BGA: Scouting Nine Sleepers

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Since the Jets haven’t signed a free agent for me to scout in almost four weeks, I’ve been watching footage of some of the bottom-of-the-roster guys to try and get an insight into what kind of potential they have and whether any of them could realistically be expected to step into an important role in 2013.

Today, I’m going even deeper to take a look at some of the lesser-known players expected to be bottom-of-the-roster guys and not really expected to challenge for a place on the team. The Jets have several players with NFL preseason or, in some cases, regular season experience that we haven’t considered in any detail yet on BGA, so I’ve been looking at the footage to see if there are any players who might have the potential to push for a roster spot.

After the jump, I look in detail at footage from over the last few years and give some background on some of these guys.

Bret Lockett, S, 6-1, 200

Our recent TJB podcast guest is one of the higher profile sleepers on the roster, mainly due to a well-publicized connection to Kim Kardashian. However, he’s also played in 13 regular season games for the New England Patriots, including a handful of snaps on defense. These date back to 2009 though. He had gone undrafted in 2009 despite running a 4.45 forty at UCLA’s pro day. In 2010, he missed the preseason with a chest injury and went onto injured reserve, then in 2011 he tore his groin in preseason and missed the entire season. He spent 2012 in the UFL.

Lockett saw extensive playing time at free safety in the 2009 preseason, registering eight tackles on defense and one on special teams. He also had another special teams tackle and a tackle for a loss negated by a penalty. He started one game, but six of his nine tackles came in the second half of games, against backups. In the regular season, he saw just five snaps on defense, at free safety in garbage time against the Titans – a 59-0 win in the snow. The only impact he made was to get in on a tackle for a loss, only to give up a 15 yard taunting penalty. He appeared in 12 other games on special teams only, registering seven tackles and a forced fumble. He made some good open field tackles and was able to beat his blocker to make the tackle on a couple of plays, but also was blocked out of a couple of plays and got called for two penalties. The forced fumble saw him strip the ball loose on a punt return, but the returner’s team recovered. In 2011, prior to getting injured, he had one tackle on defense in preseason, a good open field stop downfield on a 13-yard run.

Bonus link: Here is Lockett’s UFL highlight reel from this year, which does show some good hitting, open field tackling and special teams work.

Danny Lansanah, ILB, 6-1, 255

Lansanah is only a second year pro, although he is 27 having first entered the league in 2008. He was a guy I was intrigued by in that draft, due to his excellent size. He had been a first team all-Big East selection at UConn. However, after seeing action with the Packers in five games as a special teamer in his rookie season, he was unable to catch on with the Dolphins and Lions over the next few seasons and has been playing in the UFL for the last few years. Lansanah was pretty productive in the 2008 and 2009 preseasons, totalling 26 tackles including nine at or close to the line of scrimmage in 2009 alone. He also added a pass defensed.

In the 2008 regular season, he recorded two tackles on special teams, one of which saw him tackle the return man on a kickoff at the 13, despite being held. However, he did also have a missed block that led to his teammate being tackled.

Bonus link: Here’s Lansanah’s 2012 UFL highlight reel. This is less impressive than Lockett’s featuring an interception on a tipped pass and some plays on special teams.

Titus Ryan, WR, 6-0, 200

Titus Ryan is even older than Lansanah – he just turned 29 last week. Ryan entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2007 and was thought to have a lot of potential as a return man after having run a 4.28 forty yard dash at Alabama’s pro day. He entered the league with the Chiefs, recording one catch for six yards in preseason as a rookie. After having failed to make the team, Ryan went to play in the Canadian Football League for a couple of years, after which he was picked up by the Cowboys where he stood out at minicamp and was thought to have a shot at making the team. In the first preseason game, he made an immediate impact, returning the opening kickoff 38 yards before being knocked out of bounds. However, he looked uncomfortable fielding a punt later on and then suffered a wrist injury that would end his chances. Dallas brought him back for 2011, only for a foot injury to again lead to him being off the team. He played in the UFL last season.

Bonus links: Check out Ryan’s returning ability and his receiving skills on these two plays from the CFL.

Travis Tripucka, LS, 6-1, 240

Tripucka, the son of former NBA all-star Kelly Tripucka and the grandson of former NFL quarterback Frank Tripucka, was the backup long snapper for the Rams in the 2012 preseason. He snapped on three punts and three kicks (two of which were missed). If I am to nitpick, one of the snaps to the punter was wide, almost leading to a block and one of the missed field goals came on a snap where the holder had to reach for the ball before getting it down. Tripucka earns approximately $300K less than current Jets long snapper Tanner Purdum, but it is unlikely the Jets would release Purdum for financial reasons because they already paid him a $130K signing bonus on his two year deal.

