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NY Jets: Wes Saxton: Up Or Out?

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With the Jets tight end group something less than ideal, an opportunity is there for Wes Saxton to stake his claim in the NFL.

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Here are the tight ends currently on the Jets roster: Jace Amaro, Kellen Davis, Brandon Bostick, Zach Sudfeld, Jason Vander Laan, Wes Saxton, and if you choose to view him this way, Quincy Enunwa.  That's not exactly a list of potential Hall Of Famers.

Kellen Davis is strictly a blocker.  Of the rest, Jace Amaro and Quincy Enunwa have shown the most promise.  Amaro led all NFL rookie tight ends in receptions and yards by a wide margin in 2014 before being sidelined by injury all year in 2015.  Enunwa spent his first year in the NFL on the practice squad before emerging in 2015 as a very good blocker and a receiver with some raw talent, albeit with stone hands and rudimentary route running skills.  Brandon Bostick has bounced around the league since 2012 without making his mark; Zach Sudfeld has done the same since 2013.  While anything is possible, at this late date it seems unlikely either of these players is destined to carve out much of a niche in the NFL.  Vander Laan has emerged as something of a fan favorite at GGN, but he is a rookie attempting to make a position change and the enormous jump from Ferris State to the NFL on the fly in 2016.  The chances of Vander Laan making the 53 man roster in 2016 seem remote; probably the best possible outcome for him as a rookie is a practice squad spot.

That leaves Wes Saxton with an opportunity to make his NFL mark that will likely be the best chance of his career.  You don't get the opportunity to compete for a spot against a position group this weak every day in the NFL.  For Saxton, 2016 could very well be his up or out year.

Up or out.  Meaning either he makes the jump to carving out a role in the NFL in 2016 or he may never do it.  Practice squad players like Wes Saxton are often players with impressive raw athleticism but rudimentary football skills.  NFL teams keep them around in order to try to develop them into useful NFL pieces.  While not always true, the sweet spot for practice squad players to make the jump to the NFL is usually in their second year.  By then they have gone through two offseason programs, two training camps and one regular season.  If they're going to show signs of developing into NFL caliber players, usually it would start taking place around this time.  Each successive year afterward in which a practice squad player fails to make the jump to the NFL brings a new wave of low round draft picks and undrafted free agents to compete for spots on the practice squad.  Either you develop or your position becomes increasingly precarious with each passing year.  So now would be a good time for Saxton to make the jump, particularly in light of the, ahem... competition.

Who is Wes Saxton?  Saxton is a 6' 4", 250 pound tight end out of South Alabama.  Saxton wowed with his athleticism at the NFL Combine, posting the 3rd best mark among tight ends in the high jump and broad jump, and the second fastest 40 time in 4.65 seconds.  He was first team All Sunbelt Conference in 2013 before a change in quarterback and offensive scheme rendered him nearly invisible in 2014.  His strengths and weaknesses as a tight end in college mirror Jeff Cumberland.  Both started out as wide receivers before switching to tight end.  Both have explosive speed for a tight end and can threaten the seam.  Both are indifferent blockers who lack the requisite skill in the blocking game and the requisite desire to block.  Both theoretically present matchup problems for NFL linebackers, but both suffered long bouts of invisibility in the passing game.  Obviously Saxton is unique to himself and not just a Jeff Cumberland clone, but the similarities are there.  On a personal note, Saxton's favorite NFL player is Brandon Marshall.  Make of that what you will.

Saxton was briefly promoted to the Jets 53 man roster in October 2015 when Cumberland suffered a concussion, leaving the Jets short at tight end.  Saxton spent one game on the active roster, played 12 snaps, and was not targeted in the passing game.  He was cut and re-signed to the practice squad the next week.

With his problems blocking Saxton does not project as an in line tight end in the NFL.  His more likely role is as a move tight end or H-back.  But as Quincy Enunwa showed last year, in Chan Gailey's system the H-back has to provide a large dose of effective blocking.  Saxton's road to the NFL is probably paved with blocking dummies.  If he can show enough progress in his blocking skills this year he might find a role with the team.  Particularly in light of the Jets' less than enthusiastic response to Amaro before his injury last year, the opportunity is there.  Saxton's ultimate highest value is as a big fast matchup problem receiving tight end, but unless he shows the desire and the skill to block at an NFL level, he likely will never get a chance to present his receiving skills.

This Jets group of tight ends may well be the weakest in the NFL.  The Jets offense could surely use a tight end who is a serious threat as a receiver. Ideally Saxton has a golden opportunity to begin to fill that role in 2016.  Realistically it may be his last, best chance.  By 2017 Saxton will be competing with both the 2016 and the 2017 classes of low round draft picks and undrafted free agents for coveted spots on the practice squad.  Those spots suffer constant turnover; if Saxton can't find his way onto the 53 man roster, sooner or later his spot will be turned over.  In addition, by 2017 the Jets may well have made more of an effort to upgrade the tight end position, whether by free agency, trade, or draft picks.  In 2016, it may well be up or out for Wes Saxton.  It would be nice if his play merited the up option.