player who knows the system step in would be ideal for the Jets. New York won't be able to afford a top-flight linebacker to replace Scott, and I'd prefer the upside of Mauga over an older player like Jarret Johnson, especially given the higher salary that a veteran player would command. Relying on a mid-round rookie to step in immediately as a starter is a risky move, and the Jets already know what they have in Mauga. Josh might not be ready to be a three-down linebacker, but he looks like a good bet to see increased snaps in Scott's stead, especially when considering the alternatives. For Mauga, this might be a once in a lifetime chance. It isn't often that an undrafted player has a clear path to winning a job in training camp, so not taking advantage of this opportunity would be a huge blow to his career. Such a story isn't unheard of, and replacing an undrafted linebacker who made his name in Rex Ryan's scheme with another undrafted linebacker in Rex Ryan's scheme would be an oddly symmetrical end to Bart Scott's tenure with the Jets.
Have at it, Gang Green Nation. What role do you see Josh Mauga playing next season?