With the regular season well underway, we’ve been looking at the players the Jets have added since cutdown day, continuing today with Blake Countess.
The 26-year old defensive back is listed at 5’10” and 191 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Auburn in 2016. He has started four NFL games in three seasons, all with the Rams, and has registered 54 tackles and two interceptions.
Countess was a four-star recruit out of high school, where he had played wide receiver and defensive back, as well as returning kicks and punts. This led to him accepting a scholarship at Michigan.
In his freshman season, Countess racked up 44 tackles, six passes defensed and a forced fumble, but then suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the following season.
He bounced back in 2013 to earn All-Big Ten first team honors as he intercepted six passes, including one for a touchdown. Countess was third in the nation in interception return yardage.
However, 2014 was a disappointing season for him as he had a reduced role and got beaten for four touchdowns. Having graduated that year, he opted to transfer to Auburn for his redshirt senior year.
He transitioned into a safety role over the course of the season at Auburn, racking up a career high 70 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 10 passes defensed.
Countess wasn’t invited to the combine or any high-profile all-star games, but did a decent job at his pro day and was eventually drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round. However, he didn’t make their roster out of training camp.
Having turned down a place on the Eagles’ practice squad, Countess instead joined the Rams. He was on their practice squad until November, when he was promoted to the active roster. He played in five games, starting two, and even led the Rams with 11 tackles in one game.
In 2017 and 2018, Countess remained mostly in a reserve role but was active every week and was a major contributor on special teams. He still saw some action on defense, starting one game in each year and recording the first two interceptions of his career.
Countess was due to earn $2 million in 2019 but the Rams agreed to release him after he refused to take a paycut. The Eagles claimed him in May and then restructured his contract, but he was released with an injury settlement in preseason. The Jets signed him earlier this month.
Now let’s take a look at what Countess brings to the table, divided into categories.
Countess isn’t very big but has very good athleticism. His pro day numbers were solid across the board, including a 40-yard dash that was clocked at 4.48. He also added an impressive 21 bench press reps and good numbers for agility and explosiveness.
Countess is extremely versatile and has played as a deep safety, an outside corner and in the slot. At Michigan, he was a starting cornerback, before transitioning to safety at Auburn.
In his first stint with the Eagles, Countess competed for a role as a nickelback, but the Rams have primarily used him as a free safety. However, he was often also matched up with receivers in the slot.
Countess’ lack of size makes him a better fit in the slot at the NFL level, but he has matched up outside at times. He is mostly employed in off-coverage rather than pressing at the line and has good long speed and reaction abilities.
When playing center field, he has good range and closing speed. He made one of his two career interceptions as he came down with a pass that was tipped into the air. His other interception came as he jumped this route in zone coverage.
When he does intercept a pass, Countess is a constant threat to make good yardage on the return.
Countess has only had one pass interference penalty and no holding or illegal contact calls at the NFL level, although in college he had a reputation for being a bit “grabby”. However, that’s perhaps why he’s usually employed in off coverage.
He is known for being a big hitter, but does also have a tendency to be reckless at times, as he has three unnecessary roughness penalties and will overpursue or miss tackles from time to time.
He shows some good physicality on this play as he runs through one receiver to make a play on the other.
Countess made plenty of plays on the ball in college, racking up eight interceptions and 23 passes defensed. He’s also intercepted two passes and broken up three others in his limited regular season action at the NFL level.
His closing speed is good and his timing is usually sound when making a play on the ball, although he can be reckless when trying to break up a pass with a big hit, as noted.
Another problem is that his size can be an issue against NFL-sized receivers. On this play, he is in pretty decent position, but the receiver is just too strong for him at the catch-point.
Countess is a willing run defender, regardless of his position and will come up into the box to make plenty of plays like this one.
However, he can struggle to get off blocks and will often allow ball carriers to fall forward or drive for extra yardage when trying to make a stop.
Countess usually takes good angles when playing deep and has good range in pursuit. However, he can be overaggressive on plays underneath which can lead to missed tackles or overpursuit.
His missed tackle rate has been poor with the Rams, partly due to this overaggressive nature, but also because bigger players can break away from him due to his lack of size.
Despite this, he has shown a capability to close fast on the ball to make a play or to break down and make a secure tackle in space. Also, as noted, he can lay some big hits, but needs to be less reckless in doing so. There have been some reports about teammates getting frustrated with him hitting too hard in practice, as well.
He has had one forced fumble in NFL action, having also had just one in his college career.
In limited pass rush attempts, Countess has been a pretty effective blitzer, generating some decent pressure when not picked up. He has one career sack, which he registered on this play.
Countess didn’t have any sacks and not much pressure in his college career, as he hardly ever rushed.
Countess has been a big contributor on every special teams unit over the past couple of years with the Rams.
He’s been a productive tackler in coverage and gets downfield well as a punt gunner. He had a career-high 10 special teams tackles in 2017.
Countess has also had some experience as a kick returner. In high school he was an outstanding kick and punt returner, although he only returned three kickoffs - for 105 yards - in college. He returned 17 kickoffs last year for the Rams, averaging 24.6 yards per return.
Countess has also scored two special teams touchdowns on blocked punts, although in each case it was one of his teammates who made the block.
Countess is regarded as a smart player who understands the game having played in multiple different roles. An example of this is on special teams where it was his responsibility to read the defense and call for a fake punt if he got the right look. That’s something the Rams and punter Johnny Hekker have had a lot of success with.
On defense, he’s capable of making quick reads to blow up plays. Here he doesn’t fall for the misdirection and does well to get out ahead of the blocker and make the stop.
However, he can make mistakes in zone coverage. In this game, at the end of his rookie year, Countess twice let a player score easily on similar plays, frustrating his defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
He can also be prone to mental errors at times, having once jumped offside on 4th-and-2.
Countess has impressed with his ability to bounce back from his injury in college, as well as having been cut as a rookie. He’s regarded as a reliable player, with good character and a tireless work ethic.
He’s been fined a few times, once for a helmet-to-helmet hit and another for this play, on which Marquise Goodwin was injured. Countess drew widespread criticism for this play, which was called a dirty hit.
Countess has a surgically-repaired knee having torn his ACL in 2012, but played in all 32 regular season games over the past two years.
However, he was dealing with a foot injury (plantar fasciitis) during the postseason last year and suffered a hamstring injury this year in preseason.
While the main reason for bringing him aboard is obviously what he brings on special teams, Countess’ versatility should provide the Jets with cover in a variety of secondary roles.
Countess was a player originally drafted by the Eagles organization while current Jets general manager Joe Douglas was still there. Douglas was still there when they re-signed him in May, although he left to take the Jets job a month later. Either way, he’s obviously familiar with what Countess brings to the table.
Williams is also familiar with him, although he left the Rams at the end of Countess’ rookie year, so he only saw him play in five games.
Countess was a teammate of Trumaine Johnson and John Franklin-Myers with the Rams.
Countess is a useful addition to the special teams unit, especially with Trenton Cannon having missed the last few games.
Whether or not he gets an opportunity to contribute on defense remains to be seen, but he has shown he can fill in and be relied upon to understand his role.
If he can play with good discipline and make the occasional impact play, Countess has an opportunity to crack the rotation and stick around with a view towards returning next year.