Jets Were ‘Trying to Draft’ Red-Hot UDFA, Roster Dark Horse

Jason Brownlee

Getty New York Jets rookie wide receiver Jason Brownlee at the 2023 NFL Combine.

It’s rare that it feels like an undrafted rookie has earned a roster spot before August 1 — but that’s the current vibe around New York Jets wide receiver Jason Brownlee, a promising UDFA out of Southern Mississippi.

Now, obviously things could still change between now and late August, but here’s why Brownlee appears to have an early lead on one of the final 53-man spots in 2023.

First, Jets general manager Joe Douglas paid him $216,000 in guaranteed money, which ESPN’s Rich Cimini likened to “low fifth-round selection” money for a rookie. Then quarterback Aaron Rodgers chose to voluntarily shout-out both Brownlee and fellow undrafted wideout Xavier Gipson for their efforts during Organized Team Activities and minicamp.

Brownlee didn’t let that go to his head, transitioning straight into unpadded practices at training camp like he was shot out of a cannon. Head coach Robert Saleh downplayed the early success of many, stressing that padded practices will tell the real story — only Brownlee has arguably been even better with pads on over the past few days from July 25 through 27 (more on that below).

The Jets also traded away Denzel Mims before the start of training camp — Brownlee’s top competition for a WR6 role — and the latest quote from Saleh may have been the strongest tell of all. “Full disclaimer, not to get in Joe [Douglas’] business, but we were trying to draft [Brownlee] in day three,” the Jets HC stated candidly on July 27. “The opportunity just didn’t present but he was in every discussion on all those day three picks and just lost out by one guy at each spot.”

Saleh added that the organization was “really excited” to get the red-hot pass-catcher as an undrafted free agent, further hinting that he could be here to stay.

Jets UDFA WR Jason Brownlee Lights Up Training Camp With Multiple Veterans Sidelined

Brownlee followed up his highlight reel reception on July 23 with another phenomenal day on July 27.

Veteran wide receivers Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard and Corey Davis were all dealing with either minor injuries, or an illness in the case of “C.D.” Randall Cobb has also been sidelined to start training camp, with a stint on the PUP list.

That set the stage for players like Brownlee, Gipson and 2022 UDFA Irvin Charles on July 27, and the former didn’t shy away from the opportunity.

“Chris Streveler with a TD pass to the back of the end zone to Jason Brownlee, who made a nice catch,” The Athletic’s Zack Rosenblatt relayed from practice. “Brownlee has impressed in camp.”

Later, the undrafted prospect got the job done with Rodgers under center. “Aaron Rodgers with a 25-yard TD to Jason Brownlee, who was wide open,” Rosenblatt tweeted again.

There appeared to be a little tug on the facemask of cornerback Sauce Gardner that freed up Brownlee on touchdown number two, but the potential penalty went uncalled — and the rookie got away with one going head-to-head against one of the best coverage CBs in the game.

Through three days of padded practices at training camp, Brownlee now leads the Jets offense with three total touchdowns.

Jets HC Robert Saleh Says WR Jason Brownlee Has ‘Proven’ His Potential, But Still Has ‘Long Way to Go’

Following up on Saleh’s presser on July 27, the Jets HC went into detail on Brownlee’s performance so far.

“He’s proven [he deserved to be drafted],” Saleh noted on Thursday. “He’s showing the ability to win on some of those go-balls — big-boy routes if you will — but he’s still got a long way to go with regards to developing his intermediate game and all that, and then obviously his physicality in the run game.”

Saleh did express that he really likes where Brownlee is going before cautioning fans a bit.

“We’re only a [few] days into pads, we still got a lot of games to play, so there’s still a lot that he has to prove,” he said, concluding that Brownlee is “trending in that right direction.”