Head coach Robert Saleh told the media that you can’t be afraid to play young players.
“They’re hell on wheels,” Saleh told reporters, “but if you coach and you invest and as a player, you reciprocate and invest back… that’s where you become an explosive team in a hurry.”
The New York Jets HC has stuck to that mantra that he said to have learned from Seattle Seahawks legend Pete Carroll.
In the NFL, there’s no player with less experience and opportunity than an undrafted free agent. That hasn’t stopped general manager Joe Douglas from diving as deep in the well as possible for talent.
The Jets GM brought in 12 more UDFAs this spring, after signing nine his first year on the job (was hired post-draft in 2019). Four of those nine played meaningful snaps in 2020 — Javelin Guidry, Bryce Huff, Lamar Jackson and Lawrence Cager — and are competing for a roster spot again in training camp.
Every player has a chance to make the roster, and most should at least make the practice squad, but which of these 12 have the best shot at making an impact in 2021?
6 Most Likely UDFAs to Make the Team
6. Tristen Hoge, Guard, BYU.
Just like 2020 draft pick Cameron Clark, Tristen Hoge has become a fan favorite to win the right guard job. He played with Zach Wilson for three seasons at BYU, starting on the right side whenever he was healthy. Hoge might have enough of that “mauler mentality” in the run game to make the roster as a backup, but his chances at a starting role are slim-to-none at this point.
Unfortunately, his greatest flaws as a prospect don’t exactly line up well with Mike LaFleur’s system. The rookie lacks “lateral quickness” and the “desired athletic talent” that it takes to hold up against pass-rushers at the NFL level. In a wide-zone run scheme with Wilson’s protection as a priority, Hoge has the odds stacked against him. I’m giving him a shot to make the roster over some others like tackle Teton Saltes because the Jets are more shallow on the interior of the offensive line right now.
5. Brendon White, Safety/Linebacker, Rutgers.
I do think there could be one extra safety spot to be had if Brendon White or fellow UDFA Jordyn Peters can stand out in preseason on defense or special teams. Which of these two has the better shot is sort of a toss-up at this point, but White was the slightly more impactful player in college and he had been getting some reps during the spring.
He played three years at Ohio State before following Greg Schiano to our neck of the woods at Rutgers. White’s father, William White, was an 11-year NFL professional and he definitely passed on some of those genes to his 6-foot-2, 220-pound son. The former Buckeye and Scarlett Knight was a thumper-type of box safety in college. His size and tackling ability makes him a tweener that could also backup at linebacker. The more versatility you display, the more likely you are to make the team.
4. Chris Naggar, Kicker, SMU.
Jets fans would certainly hope to see Chris Naggar out there in Week 1 because it would mean the rookie won the kicker job over sub-par starter Sam Ficken. The SMU product has a huge leg, forcing 46 touchbacks on 69 kick-off attempts in 2020. Naggar hit 81% of his field goals as a Mustang (17 for 21) with a 93.5% conversion rate on extra points.
The only news from camp concerning this kicker battle has been disappointing, however, as beat reporter Connor Hughes noted that Ficken and Naggar went a combined 3-for-7 in a kicking gauntlet drill on June 10. There’s still a chance the Jets look outside of these two to solve their problem at kicker, whether it be a veteran that’s currently available or one that shakes free later on, so don’t count on Naggar making the roster just yet.
3. Milo Eifler, Linebacker, Illinois.
The Jets are really thin at linebacker so Milo Eifler may have a leg up based on circumstance alone. After C.J. Mosley and Jarrad Davis, the rest of the LB core consists of the oft-injured Blake Cashman, Noah Dawkins, Del’Shawn Phillips and fellow rookies like Jamien Sherwood, Hamsah Nasirildeen and possibly the aforementioned White.
Any preseason injuries might force Eifler onto the roster, but the Illinois product could earn a spot on his own. He is an outside linebacker that is a plus-athlete and an explosive tackler of the football. I see him as an asset in special teams, but a work-in-progress on the defensive side due to his lack of play recognition and coverage skills. Woody Johnson seems to like him too, so that’s a plus.
2. Kenny Yeboah, Tight End, Ole Miss.
Similar to Eifler, Kenny Yeboah faces very lackluster competition at his positional group between the slumping Chris Herndon and camp-bodies like Daniel Brown. The problem is, despite fans willing him on the receiving tight end out of Ole Miss has not made many headlines this spring. When mentioned, beat reporters have highlighted his dropped passes more than his catches in camp, although he did have one nice link-up with Wilson on a seam-route downfield.
At Ole Miss, Yeboah had 524 receiving yards and six touchdowns off 27 receptions. He doesn’t possess the size to block in-line at the NFL level but did perform adequately as a space-blocker out wide. The big-play threat is known for taking fans’ breath away one moment, then dropping the easy ball the next — which matches up with his spring showing. The Jets could still add another veteran to this tight-end group, but for now, Yeboah seems like a shoo-in to at least make the roster. If he doesn’t, that’s not a good sign.
1. Isaiah Dunn, Cornerback, Oregon State.
I didn’t mention that Yeboah was a priority-free agent, meaning the Jets spent more money to get him, but he was and so was cornerback Isaiah Dunn. We’ve been hearing all spring that the Oregon State UDFA could push for a starting role, let alone a roster spot. At times, it does feel like Dunn is being campaigned for in Q-and-As by some of the Jets beat reporters, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s fought for that attention in camp.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was asked about Dunn, and he responded saying: “[He’s] a guy that makes strides every day and he’s making a push, to not just make this team but potentially play and contribute.” Ulbrich also noted that the Jets expected Dunn to get drafted and that they were “ecstatic” to get him. Dunn has “excellent speed” and great length when the ball’s in the air but he struggled instinctually at forcing turnovers in college. I am very confident he’ll make the roster but I still think the starters on the outside will be Bryce Hall and either Blessuan Austin (based on experience) or Jason Pinnock (based on scheme fit and overall talent).
Practice Squad All-Stars
I thought I should quickly sum up why I didn’t pick players like edge rusher Hamilcar Rashed Jr. or defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour. For those two, in particular, I just felt their positional groups were too deep with loads of talent ahead of them on the current Jets depth chart.
I explained Peters losing out to White above and I see Saltes and Grant Hermanns as developmental pieces on the offensive line. Last but not least is O-lineman Parker Ferguson, who just hit the injured reserve the other day.