Between now and preseason, we’re breaking down the Jets’ undrafted rookies. However, we’re going to deviate from that for the next week or so, as we review some of the veteran additions the Jets have made since training camp began, starting today with former Cincinnati wide receiver and return specialist Alex Erickson.
The 30-year old Erickson is best known for his return abilities, having led the league in kickoff return yardage once and placed second another time. However, he has also caught 96 passes in his career, including 43 in 2019.
Erickson was not a highly sought-after high school recruit and ended up having to walk on at Wisconsin. Having redshirted the 2012 season, he played in all 13 games the following year, starting three. He ended up with nine catches for 127 yards.
In 2014 and 2015, he led the Badgers in receiving as he had 55 catches for 772 yards as a redshirt sophomore and 77 catches for 978 yards as a redshirt junior, catching three touchdowns in each year. He was an all-Big Ten first team selection in his final season.
Erickson entered the 2016 draft but was a combine snub and ended up going undrafted. However, he made the Bengals’ roster out of training camp and did a good job in a return role with them, as he averaged 28 yards per kickoff return and led the league in kickoff return yardage. He also caught six passes.
In 2017, Erickson caught 12 passes, including the only touchdown of his career, and again held down the return role although his numbers were underwhelming.
His role continued to increase as he caught 20 passes in 2018 and then had 43 receptions and 529 yards in 2019. He was moved off kickoffs that year.
2020 was Erickson’s final season with the Bengals as he had just 12 receptions. He then signed with the Houston Texans, although he failed to make their roster out of camp and ended up in Carolina where he caught three passes in a limited role. He spent 2022 with Washington but didn’t see much action and was released in May.
The Jets signed Erickson early on in camp, perhaps in response to Randall Cobb starting off on the PUP list and Diontae Spencer moving to injured reserve.
Now let’s take a look at what Erickson brings to the table, divided into categories.
Erickson has below average size and lacks a big catch radius, but he posted elite agility numbers at his pro day with a 4.1 in the short shuttle and a sub-6.7 in the three-cone drill.
His speed, explosiveness and strength numbers were all average or just below average. He ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash.
When he has played on offense, Erickson has seen action both outside and in the slot and can produce in either role. He has also been put in motion, carried the ball on end arounds and jet sweeps and even threw the ball a few times.
He rushed 11 times for 124 yards in college and 18 times for 78 yards at the pro level. He also completed a 26-yard pass on a gadget play.
Erickson was a dual threat quarterback in high school and also played on defense in the secondary.
Erickson is a player who caught a lot of downfield passes in college and has also made a handful at the NFL level. However, his success rate on such throws has been extremely poor and he’s not really someone who you’d expect to win a battle for a ball that is thrown up for grabs. Nevertheless, he has the speed and acceleration to get behind the defense from time to time.
Erickson has a lot of confidence in his route-running ability, dating back to when he was a draft prospect. He has shown some ability to get quick separation at the NFL level and is effective on outbreaking routes and crossers in particular.
Here’s an excellent example of him schooling a defensive back on a route. He shows deception at the line to release outside and then breaks back over the middle before the cornerback can recover back into position.
Here’s another example of him making a quick cut to get short area separation to pick up a first down.
Erickson is a player who had some issues with drops at the collegiate level, but he seems to have been more reliable with his hands at the NFL level, as he has had fewer drops and a higher catch rate. He has still had a few drops here and there.
He is capable of making some nice grabs in traffic or when extending for the ball. Here’s an impressive catch where he adjusts well to the ball thrown slightly behind him.
With just six touchdowns in college and one in NFL regular season action, Erickson isn’t an established red zone threat. Most of these were from outside the red zone, although he did have this red zone touchdown in preseason action.
After the catch
Erickson is a player who is capable of changing direction quickly and slipping a tackle in space.
However, for someone who is so experienced as a return man, it’s perhaps surprising that Erickson doesn’t break more tackles, although he is good at turning upfield and has a nose for the marker.
Erickson has had some modest success on screen passes, with nine catches behind the line for 53 yards at the NFL level. He had 164 yards and a score on 15 screen passes in 2014 with the Badgers, but didn’t have much success in his final season there.
Erickson has lost a few fumbles as a ball carrier on offense.
Despite not being very big or imposing, Erickson is a consistently effective blocker whose run blocking grades have typically been good. In 2014, he actually had the nation’s fifth best run blocking grade for wide receivers according to Pro Football Focus.
He gives a good effort and seems to have a good understanding of angles. He also shows good instincts on this play.
As noted, Erickson isn’t particularly big and doesn’t have a particularly good record on contested catches with just a 30 percent success rate since 2018. However, he displays terrific toughness over the middle and can really take a hit and bounce back up.
The main reason Erickson has been brought in is presumably to compete for a role as the team’s return specialist. He has plenty of experience of returning both kickoffs and punts at the NFL level, having played the role for the first time in his final college season.
As a punt returner, his numbers haven’t exactly been spectacular and he’s never had a 40-yard return in regular season action. However, he has shown an ability to beat the first man and pick up some good yardage. He has been in the top-10 for punt return average three times and did score two touchdowns in preseason.
On kickoffs, he twice had returns of over 75 yards in regular season action and was second in the league for return average in 2016 and fifth in 2018. However, he’s only had nine returns for 207 yards since then. He has considerably more kickoff return experience than Braxton Berrios did.
Erickson has muffed a few punts over the years and sometimes takes a fair catch unnecessarily or allows a punt to bounce, but his ball security has generally been pretty good. He did lose a fumble on a kickoff return though.
Instincts and Intelligence
Erickson is considered to be smart and was a three-time Academic all-Big Ten selection.
On the field, he shows a good ability to find open areas and soft spots in the defense and to improvise when a play is extended.
Here’s a heads-up play where he realizes his knee was never down and turns it upfield for a big gain.
Erickson has showed determination to carve out a decent-length career for himself in spite of the fact he was a walk-on in college. He was regarded as someone with an outstanding work ethic and leadership who was a two-time captain as a high school quarterback.
His on-field discipline has been consistently good with just two penalties in his NFL career.
Injuries haven’t had a major impact on Erickson’s career so far, although he did have some concussion issues in 2021.
Although his best chance of making the team is as the return specialist, Erickson is the kind of player who can also contribute in a variety of ways on offense. This would probably require some injuries, though.
Erickson was a teammate of current Jets Carl Lawson and CJ Uzomah in Cincinnati and Wes Schweitzer in Washington.
The return specialist job is one that is wide open for the Jets and it’s obvious they wanted a veteran option in the mix. It’s useful that he’s also had some decent experience on offense so he doesn’t have to use up a roster spot for a special-teams-only role.
With Spencer out for the year, Cobb currently out and Mecole Hardman focusing mostly on offense, Erickson could potentially win this job if none of the younger options like Xavier Gipson, Zonovan Knight or Israel Abanikanda is able to step up in preseason.