With the regular season underway, we’re going to be looking at the players the Jets have added since cutdown day, starting today with Braxton Berrios.
Berrios is a 23-year old wide receiver who was a sixth round pick out of Miami in 2018. He spent his rookie season with New England on injured reserve and then failed to make the team in preseason. Berrios will be the Jets’ new punt returner.
Berrios was a useful possession receiver and occasional big play threat over his first few seasons at Miami, with his role expanding in the return game. He caught 21 passes as a freshman but only 12 in each of the next two seasons, although he did have a career high 14.8 yards per catch average as a junior.
He stepped up in his senior years with a career high 55 catches, 679 yards and nine touchdowns. Berrios ended his career with 100 catches for almost 1,200 yards and 13 scores, while also averaging over 10 yards per punt return with one more score.
Berrios fared well in the senior bowl and put together a strong combine workout to solidify his status as a late round pick. New England selected him in the sixth round amidst talk that they had found the new Danny Amendola.
Having not played much in preseason, Berrios was placed on injured reserve so his rookie season was basically a redshirt year. He caught three passes in preseason this year and averaged 9.2 yards per punt return but didn’t make the team.
The Jets made him one of their post-cutdown waiver claims and announced that he’d replace Greg Dortch as the team’s punt returner. He had one return for 10 yards (on a free kick) in the season opener on Sunday.
Now let’s take a look at what Berrios brings to the table, divided into categories.
Berrios is only 5’9” and 190 pounds, although he has an inch and 15 pounds on Dortch. He also has a small wingspan and below average hand size.
At the combine he put together some good agility numbers and showcased some speed and explosiveness with a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash and a 36-inch vertical. However, his broad jump and bench press were poor.
Due to his lack of size, Berrios is clearly going to have to establish himself as a slot option if he can contribute on offense at the NFL level. He’s mostly played the slot in preseason action and throughout most of his college career, although he did play mostly on the outside in 2016.
He’s occasionally lined up in the backfield or gone in motion. Berrios carried the ball four times in his career - all in his sophomore year - including one long play on an end around.
Berrios has the quickness and elusiveness to be an effective punt returner. He showed his ability to break tackles on this play in preseason.
What’s most impressive about Berrios’ punt return numbers is his consistency. In his senior year, he had at least one return of 12 yards or more in every game where he had at least one punt return.
Something also worth noting is that although Berrios’ average of 10.4 yards per punt return in college is perhaps not that outstanding, he showed a dramatic improvement between his first two and his last two years. He had averaged just 4.4 yards per return entering his junior year, but then averaged an impressive 13.2 over the last two.
Another key issue was that he doesn’t have any kind of a history with muffs or fumbles, so ball security seems like a strength for him. Dortch muffed one in preseason.
If required, Berrios can also contribute in kick coverage. He had 10 tackles in his first two seasons and made this play in his senior year. New England didn’t use him in that role in preseason though.
Berrios hasn’t shown an ability to get deep separation in his limited preseason action at the NFL level, but with 4.44 speed, he can obviously exploit a mismatch or blown coverage.
In college, he did have a number of plays where he was able to get behind the defense, including a handful of touchdowns.
Berrios has some good route running abilities, during which he displays an ability to make sharp breaks and deceive his defender.
At Miami, he earned a reputation as a clutch receiver who is good at getting open in crucial situations on third down, which he did a few times in preseason. In fact, this play came on fourth down.
Berrios is a sure-handed receiver who didn’t drop many passes in college, although he had four in his senior year.
Although he doesn’t have a very big wingspan, Berrios is capable of making catches at full extension.
He’s capable of making catches in traffic and has an excellent ability of getting his feet inbounds on sideline, often getting two feet inbounds in college, despite the fact that only one is required. He also locates and tracks the ball well and can adjust to poorly thrown passes.
Berrios hasn’t fumbled during his college career or in preseason action with New England.
Berrios caught six passes for 51 yards and five touchdowns from inside the 20 in his senior year, which shows his ability to produce in the red zone.
Similar to his clutch abilities on third down, Berrios has the ability to get open in these situations, although he did also have four touchdowns from outside the 20 that year.
Yards after the catch
Berrios’ numbers after the catch from Miami were not that great, but this is probably a symptom of him having to make so many clutch catches in traffic.
If you can get him the ball in space, he obviously has the elusiveness to make extra yardage.
Scouting reports indicate that Berrios wasn’t a particularly effective blocker who struggles to sustain his blocks. However, he graded out reasonably well and actually gave an impressive effort in preseason.
Considering his size, the effort Berrios put in as a blocker in preseason gives a good indication of his toughness.
He can be out-physicalled at times, as he was on one pass in preseason where Logan Ryan stepped in front of him on a crossing route for an interception.
He also fights for yardage as a ball carrier and can hang onto the ball after taking a hit.
New England operates an offensive system with Erhardt-Perkins principles which gives its receivers some freedom in terms of how they react to the defender to run their route to an assigned spot or open area.
Berrios looked completely comfortable within this system, often coming off the line at slower than full speed and then trying to get a jump on his man with a sudden burst of speed. This is notable given Adam Gase’s comments this week that implied his receivers need to do a better job of reading the defense and finding open areas.
He also has good instincts as a return man in the open field and in terms of when to field the ball, although he did look a little uncertain on Sunday, letting all three punts hit the ground.
Berrios is regarded as a hard-working player who is competitive and displays toughness. Perhaps the most notorious example of this was when he tore his ACL in a high school all-star game, didn’t realize how serious it was and decided to keep playing. He even scored a touchdown.
He’s been a disciplined player, with just two penalties in his college career and showed some intelligence and hard work in college by graduating within three-and-a-half years.
Other than his ACL injury that was discovered when he first arrived at Miami, Berrios didn’t have many injury issues in college, as he only missed a couple of games.
Last year’s injury remains a mystery as New England of course never publicly disclosed the nature of it, as is typical for them.
He also had a hamstring injury in the lead-up to Sunday’s game and strained his pectoral muscle during the bench press at the combine.
Initially, Berrios is probably only going to contribute on special teams but he could prove to be a serviceable back-up for Jamison Crowder who missed one game in 2017 and seven last year.
As you may recall, we weren’t entirely sold on Dortch’s potential and the writing was on the wall for him once Adam Gase told reporters he’d need to improve as a wide receiver to earn a roster spot. The muff in the final preseason game was probably the final straw that caused them to look for an upgrade.
Berrios offers more as a receiver as his route-running abilities and sure-handedness are useful assets. As a return man, the most encouraging thing is his lack of any ball security issues but he hopefully does have the ability to break the occasional big return.