Now that the season is underway, we’ll be breaking down some of the players who are signed to the Jets’ practice squad and could potentially be elevated or activated to play for the team at some point during this season. We continue today with running back Xazavian Valladay.
The 25-year old Valladay is an undrafted rookie who played for Wyoming and Arizona State in college, posting three thousand-yard seasons. He has yet to make his NFL debut, having spent time with the Texans and Steelers in training camp.
Valladay was a two-star recruit out of high school and rushed for 396 yards and three touchdowns in his first season at Wyoming in 2018. Almost half of that yardage, along with two of the touchdowns, came in a 192-yard, two touchdown breakout performance in the last game of the regular season.
In 2019, he was named as a first team all-Mountain West Conference selection as he rushed for over 1,200 yards. He also caught 11 passes for 211 yards and scored eight total touchdowns. Valladay punctuated his season with an Offensive MVP performance in the Arizona Bowl where he had 204 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards.
The 2020 season saw Valladay only play five games as he missed some time in a season that was shortened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, he rushed for 550 yards and was again named as an all-conference first team selection.
2021 was Valladay’s final season with the Cowboys as he rushed for over a thousand yards again and caught 23 passes to earn second team all-conference honors. He then entered the transfer portal after the season.
Having opted to transfer to Arizona State, Valladay once again rushed for over a thousand yards and set career-highs in total touchdowns (18), receptions (37) and receiving yards (289). He was named as a second team all-Pac 12 selection.
Entering the pre-draft process, Valladay was widely expected to be a late round pick despite not attending the scouting combine. He performed well in the East West Shrine Bowl and had a solid pro day workout but was not selected in the 2023 draft.
The Houston Texans signed Valladay as an undrafted free agent but released him after the first preseason game. He was then picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers and played the last two preseason games with them but was released in final cuts.
The New York Jets added Valladay to their practice squad a few days later. They briefly released him a few weeks ago but he’s now back on the practice squad.
Now let’s take a look at what Valladay brings to the table, divided into categories.
Valladay is undersized with small hands, but he put together excellent speed and explosiveness numbers at his pro day. He ran a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 40-inch vertical jump. His agility numbers were about average, but he posted a solid 22 bench press reps.
Valladay has primarily lined up in the backfield, rarely motioning into the slot or out wide more than a few times per game and primarily a decoy when he does this.
Valladay was a productive back in college but didn’t have much success in preseason as he was held to just 38 yards on 16 carries. 36 of those yards came after contact though.
He displays good burst and acceleration and broke plenty of long runs in college. His longest run in 2022 was only 44 yards though.
Being an undersized back, Valladay isn’t known for his power, but he accelerates into contact and will usually fall forward at the end of a run.
He isn’t a particularly flashy or creative back, often having the ability to slip one tackle at the second level but not a second one.
Valladay has displayed an ability to handle a starter’s workload, with 37 carries in one game in college.
Fumbles were a slight concern after he had four in 2021, but he only had one in 215 carries in 2022.
Valladay has a good nose for the end zone, having scored 18 touchdowns and two two-point conversions in 2022 alone. While not all of these were short yardage plays, plenty of them were.
Valladay improved his pass catching production throughout his college career and, while much of this was on screens and dump-offs, he shows some flashes of a more expansive skill-set.
In 2019, he displayed some big play abilities as a pass catching option, averaging almost 20 yards per catch. Over the rest of his career his average was well below 10.
His only downfield target last year was on a 29-yard touchdown pass as he ran a wheel route and the linebacker covering him blew the coverage. He has made a few other downfield catches earlier on in his career, though.
Having not had many chances to display his route running in his college career, Valladay was keen to showcase this during Shrine Bowl week. He had previously shown a few flashes of these abilities from time to time.
Valladay has reliable hands and a solid catch rate, although he dropped three passes in 2022, and he struggles to make difficult catches where he has to reach for the ball.
At the NFL level, his only preseason target went for a 22-yard gain, but this was just a dump-off to the flat where he broke a tackle in space.
Valladay stayed in to pass protect quite a lot in college, so he has some experience there. Despite only giving up two sacks in his career, his pass blocking grades were poor over the past three years.
He had a few chances to pass protect during preseason and generally held up in these situations.
Valladay hasn’t played much on special teams since his first season at Wyoming where he had one tackle and one penalty. He played a few snaps of kick coverage in preseason.
He hasn’t had experience as a return man, although he did field two kicks for 13 yards in his college career.
Valladay does display good vision at times, often slicing through the defense untouched for big gains while in college. However, he does have a habit of running into the backs of his offensive linemen.
While he generally has a direct style and will usually cut upfield at the earliest opportunity to take what the defense gives him, Valladay does show some good patience at times.
As a receiver, he makes an effort to find open spaces when plays are extended, but he hasn’t had much success in these situations.
Valladay has only had one pre-snap penalty in his college career, for an illegal shift in 2022.
Valladay is a team-first player who displays a good work ethic and has shown some toughness by playing through some injuries. He was a leader when he arrived with the Sun Devils and reportedly comes from a good family background and has a strong character.
Valladay was limited to just five games in 2020 due to a left leg injury but he didn’t miss much time over the rest of his career. However, his durability was a concern because he was constantly banged-up with minor injuries during every other season, sometimes keeping him off the field or impacting on his effectiveness.
Valladay is a player who has had most of his experience and production in zone-based schemes. The Jets have plenty of zone blocking packages, so his direct style should work well with these. Ideally, they’d like to see more from him in terms of his all-round skills if he is going to compete for a bigger role.
Valladay is at least a couple of injuries away from seeing the field at the moment, and his lack of success in preseason perhaps indicated that he’s a year away from contributing and may be best considered as a longer-term project who could perhaps return stronger next year after spending the year on the practice squad.
If Dalvin Cook was to continue to struggle and the Jets fell out of contention - or maybe even if they didn’t - it’s not impossible they could phase out the veteran and bring in a guy like Valladay to provide them with fresh legs and energy late in the year, much like they did with Bam Knight last season.
Then again, he’s already been temporarily released from the practice squad once, so he needs to impress to keep convincing the coaching staff they need to retain him.