With the NFL offseason now in full bloom we have some time to look at some of the rookie Jets that didn’t come from the NFL Draft. The Jets were active after the Draft signing 13 UDFAs (undrafted free agents).
In reality only a couple of these players will last to see opening day on the Jets roster. They almost certainly won’t be starters, but they could see time on special teams and/or sub-package roles. The majority will be released with maybe as much as half coming back as practice squad players. The rest will look to find a spot somewhere else in the NFL. Fortunately for them the NFL has continued their increased practice squad size which currently stands at 16 players, up 6 from the limit in the pre Covid 19 system.
The practice squad is a great opportunity for players to get NFL type coaching which could lead to a future contract. Also the money isn’t bad either since the minimum salary is $11,500 a week. That is over $200,000 if they stay for the entire 18 week season. Also there is no maximum salary so an in demand player can get an even better deal.
In this two part series I will try to acquaint you with each Jets UDFA player with an eye on his projected role and his chances of making the squad. These players are often the glue to the team, the guys who do a lot of the dirty work behind the scenes. They are usually hard workers who don’t complain and appreciate their opportunities. The players who make it on the practice squad are often given roles to mimic the players from the next opponent. Often how well they prepare the starters for who they will see next is a key to victory.
TJ Luther WR Gardner-Webb 5’ 11 1/4” 189 lbs
Luther played 3 years at Wofford College in South Carolina which competes in the FCS in the Southern Conference. TJ played in 27 games and had 39 receptions in those 3 years for 878 yards and 8 TDs. He transferred to Gardner-Webb in 2021. Gardner-Webb is also in the FCS but plays in the Big South Conference. He only played in 18 games in his career at GW due to injuries . In those games he caught 86 passes for 1,550 yards and 12 TDs. He was the go to receiver on the team playing almost exclusively as an outside receiver.
Here he crosses the field to lose his coverage which allows him an uncontested catch along the back edge of the end zone. He was a player the team looked for to make big plays and was the major threat on 3rd down. He had at least 5 receptions in 9 of his 12 games in 2022 including in this game where he had 8 receptions for 131 yards and a TD.
Luther also spent time on special teams. He had 34 kickoff returns for 900 yards (26.5 avg.) and a single TD.
Luther has an average physical makeup as he has 4.50/40 type speed and poor agility. He does have great hops with a 39” vertical and a 127” broad jump. He also has poor length for his size with (30 7/8” arms) which makes playing against a defender like Sauce Gardner very challenging. His chances of making the team out of camp are less than 10% but if he shows some ability in the offense he could be stashed on the practice squad in case on injuries.
Jason Brownlee WR Southern Mississippi 6’ 2” 198 lbs
Brownlee is an interesting player and was my #184 ranked prospect. He has multiple tools to work with as a receiver despite a lack of pure speed. In 3 years at Southern Miss. he had 135 receptions for 2,144 yards with 21 TDs. He has good height with great length (33 3/4”) plus outstanding strength and leaping ability. He had a 39 1/2” vertical and a 131” broad jump at the Combine. He he very good upper body strength to get off press coverage as he can out muscle most DBs. He alo has a quick first step for his height but needs a runway to get up to top speed.
On this clip here Brownlee does an excellent job against man coverage. With his defender playing outside leverage he does a great job of working the defender to get to the outside. This shows his prowess as a route runner. He starts with a jab step outside which forces the defender to flip his hips in that direction. He then pivots back inside which stops his defender’s feet for a split second. It allows Brownlee a free release inside. Once he is by his man he works back outside and stacks his defender on his back which takes him out of the play unless he interferes. With a solid throw by the QB plus a nonchalant over the shoulder catch by Brownlee it’s an easy TD.
Now Brownlee won’t have as much success against NFL CBs because of their abilities and his 4.59/40 speed. Fortunately Brownlee is exceptional in contested catch situations. His height, length and jumping ability are good qualities in the middle of the field, but they are gold in the red zone. I could see where he is used on timed corner routes where CBs are usually in man coverage. The red zone is a condensed area with little room to maneuver, but he could own the area above the red zone. He could become a jump ball maven.
