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Scouting Jets UDFA safety Tony Adams

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Over the last few months, we’ve been looking at the Jets rookies, concluding today with an in-depth look at former Illinois safety Tony Adams.

The 23-year old Adams is listed at 6’0” and 205 pounds and had over 200 tackles along with three sacks and six interceptions in his five seasons with the Fighting Illini.

Background

Adams was a three-star prospect out of high school and committed to Illinois only to then suffer a serious knee injury in his final season in high school.

He still headed to Illinois in 2017 and started two games at cornerback as a true freshman before suffering another season ending injury. He ended up with eight tackles, a sack and an interception in five games.

In 2018, he started off at cornerback but then ended up filling it at safety due to injuries. He started seven games and had 43 tackles including a career-best four tackles for loss.

In his junior year, Adams saw action at safety, cornerback and nickelback, recording two interceptions for the only time in his career, including one that he returned for a touchdown.

As a senior, he started off at cornerback before moving to safety for the rest of the year once again. He ended up with 51 tackles.

In 2021, he opted to return for a fifth season and he set career highs with 63 tackles and five passes defensed. He also played in a career-high 12 games, mostly at cornerback.

Adams wasn’t invited to the scouting combine but some experts thought he might be a late round pick after an impressive pro day workout.

Now let’s take a look at what Adams brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Adams has average size and length but his combine numbers were excellent as he posted a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash, a 41.5 vertical, a 130-inch broad jump and solid strength and agility numbers. Had he posted the same numbers as a combine invitee, he’d have placed in the top-three for all attendees for short shuttle and vertical jump and fourth among defensive backs for the broad jump.

Usage

Adams played all over the place in college, from outside corner, to in the slot, to deep safety. He probably played more reps as a cornerback than a safety overall but most experts seem to agree that he projects better to safety and that’s what the Jets list him as.

Coverage skills

Adams’ coverage numbers were not bad, as he gave up a completion on 61 percent of his targets. In five seasons, he was beaten for seven touchdowns but didn’t give up any plays of longer than 40 yards. He also had at least one interception in each of his five seasons.

While Adams has good closing and recovery speed, he doesn’t look entirely natural at the cornerback in terms of turning to run and coming into and out of his transitions. His balance is not always perfect and he can appear stiff at times. This is perhaps why scouts believe he’ll work out better as a safety.

Here’s a play where he allows the receiver to get an early step on him on his release. As he tries to recover, he doesn’t locate the ball in time to make a strong play for the ball and the receiver overpowers him for the catch.

Despite not giving up many big gains in his career, Adams was beaten over the top for a 37-yard touchdown by Stanley Morgan of Nebraska in 2018 and also had a few pass interference penalties on downfield throws.

Ball skills

Although he had six interceptions in five seasons, Adams didn’t make as many plays on the ball as you’d like with just 11 passes defensed in his career. He could have had a few more interceptions too, but his hands - despite the fact he played as a wide receiver in high school - betrayed him.

Adams displays some good athletic ability in coverage with his ability to drop off or jump routes and make a play on the ball.

Tackling

Adams was a productive tackler with good range and closes well to wrap up or take down ball carriers. However, he would sometimes duck his head into tackles and there were times where he overpursued or took bad angles. This led to him missing 34 tackles in just 28 games over the past three seasons, so is something he needs to clean up.

Adams was only credited with one forced fumble during his five seasons with the Fighting Illini.

Run defense

Adams has been active in run support whether lining up at safety or cornerback. His 2021 season was his most productive against the run as he shows willingness to come up and make plays near the line.

He has good range and gives a good effort in pursuit and is disciplined at maintaining contain on the outside.

Physicality

Adams isn’t an especially physical player but he is scrappy and hustles aggressively. He can come up with a big hit from time to time.

He can get blocked out of plays or overpowered at the catchpoint at times and had five defensive penalties in his college career, including one for defensive holding and two for pass interference.

Blitzing

Adams hasn’t blitzed much but did record three sacks in his college career as he looks good blitzing off the edge.

His other two sacks were more of the clean-up variety as the quarterback looked to step up and run on an RPO on one of them.

Special teams

Adams hasn’t had a major role on special teams at Illinois with just one special teams tackle and one penalty for holding on a punt.

He didn’t cover kicks very often, seeing most of his special teams reps rushing punts and field goals or playing the vice role on the punt return team.

Instincts/Intelligence

Playing full-time at three different positions (or maybe four, if you consider the safety positions to be two distinct roles) has helped Adams in terms of his play recognition and knowing his role over the years.

Here’s a play where he makes the read, avoids the traffic and makes the open field tackle in space to prevent the touchdown.

This play shows how he can be disciplined and react quickly as he comes up to make the stop in the flat.

In coverage, he can be a beat slow with his route recognition and has had a few blown coverages.

However, he also shows an ability to come off his assignment to jump a route or to close on a receiver in zone coverage.

He was an all-Academic Big 10 selection early on in his career and graduated early so he actually was able to earn a second degree before leaving school.

Attitude

Adams developed into a leader over the course of his career and was eventually named as a team captain. He’s not necessarily vocal but his words carry weight and he has a win-first attitude.

Over the course of his career, Adams has been a hard worker and displayed growth, toughness and maturity in how he has coped with all the position changes and some injury problems. He doesn’t appear to have any character concerns or off-field issues.

Injuries

Adams was already coming off a torn ACL when he arrived at Illinois and then saw his true freshman season come to a premature end after five games when he had to get shoulder surgery.

He missed another four games to injury in the following season and then three more in the year after that. However, in 2020, the only two games he missed were due to a positive Covid-19 test and he played every game in 2021. Perhaps that’s a sign his durability has improved since the early part of his career.

Scheme Fit

As noted, Adams is going to try to play safety at the NFL level but he has plenty of experience of playing multiple roles, so this should set him up well to get to grips with an NFL system. He’s played both man and zone coverages so should be comfortable with the Jets’ coverage schemes.

Adams was a teammate of current Jets linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips during his first two seasons while he was with the Fighting Illini.

Conclusions

Adams was given a $10K signing bonus in addition to a salary guarantee of $100K which perhaps suggests the Jets are planning to at least give him a spot on their practice squad if all goes well.

The Jets have plenty of other candidates for roles at the safety positions, but nearly all of them are unproven and Adams stacks up with most of them athletically so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the competition for roles.