Over the past few months, we’ve been taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets’ rookies. We continue today with offensive lineman Teton Saltes.
The 23-year old Saltes is listed at 6’4” and 300 pounds and was an all-Mountain West Conference honorable mention in 2020 with 32 starts in four years at New Mexico. He was also the 2020 recipient of the Wuerffel Trophy.
Saltes, whose great uncle was former NBA all-star World B. Free grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
He was a three star recruit out of high school but got a handful of offers and eventually opted to attend New Mexico where he redshirted his freshman year in 2016.
He initially started off as a defensive tackle, but converted to offensive tackle a few weeks before the 2017 season kicked off after a few linemen left the team. He ended up seeing action in four games in 2017, including two starts.
Over the next two years, he started all 24 games at right tackle for the Lobos and began to establish himself as a key contributor.
In the shortened 2020 season, Saltes had his most consistent season as a run blocker and only gave up one sack and one penalty. He was named as an honorable mention for the all-Mountain West Conference team while Pro Football Focus selected him as a third-teamer.
Although his stock was said to be on the rise after a good pro day, Saltes was not selected in the 2021 draft and the Jets picked him up as an undrafted free agent.
Now let’s take a look at what Saltes brings to the table, divided into categories.
Saltes began his college career at about 280 but had bulked up to 322 by his senior year. However, he got back down to 300 in time for his pro day workout, where he posted above average numbers for speed, explosiveness and agility, including a 5.04 in the 40-yard dash and an excellent 30.5-inch vertical.
He also managed 22 bench press reps, which is slightly below average for his size but not too bad.
Saltes doesn’t have long arms, which might mean he is viewed as someone who could project better to an interior lineman role.
Saltes only played right tackle with the Lobos but said before the draft he could see a team asking him to move to right guard. That might mitigate his below-average length.
As noted, he began his career as a defensive lineman where he was effective in his high school career.
Saltes posted pretty good numbers throughout his career in terms of allowing pressure, although some of this was scheme-related. New Mexico ran a lot of play action rollouts and had plenty of moving pockets.
Nevertheless, when Saltes was matched up one-on-one on the edge, he often looked pretty good and showed growth throughout his career. He only surrendered one sack in 2020 having given up a total of seven over the past two seasons.
He has good feet to mirror his opponent, can repel moves with his length and is able to react to counters.
He usually does a good job of anchoring against a bull rush, but he’s not always consistent with his pad level and keeping his opponent’s hands off him.
Saltes progressed well as a run blocker over the course of his career. He gets out of his stance well, displays power at the point of attack and can climb to the second level where he’s good at finding a target and angling his man off to prevent him from getting to the ball carrier.
His athleticism is an asset here as he’s capable of blocking effectively on the move whether trapping, pulling or on a zone blocking assignment.
He’s an aggressive finisher and can be fun to watch but his game still needs some technical polish if he’s going to be able to be consistent at the pro level.
He uses cut blocks a lot and was usually effective with them but would whiff on his man from time to time. Those are less likely to be effective at the NFL level and are essentially being legislated out of the game anyway.
It was common for the Lobos to run behind Saltes in short yardage situations and they often had good success in doing so. He’s capable of getting a good push at the point of attack.
Saltes definitely has the athleticism to get out in front of a screen pass and, as already noted, can pick up defensive players well in space and lock onto them.
Saltes is well-balanced and gets his feet under him well. He seems to have a good understanding of angles, so he will get the outside shoulder before engaging his man rather than reaching for him and risking a penalty or a loss of balance.
His main issue is consistency in terms of his pad level. He sometimes gets this right but needs to sink his hips and bend at the knees more often. This can be an issue in pass protection but it often also affected him whenever he peeled off a block and engaged a defender in space. It can affect him at the point of attack too.
Saltes had 10 penalties in his three years as a starter, but the breakdown shows how he improved his on-field discipline over the course of his career. Eight of those penalties came in his first 16 starts, with only two in the last 16.
His only penalty in 2020 was a holding penalty as he basically reached across and clotheslined a defender on this play.
Saltes didn’t play any special teams until 2019, at which point he started contributing as a blocker on the field goal unit.
In 2020, he added another string to his bow by lining up in the backfield in a punt protection role.
In the running game, Saltes impresses with his ability to know when to peel off a block and pick up another assignment and has good vision to find a defender to block in space.
In pass protection, he can deal with stunting tackles and goes looking for work if his man drops off. However, he failed to pick up the blitz on this play, leading to a big hit on the quarterback.
Saltes has an excellent record in the classroom, as he was a two-time Mountain West Conference all-academic selection.
On the field, despite his solid disciplinary record, Saltes displays nastiness, often taking his man to the ground or staying on his block until the whistle sounds.
Off the field, he has an outstanding record of charitable and community-based work, which is what he was awarded the Wuerffel Trophy for in 2020. Among the things he’s been involved with were helping get supplies to his reservation which had been hit hard during the Covid-19 crisis and speaking out to raise awareness of suicide prevention.
He has been a leader for his teammates, as he is a good motivator and a dependable hard worker.
Saltes made four appearances in 2017 before suffering a knee injury which required season-ending surgery. Since then, he’s remained healthy and played in all 31 games over his last three seasons.
Saltes has experience in various systems which at New Mexico, from triple option to spread. The running game was varied though, so he has good experience of all types of systems, including the outside zone the Jets are expected to make a bigger part of their offense in 2021 and beyond.
Saltes was not one of the most heralded members of this undrafted rookie class and is probably at least a year away from contributing , but some of his film is dominant.
It’s important he works on his technique because he needs to get more consistent with his hands and pad level if he’s going to be able to compete at the pro level. However, if he can master those issues, he could be a promising prospect over the next few years.