The Jets (in absence of a trade) have a spot open for a receiver. That receiver could be Brownlee if he looks the part in minicamps and preseason. Rodgers always like throwing to tall receivers. Brownlee is a little older than most players coming to the NFL at 24 years old. I put his chances of making the roster at 30% right now, but that number could grow with a good camp performance.
Deslin Alexandre DE Pittsburgh 6’ 3 1/2” 264 lbs
Alexandre is an athletic DE with good (not great) power, good length, and some solid agility. He is a two time team captain with outstanding character and the wingspan of a condor at 81 3/4”. In his 5 years at Pitt he had 131 tackles, 30 TFL and 17 sacks but surprisingly didn’t force a single fumble. He was helped by playing alongside Calijah Kancey who was a human wrecking ball to an offense.
Here Alexandre uses a T/E stunt to sack next years top 5 pick Drake Maye. You can see that Alexandre moves very well for a big man and has upper body strength. You can see Alexandre using his speed to create power by getting lower than the blocker then firing up into his chest which knocks him off balance. He then pushes the center aside then makes the sack.
Alexandre has a lot of good abilities. The problem is he doesn’t have any great abilities. He doesn’t have a great first step or exceptional speed. His power is very good but not great, and he has very little bend to work the arc. He doesn’t have enough quickness to move inside as a 3-tech, and he isn’t big enough to out muscle opponents. He is also an older prospect who will be 25 before the season.
With the Jets loaded at DE I don’t see how Alexandre makes the roster out of camp. He could be a possible practice squad player, but he doesn’t look like a player who can develop much. If the Jets are using him in an actual game they are really hurting for players. Alexandre is a camp body who has less than a 5% chance of making the active roster.
Claudin Cherelus OLB Alcorn st. 6’ 0 7/8” 224 lbs
Cherelus is a transfer from UMass who played as an inside linebacker at Alcorn State in the SWAC (southwest athletic conference). He is an undersized, athletic player with very good speed (4.54/40) and a competitive attitude. He is more of a linear player in that he has very good straight ahead ability with explosive leaping, but his agility and lateral movements are average at best. He has poor 1st step quickness but makes up for it with above average instincts. He is a player the Jets had their eye on.
His agent told him the Jets had contacted him before the Draft so they had an interest. “We both already felt the Jets would be the best place for me to be,” Cherelus said. “They showed interest in me the whole way and I wanted to be there just as much.”
Here Cherelus is playing as a middle linebacker against Deion Sanders’ Jackson State squad. He shows some speed as he he is blitzing but is able to run down the QB from behind in the open field.
Cherelus is another player who is a little old as an NFL rookie (24 years old), but the Jets showed interest in him throughout the draft season. They felt that coming from Alcorn State he would be overlooked as a prospect. In two years at Alcorn State ( 20 games) he amassed 149 tackles, 26 TFL, 8 sacks, 8 other QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 1 INT and 2 PBU. His ability to make the team out of camp relies on whether the Jets sign a Kwon Alexander or a Rashaan Evans to the roster.
Given that the Jets followed Cherelus through the Draft process I think they would like to develop him as an OLB. The best way to do that is to be on the roster to hide him on special teams and use him in sub-packages. I would think it’s a 50% chance (with the dearth of LB talent) that Cherelus makes the roster which will be a monumental accomplishment.
Brent Laing IOL 6’ 3 7/8” 304 lbs Minnesota-Duluth
Laing played as a right tackle in college although he was a right guard early in his career. He will be moved inside to guard in the NFL as he has poor quickness with short arms for his size. He had a poor pro day results wise but he was coming off a severe hamstring injury so those numbers may not be indicative of his physical abilities. He played some center at the East-West Shrine game where he did well so it’s probably why the Jets showed interest.
