Like many other players, Kenrick Ellis is a virtual lock to stay with the Jets next year. He faces an assualt trial in May for an incident in college which could theoretically cause problems for the Jamaican's immigration status. I have spoken with some attorneys, though, who indicated this or jail time was unlikely for a guy with no prior criminal convictions. All of this only comes into play if he is eventually found guilty, which is no guarantee.
The biggest question for Ellis in 2012 is likely to revolve around how much bigger his role will be. He will almost certainly see his playing time increase. Will the Jets trust him to take over at nose tackle so they can reallocate money that would have gone to Sione Pouha?
If the NFL Draft was only about talent, Ellis likely would have gone off the board in the first round in 2011 and might have been the first defensive tackle taken. Ellis' criminal case added to a drug related dismissal from the University of South Carolina hurt his stock a ton. On the field, though, there are simply not many 346 pound men with top atleticism. Ellis is one of them.
His rookie year was kind of a redshirt campaign. Ellis was inactive for much of it. A start against the Chargers ended on the first series after he suffered an ankle injury. His most extensive work came against the Redskins, where he struggled. Ellis losing the point of attack allowed Washington to break some big runs and earned him a seat on the bench.
2011, however, was never supposed to be a year where he was going to contribute much. The Jets did not have a major need at his positon. They had a high caliber player in Sione Pouha. They took Ellis to build for the future. He has immense physical gifts but unrefined technique. That happens to small school propects. Ellis was so much more naturally gifted than his opponents when he played at Hampton that he could dominate without using consistent techique, which often in small school players reinforces bad habits.
We saw brief flashes of excellence from Ellis in his limited work. Before leaving that game against the Chargers, he won his assignment and blew up a running play. He played very well for short bursts in both games against the Dolphins. It is all a matter of the coaching staff drilling into him the proper technique. If Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine have been effective improving players in one area, it has been defensive line technique. Mike Devito and Pouha have made major strides since Ryan took over as head coach. It seems like a matter of time before Ellis gets it down pat and becomes a dominant force at nose tackle.
The question is whether 2012 will be when that happens. The safe route would be either bringing back Pouha or bringing in a veteran. The truth is that we cannot say for sure. Only the coaching staff can really judge. They see his progress day to day in practice. They will have the entire offseason to work with him. Going with Ellis might seem risky but so did going with Muhammad Wilkerson as a starter a year ago. The coaches thought he was ready. He was.
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