Welcome to the Spotlight. Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week. Today's player in the spotlight is safety Doug Middleton.
Doug Middleton is a 24 year old, 6' 0", 210 pound safety out of Appalachian State University. Middleton had a very productive career at Appalachian State, amassing 127 tackles, 6 for loss, 9 passes defended, and 4 interceptions in his two years as a starter, playing cornerback, strong safety and free safety. Middleton posted impressive numbers for a safety at his pro day workout. He registered a 4.5 forty yard dash, a 38.5” vertical, a 10’ 11” broad jump, and a 6.93 three cone drill. Those numbers would have placed Middleton 2nd in the vertical, 4th in the forty, 2nd in the broad jump, and 3rd in the 3 cone drill among all safety prospects at the 2016 NFL Combine.
Despite his impressive play at safety for Appalachian State and his tour de force at his Pro Day workout, Middleton went undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Jets. Middleton impressed the Jets in training camp in 2016 but was ultimately cut just before the start of the season. Middleton was signed to the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster in December 2016. He saw limited action in the final four games of the 2016 season, getting 41 defensive snaps and 61 special teams snaps. He registered six tackles in his limited time.
Doug Middleton and the Jets entered the 2017 season with high hopes Middleton could successfully expand on his 2016 performance. The Jets had selected safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye with their first two picks of the 2017 NFL draft, so Middleton was competing for a backup spot. After a nice camp performance Middleton was in line to make the team as a backup safety until he tore a pectoral muscle three weeks before the start of the regular season. That landed Middleton on the injured reserve list and he ended up missing the entire 2017 season.
Now Middleton is back for a third go around with the Jets, and this time he has made the team out of training camp as a backup safety. With Marcus Maye likely sidelined for the season opener against the Detroit Lions on Monday, Doug Middleton has suddenly been thrust into a major role as possibly the last line of defense against one of the NFL’s most dangerous passing attacks led by star Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford is a big play quarterback with big play receivers at his disposal. Marvin Jones led the NFL in yards per reception last year at 18.0, and his running mate Kenny Golladay was fifth with 17.0 yards per catch. Suffice it to say these Lions receivers can beat you deep, and Stafford can and will test you deep on a regular basis. The Jets inability to generate much of a pass rush will place a premium on the back end of the defense to hold up in coverage. This is where Middleton may play a huge role.
If the Jets cornerbacks can’t hold up in coverage when Stafford gets his expected generous time in the pocket, Doug Middleton may find himself the only thing standing between the Lions receivers and the end zone. With the Lions lacking a top running game Middleton’s potential role becomes that much more crucial.
The contest in Detroit presents the Jets with the opportunity to get the season started on the right foot with a road win. With rookie quarterback Sam Darnold in his first NFL start leading the offense there are likely to be some hiccups along the way to scoring points, making the defensive effort potentially a deciding factor in the game. Doug Middleton may find himself thrust into the spotlight before he expected it, against a dangerous Lions aerial attack. If Middleton aces this test the Jets should be able to limit the Lions scoring, setting the Jets up for victory. If Middleton is unable to rise to the occasion we can expect to see a parade of Lions deep passes and a large Jets deficit on the scoreboard.
Doug Middleton, this is what you’ve dreamed of. Under the bright lights of a nationally televised Monday Night Football opening day matchup, this is your chance to shine for the Jets. Show ‘em what you’ve got kid.