Here Laing is the right tackle. He he outmuscles his opponent as the QB keeps the ball for an easy TD. He is #76 as he turns his player to the outside which ultimately takes him out of the play. Laing adds a little ending push just to make his point.
Laing has virtually a zero chance of making the Jets opening day roster. I can see why the Jets brought him in since he worked at both guard and center at the Shrine game. The Jets will look to develop him over time as they stash him on the practice squad. He is a player who teams will not poach from the Jets because of his inability to play on the outside of the line. The Jets will look for signs of improvement from Laing, and if they don’t see it his time on the practice squad will be limited.
Trey Dean SS 6’ 2 1/8” 200 lbs Florida
Dean is probably the most talented of all the players the Jets brought in as UDFAs. He has the size and the experience of playing in the SEC as a safety with plus NFL size. He played in 57 college games in the secondary over 5 years but only turned 23 earlier this year.
Here you can see Dean playing as a two high safety, but he show excellent instincts and vision as he sees the play in front of him. Then he quickly drops down to make the play. This is just a solid play. If he had hesitated would have allowed Tennessee a first down. This was not an easy read as this is a zone defense with the corner to that side having the flat. When his receiver crossed the field Dean dropped down as the linebacker and vacated his area to chase a player flowing out of his zone. This was the LB’s play but Dean covered for him.
Dean is a player who I liked, but I had him as a my #314 prospect since I knew he wouldn’t be drafted as a safety after running a 4.75/40 at the Combine. He bettered that mark at his pro day but still ran only a 4.68/40. He still led his team in tackles (91) and PBU (9) in 2022. The truth of the matter is he played as a two deep safety or single high safety at Florida, but he will not have that option in the NFL. He is an excellent tackler as scene above shows. He is also a smart kid as a 4 time SEC honor roll member. He is a box safety who runs better than he is timed because he is smart with great anticipation.
This is the type of player who I would have taken in the 7th round. Every year there are players who can be active contributors (like Brock Purdy) selected in the 7th round if you use them correctly. Dean is a football player. He lacks speed. That’s it, but he can be a great player near the line of scrimmage. The fact the Jets saw this potential gives me hope.
I have Dean as a 65% probability to make the opening day roster. If Saleh uses him correctly he should be a solid addition to the defense in a limited role.
Travis Dye RB 5’ 10” 210 lbs USC
Dye is a player who is easy to dismiss because he has limited physical abilities with no great attributes to his resume. Yet he was an effective back (albeit in college) for a premiere program. Heart and determination also plays a part in the NFL experience.
Dye has a very poor physical makeup with 28 7/8” arms, a vertical of 27”, and a broad jump of 107” which was beaten by many of the offensive linemen. He ran a poor 4.82/40 and only did 16 bench reps at 225 lbs despite having very short arms. Of course he worked out at the Combine after suffering a significant ankle injury in mid-November.
Dye is a player who transferred from Oregon after playing for 4 years to their rival USC. He proves you don’t have to be fast to be successful. He is an instinctive runner who has great vision and can make super sharp cuts to find creases in the defense. Plus it’s nice to have great balance and superior heart as seen here.
Dye is like a veteran as a rookie since he has played in 58 college games over the last 5 years. He has 3,995 yards rushing in that time with 30 TDs plus he averaged at least 6 yards a carry in every season except his freshman campaign. Despite that he only turns 24 in late August. Dye also sets himself apart as a third down back since he has established himself in pass protection along with over 100 receptions with a 10.3 yards per catch mark in his career.
I can’t see how Dye makes the opening day roster unless there is a trade or a surprise release. I make it a 10% chance without a trade or release. Yet I can see Dye stashed on the practice squad with a late season call up if there is a significant injury. Dye actually gives you more than Michael Carter IMO.
So there you have it, the first half of the Jets UDFAs (in no particular order) for you to peruse. The second have will follow shortly but until then let me know what you think of the Jets “other” Draft class.
And as always