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Jeff Janis: Small School Gem

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A beast at Division II Saginaw Valley State. Can he make the jump to the NFL?

Stacy Revere

In 2012 the NY Jets drafted an ultra productive small school receiver named Jordan White. White dominated the small school competition to the tune of nearly 2000 yards his senior year. He was reportedly an excellent, refined route runner. A receiver with that kind of production was worth a 7th round flyer. Unfortunately for the Jets, White just didn't have the necessary physical talent to get consistent separation against NFL defenders. His 4.69 40 speed did not translate well to the Big Show, and he ended his Jets career with a grand total of 1 NFL reception. White was simply not physically gifted enough to make the enormous jump from MAC conference ball to the NFL.

Enter Jeff Janis. Call him the Anti-White. Like White, Janis is a small school receiver, having played his college ball at Saginaw Valley State. Like White, Janis absolutely dominated the small school competition, racking up consecutive years of more than 1500 yards and double digit TDs. But there the similarities end. White was an unimposing physical specimen, standing 6' 0" and weighing 210 pounds. White was very slow for an NFL receiver, clocking a 4.69 40 time. In contrast Janis is built like an NFL stud, standing 6' 2 1/2" and weighing 215 pounds. Janis is expected to clock a 40 time right around 4.4, and there are reports he has done sub 4.4 times at Saginaw Valley State. In short, unlike White, Janis has the physical attributes to be a monster at the next level. In addition, he was nearly unstoppable in college. Janis scored a TD at a pace better than once every six catches he made. He had multiple 300 yard receiving games. He was, in short, a man amongst boys. He was also a two sport star, playing both football and basketball for Saginaw Valley State. However, dominating at the Division II level because of physical superiority is one thing; competing in the NFL, where your physical edge narrows or vanishes altogether, is another thing entirely. In evaluating Janis' chances at the next level, the first thing I wanted to know was, why did a guy with his measurables end up at Saginaw Valley State?

It turns out Janis had a bad turn of luck in high school that permanently altered his career path. Janis had his finger turned sideways while returning a kick early in his senior season in high school, when he was a lightly recruited receiver in a run-heavy offense. He thought the finger was dislocated and waited almost a week before unbearable pain sent him to the hospital, and when he returned to the football field, with a cast up to his elbow and his left index and middle fingers braced out, he did so as a one-handed running back who couldn’t catch the ball but led his team in rushing.

The senior year as a running back probably helped him refine his after the catch abilities as a receiver, but it did little to help his prospects as a wide receiver recruit. No Division I school offered the receiver turned running back a scholarship, so Janis committed to Saginaw Valley State and converted back to wide receiver. The rest is Saginaw Valley State history. 246 receptions, 4305 yards, 17.5 yards per catch, 46 TDs. The man was simply unstoppable. He earned a rare Division II invite to the Senior Bowl, where he impressed in practices but had a quiet game, catching 2 passes for 8 yards. Janis is drawing the attention of NFL coaches now. Said Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons head coach, who coached the North team:

"Every year, there's guys that come from Division II and Division III schools that get an opportunity to get in front of NFL personnel people and NFL coaches and make teams, and he's done a nice job. I know he's caught the attention of our coaching staff."

The question is, how do Janis' talents translate at the NFL level? I tried to make some determination of that from the limited tape available on him. At the end of this article you will find three highlight videos of Janis that you can judge for yourself. The first video is a very short clip of Janis playing basketball for Saginaw Valley State. Not much is shown, just a breakaway dunk. I included it only because while Janis has excellent size for a receiver, at 6" 2 1/2 he isn't very tall for a basketball player. Yet he makes the dunk look easy, even effortless. Clearly Janis has some hops.

The next two videos are highlights from his 2011 and 2012 campaigns. Unfortunately with a small school guy like this there are rarely scouting tapes available which show the good and the bad. Instead you get only his best stuff. You don't see him blocking. You don't see him dropping passes. You don't see him making bad adjustments or failing to contest a ball or doing something that leads to a turnover. As such the video is limited in its value as an evaluation tool. It would be nice to see his flaws. How often does he drop the ball, and for what reasons? How often is he jammed effectively? How effectively is he redirected by the defensive backs? How often does he fail to achieve separation? How often is he not on the same page as his QB? Unfortunately we just can't answer these questions. So we need to take the videos with a large grain of salt. In addition, the videos are of poor quality, do not key on Janis and follow him all over the field, and often fail to show parts of his routes. All these factors make evaluation problematic.

Nonetheless, there are some things you can effectively evaluate here. The first thing that jumped out at me was the surprising diversity of routes Janis ran at this level. With Janis' measurables at this level of competition and Janis' video game numbers, I expected the highlights to consist of one go route after another, where he simply beats his man with straight line speed over the top. While this is a decent portion of the plays, in fact his team used Janis in a surprising number of ways. You see Janis running numerous slant routes, doing a lot of work between the hash marks in traffic, and looking comfortable and effective doing it. You see him working the sideline effectively on fade patterns, and doing the same in the end zone. You see Janis running hitches and seam routes and even the occasional double move. You also see him effectively executing the back shoulder catch, something he will need to be able to do at the next level. In short, for this level of competition, Janis runs a surprising diversity of routes, and proves equally effective running short slants over the middle as he does running go patterns down the sideline. The route tree should not be a foreign concept to Janis at the next level.

Another positive aspect to Janis' game is his ability to create YAC. Janis sets up his patterns well and always looks to turn a small gain into something more. You often see him turning an inside hitch back outside for a big gain. You also see him effectively using his power, running over and through smaller defenders. This is a guy who is not going to catch the ball and sit down. You can see how his year as a running back may have helped him develop into a big YAC guy, something that would fit nicely in a Mornhinweg offense. He doesn't seem to mind traffic, is a willing and effective receiver over the middle, and is effective in the limited jump ball situations shown.

Now to the negatives. It is difficult to tell from the blurry footage, but it appears Janis too often catches the ball with his body rather than his hands. This will have to be corrected if he is to succeed at the next level. He also appears to suffer a bit from rounding off routes rather than crisply planting and cutting; again, this will have to be refined at the NFL level for him to realize his potential.

Then there is the large gorilla in the room: competition. Janis is used to destroying his opponents based largely on being blessed with superior physical gifts. How he will react to a much higher level of competition, where he will no longer be able to simply physically dominate and will have to become a much more technically proficient player to succeed, is the great unknowable variable in his equation. He looks to me like a receiver that has all the physical tools to not only make it in the NFL, but to become a star. If he were coming out of an SEC program with his physical gifts and a decent resume he would likely go in the first 2 rounds of the draft. But he is not coming from the SEC. And for better or worse, that lack of college competition will likely knock Janis down to a Day 3 pick. He will likely need significant developmental time in the NFL. But some team that takes a chance on Janis just might end up with a star, something perhaps comparable to a Victor Cruz in terms of small school background and NFL potential. Or Janis might flame out completely, never able to make the enormous leap to NFL quality competition. He is a big, strong, fast wide receiver lottery ticket. So I have to ask, after looking at the tapes, with say a 5th round pick, are you feeling lucky?