With the regular season drawing to a close, we’ve been looking at the players the Jets have added since cutdown day, continuing today with Josh Malone.
The 23-year old wide receiver is listed at 6’3” and 208 pounds and was a fourth-round pick out of Tennessee in 2017. He spent his first two seasons with the Bengals, but only caught seven passes. Having been released in final cuts this preseason, he’s spent most of the year on the Jets’ practice squad.
Malone was a five-star recruit out of high school. However, despite multiple offers, he decided to stay in his home state rather than join a bigger program and enrolled at Tennessee.
Malone saw plenty of playing time as a true freshman, catching 23 passes and his production increased in the following season, as he ended up with 31 catches for over 400 yards and two scores.
He had a break-out junior year with 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 scores. His 19.4 average yards per reception was second-best in the SEC.
At the end of his junior year, Malone declared his intention to enter the NFL draft and was invited to the scouting combine. Many experts viewed Malone as a projected top-100 pick but he would last into the fourth round where he was picked up by the Bengals.
Malone began his rookie year as a healthy scratch, but he started seven of the last eight games as the number three wideout. However, he only ended the year with six catches and one touchdown.
In 2018, despite multiple injuries to the receiving corps, Malone was unable to take advantage and ended the season with just one catch.
2019 saw Malone have a good camp with optimism high that he would earn a bigger role in preseason. However, he ended up being released in final cuts. The Jets have had him on their practice squad since September before he was activated in the run-up to the Steelers game.
Now let’s take a look at what Malone brings to the table, divided into categories.
Malone has good size and a decent catch radius at 6’3” but could probably benefit from bulking up.
Malone was regarded as a possession receiver heading into the combine, but turned heads by running a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash. However, the rest of his numbers were underwhelming. His short shuttle and broad jump were above average but he posted a poor vertical and three-cone drill and only managed 10 bench press reps. Even so, he opted to stick with his combine numbers and just did position drills at his pro day.
Malone has primarily played on the outside, with just a couple of catches out of the slot in preseason and regular season action.
In college, Malone established himself as a downfield threat with plenty of big plays, especially in his final season. He can run past cornerbacks with his straight line speed and can get behind the defense on double-moves.
At the NFL level, his longest catch has only been a 28-yarder with most of his downfield targets being on back shoulder throws or jump balls. However, he did get behind the defense on this play and would have had a touchdown if the throw was better.
Malone has some decent route-running skill with an ability to make good breaks at the top of his route and exploit off coverage when defenders are playing too far off.
However, his lack of production in regular season action casts doubt upon his ability to create separation. Despite this, Malone’s size makes him a viable target even when he can’t get open.
It can take him some time to accelerate off the line but he runs a nice route on this play, despite being grabbed by the defensive player.
In college, Malone displayed an ability to come down with circus catches, although he doesn’t generally fare as well as you’d hope for a player his size on jump balls and contested catches.
Malone locates and tracks the ball well and one thing he seems to excel at is adjusting to poorly-thrown passes.
In regular season action, he only made seven catches on 22 targets, even though he didn’t have a high number of low-percentage downfield targets. Drops have been an issue at times.
With 11 touchdowns in his final year with the Vols, Malone has shown an ability to put points on the board and he’s also scored four touchdowns in preseason and regular season action. His size makes him a viable red zone threat.
On this play, Malone gets a clean release and is open at the back of the end zone with the cornerback perhaps expecting safety support from the inside.
Yards after the catch
Malone isn’t particularly elusive in the open field but can use a stiff arm to break out of a tackle or fall forward at the end of a play. He makes a nice play here.
Malone hasn’t been thrown a single screen pass in regular season or preseason action, perhaps because he accelerates too slowly to be effective on those.
Malone is raw as a blocker and can get his angles wrong or allow his man to get past him. However, he gives a good effort and can be effective against smaller players.
Malone doesn’t fare too well against press coverage, often allowing the jam to slow him up at the line. He will probably benefit from becoming stronger. However, he’s not afraid to go over the middle and make catches in heavy traffic.
He hasn’t had any offensive penalties at the NFL level but did draw a crucial penalty on a controversial Jabrill Peppers hit as he tried to come up with a one-handed catch down the field.
On this play, he shows an ability to secure the catch and hang on despite a big hit by the defensive player.
Malone has lined up on special teams as a blocker or in kick coverage at times, including some snaps as a gunner. He’s only been in on a couple of tackles in kick coverage and had one penalty for an illegal block on a return.
Although he had no return experience in college, the Bengals gave Malone a few opportunities in preseason this year. He was stuffed twice at the 20-yard line in one game, but did have a couple of nice returns.
With the coaching change in Cincinnati this offseason, Malone claimed that he found Zac Taylor’s scheme more suited to his skill-set because it allowed him to be more creative in his routes.
It would have been an adjustment for him coming out of Tennessee where he played with a running quarterback and was often employed as a blocker or decoy as a result.
Although it ultimately didn’t lead to him earning a roster spot, the coaching staff in Cincinnati had positive things to say about Malone’s work on his strength and conditioning and in the film room during the 2019 offseason.
Some scouting reports cast doubt on the consistency of his effort and he was often labeled as an underachiever at Tennessee, despite being a popular player that most of their fanbase considered to be underrated.
Malone played in 39 of 39 games while at Tennessee, but was banged up early in his career, which had an effect upon his numbers.
During his rookie year, the only games he missed were as a healthy scratch. However, he did miss some games with a hamstring injury in 2018. That coincided with some other injuries that otherwise could have given him a big opportunity for playing time.
As noted, Malone prefers to be able to display some creativity in his routes so may prefer an Erhardt-Perkins style system to a west coast offense. However, wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson has said that Malone has been standing out during practices. Then again, if that’s during scout team work, that could be while not actually running the Jets’ own system.
Malone was a teammate of Jordan Willis while in Cincinnati and Kyle Phillips while in college.
When a practice squad player is added to the active roster at this late stage of the offseason, it is often just to ensure that player can be signed to a deal that extends into the following year so that you don’t have to compete with other teams to sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.
Still, he replaces Jeff Smith, who did see some action last week and with Demaryius Thomas still sidelined Malone has a good chance to get some reps.
If he has been dominating in practice as Jefferson said, it would be good if this translates to real game action.