From last year’s undrafted free agent haul, three players saw regular season action with the team - Isaiah Dunn, Hamilcar Rashed and Kenny Yeboah. However, in each case it was really only due to injuries that they got a shot and none of the three are locks to make the team again in 2022.
Nevertheless, there are always undrafted free agents around the league that make a big impact, much like Robbie (then Robby) Anderson did several years ago.
Having re-established their depth through free agency and the draft, it’s going to be harder than ever for an undrafted player to make the team. However, let’s review the list of reported signings that will be attending rookie minicamp next week and assess which have the best shot.
Here’s the list (bearing in mind that the actual signing list doesn’t always correspond exactly to what’s been reported due to errors, players changing their mind or signings never leaking out):
N C State RB Zonovan “Bam” Knight
IUP WR Irvin Charles
MTSU LB DQ Thomas
Florida A&M DT Savion Williams
Vanderbilt CB Allan George
Coastal Carolina DT CJ Brewer
Kent State WR Keshunn Abram
Illinois S Tony Adams
East Carolina S DJ Ford
North Carolina A&T WR Ron Hunt
The first two names that jump out from this list are Knight and Adams, each of whom had a draftable grade according to many analysts.
Knight was also the first signing announced which is always significant because it suggests the player was a priority addition they’d been in touch with during the draft. Knight had six 100-yard rushing performances in a consistent college career which saw him develop as a pass catcher. His measurables aren’t great but he could have some potential on special teams because he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in the past two seasons.
Adams is an older prospect who will be 24 in January but he raised his stock late with a good pro day. He ran sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash and had excellent explosiveness numbers with a 41.5-inch vertical and 130-inch broad jump. He intercepted six passes in his career and moved to cornerback in his senior year.
Thomas reportedly received a $130K salary guarantee from the Jets which is essentially saying that they’ll probably give him a practice squad spot if he’s healthy. Thomas will be 24 in December was was an all-Conference USA second team selection in 2021 to cap off a productive career that saw him rack up 53 tackles for loss. He posted good numbers across the board at his pro day.
With only eight wide receivers under contract entering the draft, the Jets were always going to add a few UDFA wideouts that would have a good chance of remaining with the team throughout preseason. Charles, Hunt and Abram are an interesting trio.
The 6’4” Charles, who recently turned 25, was recruited to Penn State all the way back in 2015. He only caught three passes on 14 targets in three seasons with them, dropping four, and was kicked off the program for breaking team rules. His first career catch went for an 80-yard touchdown though and he had some good production covering kicks so they may be looking at him as a punt gunner. He finished his college career at IUP in 2021, as he caught 12 touchdown passes and averaged over 20 yards per catch.
Abram had only had 10 career catches entering the 2021 season, but broke out with 47 catches for 699 yards and three touchdowns. A quad injury disrupted his pre-draft preparation but he still ran a 4.53 and posted a 128-inch broad jump. Abram can go deep but was also a reliable possession option in 2021.
Hunt was dealing with a knee injury during the offseason and only ran 4.58 in the 40-yard dash despite reportedly having run 4.34 in the past. His college production was modest too as he averaged less than two catches per game in 2021, although he led his team with 362 receiving yards. Hunt is a deep threat with a low catch rate.
Defensive linemen are always interesting UDFA additions because if they’re healthy they should get tons of playing time in preseason, so Brewer and Williams will get a good opportunity.
Brewer played five seasons at Coastal, where he was twice an all-Sun Belt first-team selection with 6.5 sacks in 2020. He is undersized though, having weighed in at 288 during his pro day and posted disappointing athletic numbers. Could Robert Saleh convert him to a full-time edge role like he did with Ronnie Blair, who profiles similarly?
Williams was even lighter at his pro day (281) and his workout numbers were even worse than Brewer’s, but the Jets may see some potential in him after he racked up 6.5 sacks in eight games for Florida A&M last season to earn all-SWAC second-team honors. Prior to this he had played at the JUCO level and then spent a year as a reserve with the Tennessee Vols. He has played both outside and inside.
The only two players not mentioned yet are the defensive backs Ford and George. However, Ford looks like a candidate to be converted to linebacker. He’s 206 with an 81-inch wingspan and only ran 4.83 at his pro day. Ford had been with North Carolina before transferring in 2021 and racked up 10 special teams tackles in 2019.
As ever, the best route to making the team for cornerbacks like George is also probably special teams. George had modest numbers at Vanderbilt but posted a 40.5-inch vertical and 136-inch broad jump at his pro day to showcase some impressive explosiveness.
In addition to these 10, the team will also bring in a bunch of players on a tryout basis, including possibly a couple of non-rookies. Over 15 of these have already been reported online.
It’s extremely unlikely for anyone in this situation to end up making a main roster impact at the NFL level - the last Jet to do so was Matt Simms and, before him, it was James Ihedigbo.
However, it’s often the case that one or two of the tryout players will make enough of an impression at rookie camp to earn an undrafted free agent contract of their own and hopefully eventually a training camp invite.
It’s difficult to predict who might be a candidate to do this but UConn’s Omar Fortt could be a scheme fit as an undersized linebacker with special teams value. Fortt ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and also posted a sub-7 second time in the three cone drill.
Beyond Fortt, the Jets appear to be looking for a camp arm because they reportedly offered Notre Dame’s Jack Coan a UDFA contract. They could also look for a camp leg to share the workload with Braden Mann who is currently the only punter on the roster. Quarterbacks Nick Starkel and Breylin Smith along with punter Zach Harding could be under the microscope.
The Jets will of course need to make several cuts to accommodate these moves within the 90-man limit on the main roster and those should be announced soon.