Can Ricky Sapp follow Aaron Maybin's path to redemption? [There were 0 photos of Ricky Sapp available, so reminding you of Aaron Maybin's stunning molars seemed like the next best thing.] (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
The 2011-2012 New York Jets featured a defense that struck fear into opponents. The defensive line was stout at the point of attack, the secondary shut down even the best receivers (note: not including tight ends, blame it on Smitty), and Aaron Maybin was free to wreak havoc on passing downs. Despite Maybin's surprising breakout season, one of the unit's most noticeable flaws was their lack of a 3-down player that could rush the passer. Addressing that need through the draft is the likely solution, but wouldn't it be convenient to have a former All-American, former 5-star recruit, and noted collegiate pass rusher already on the roster? Luckily for the Jets, they already possess a player with that stellar resume. His name is Ricky Sapp, and his potential is immense. For the rest of his story, you're going to have to jump.
Brief Biography: Ricky Sapp was born in Bamberg, South Carolina on November 14, 1986. His high school career was as illustrious as anyone could have possibly hoped for, as the Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School phenom recorded 70 tackles (27 for a loss) and 11 sacks in an all-state junior year, and 82 tackles with 11 sacks in an All-American senior campaign. Sapp also played basketball and was a standout in track, which might explain the athleticism and burst that he shows on the gridiron. Football was obviously his calling, as he earned a 5-star ranking from Rivals and was ranked the #1 weakside defensive end in the country, two accolades which made him one of the most sought after players in the nation. Sapp had a myriad of suitors, but eventually went with Clemson University. At Clemson, Sapp was penciled in as the "bandit" defensive end, which is a designated stand-up pass rusher. His freshman year was spent backing up Gaines Adams (who ended up getting picked #4 overall in the following NFL draft), but Sapp didn't let limited snaps stifle him. Despite not starting a single game, he finished 2nd on the team with 4 sacks, and 2 of his pressures caused interceptions. He became a starter in his second year, and finished with 44 tackles (10 for a loss), and 6 tackles. Things went downhill from there. He tore his right ACL during his junior campaign, and admitted to "playing at 60%" during his senior year. His numbers suffered, and his draft stock plummeted accordingly. Once considered a likely 1st-round pick, Sapp dropped all the way to the 5th round, where the Philadelphia Eagles scooped him up in a move that was widely applauded as a "steal". Fast forward 2 years and nobody is applauding anymore. Sapp got injured in his first preseason and missed his entire rookie year, and was then released before the 2011-12 season because he reportedly "quit" on his team.
Why should he be given a chance? Ricky Sapp's athleticism can be considered above-average, even on the NFL level. He has phenomonal quickness and burst, which makes for a tantalizing mix when paired with his size. He locates the ball well and his pursuit skills are great, leading to a package that has proven very effective at rushing the passer. His hands stay active and he uses his agility to set up a praiseworthy swim move. Although he didn't see many plays in pass coverage during his college years, his physical tools indicate that he has the potential to be quite adequate at this facet of the game. His lack of upper-body strength make it difficult for him to excel against the run, but he does use his speed and pursuit to catch runners all over the field.
Things to Improve on: Coming out of college, Sapp was mainly criticized on two fronts. He lacked the bulk to play the run well, and his time at Clemson was marred with injuries. The lean frame wasn't expected to present too big of a problem, as some sites even billed this as a "positive" to his game.
Positives: Lanky build with plenty of room for additional muscle mass, especially in his upper body.
The injuries were much more concerning. After tearing his right ACL during his junior year of college, he hurt his knee again during his first NFL preseason. This injury cost him his entire rookie season, and eventually led to his release from the Philadelphia Eagles. This circumstances of his release was also interesting, as it was reported that he "quit on the team". It hasn't been confirmed for certain, but these reports signify some pretty significant character concerns.
NFL Resume: Because of his 2010 knee injury and subsequent release from the Eagles, Ricky Sapp has yet to record a statistic during a regular season NFL game. He spent the last week of the 2011-2012 season on the Jets active roster, but did not make an impact. He recorded only two tackles during his only preseason action with the Eagles (both were assisted), and routinely looked over-matched by opposing linemen. He flashed the excellent first step that got him drafted in the first place, but seemed to get pushed to the outside like a rag doll by the bigger offensive tackles that he was matched up against. Most reports of his brief preseason action were disappointed by his ineffective play, but were willing to give him a pass until he added some upper-body bulk. Highlights of Sapp in the NFL do not exist, but check out this video of Ricky against Georgia Tech in 2009.
How he fits into the Jets' 2012 plans: The Jets are expected to draft a pass rusher in the early rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft, and are taking long looks at guys like Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw. Regardless of who the Jets pick up, Sapp has the potential to make an impact as a player in pass-rush situations. Coming out of college, scouts expected him to eventually bulk up and develop into a 3-down linebacker, but waiting for this to happen may be useless. Some players just can't keep weight on (see: Aaron Maybin), but Maybin still found ways to change games solely because of his relentless bulrush. Until Sapp bulks up, he will be forced to find a niche as a situational pass-rusher. We all know that Rex Ryan loves to have weapons on his defense, and have now seen what he can do with talented players that fail in other schemes. As a pass rusher, Sapp has immense talent. The rest of his game has some catching up to do, but that doesn't mean that he can't be integrated into the rotation next season. If Sapp performs well during training camp and the preseason, I'd expect him to be on the active roster when the first game of the year comes around, as a rotational pass rusher (at the very least). If he bombs another opportunity, it will almost definitely signal the end of Ricky Sapp's tenure in New York. For a 25 year old with bad knees and absolutely no NFL resume to speak of, this might be his last chance.