Jacquies Smith, DE/OLB, 6-4, 260

Smith, undrafted out of Missouri, got some playing time with Miami in preseason last year, lining up exclusively as a right defensive end. He had a few good moments as a pass rusher, including one play where he beat Bruce Campbell (acquired by the Panthers in a trade for Mike Goodson) to the outside and got hold of Jimmy Clausen from behind, only for Clausen to shovel the ball forward for an incomplete pass, as Smith clapped his hands in frustration. Smith also beat his man to the outside on a play where Clausen was sacked by Isaako Aaitui, who the Jets signed last year (only for him to get hurt almost immediately). Smith was clearly teeing off at the line with an emphasis on getting pressure on the quarterback, because whenever the Panthers ran the ball, they were able to take him out of the play pretty much routinely. There was only one good moment that he had against the run – a play where he took on the fullback, forcing the running back to cut back inside where he was stopped.

Smith spent time with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2012, but only recorded one tackle.

Ryan Quigley, P, 6-3, 188

Quigley was in camp with the Bears last year after having gone undrafted. When Adam Podlesh got hurt in preseason, Quigley made it onto the active roster for week one, but Podlesh recovered in time for the opener and Quigley was inactive and cut a few days later. His preseason numbers were not great (41.4 average, 39.3 net), but as regular BGA readers will know, I see ANPP (explained here) as a more accurate indication of punter performance than traditional numbers.

Quigley, buoyed by having six kicks inside the 20 and seven fair caught, ended up with an ANPP of 65% which is about average and certainly of an NFL-level standard. Robert Malone managed an above average 66.5% for the regular season last year, by way of a comparison. Quigley limited the punts returned to 34 yards on 16 kicks, 27 of which came on a play where the return man fumbled and Quigley himself came up with the recovery. One interesting wrinkle is that he kicked off once, landing the ball inside the five. That added versatility to be able to do a good job in an emergency could serve as a tie-breaker if he challenges Malone for the job in camp. Quigley also did well as a holder, especially in the Bears’ win over the Redskins where he rescued a low snap to enable Robbie Gould to kick the game winning field goal from 57 yards out. He did have one punt blocked though, not that there was much he could have done about it.

Thomas Mayo, WR, 6-2, 205

Mayo has been making the most of his chance to get some quality reps at the OTA’s due to all the injuries at wideout, although he was apparently at fault for the interception that Geno Smith threw on Wednesday, as the ball went through his hands. Mayo was unable to catch on with the Raiders last year and ended up playing in the Arena League. In preseason, he did get some playing time, but the only throw they made to him was a bubble screen where Terrelle Pryor threw the ball behind him and once he’d adjusted to make the catch, his momentum carried him to the outside rather than up the field, so he was blown up for a four yard loss. That play looked like it could have gone for decent yardage if the connection was timed better, because the slot receiver made a good block. However, we can’t be sure if Mayo was at fault by turning for the ball while too far upfield.

JoJo Dickson, ILB, 6-1, 245

Dickson, who drew some praise from Kristian Dyer on Wednesday went undrafted out of Idaho in 2011 and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars, but was cut before preseason. They then re-signed him the following April, only to release him after a couple of weeks. The Browns picked him up and did give him some late game playing time in preseason last year. Dickson was used as a weakside OLB in the Browns’ 4-3 scheme, although he came out of the game when the defense went to a nickel package. He was credited with one tackle, chasing the quarterback to the sideline and out of bounds having been in zone coverage for a one yard gain on third and long to force a field goal attempt. There were a couple of other plays where he was involved in the action – one saw him come across as the tight end broke a tackle, forcing the tight end to change direction and get tackled downfield, perhaps saving a touchdown. Dickson chased across to get in on that tackle. Another saw the running back fumble the ball and Dickson came up to down him in the backfield after he recovered it, although he was ruled down before that. Dickson also looked good covering a running back out to the flat and forcing the quarterback to go to a different option.

Vidal Hazelton, WR, 6-2, 209

Finally, Vidal Hazelton is a guy who was once thought to be an excellent prospect having teamed with Mark Sanchez at USC. However, he was slowed by an ankle injury in 2008 and transferred to Cincinnati, missing the 2009 season and losing momentum in the process. He then only ran a 4.62 forty at his pro day. Hazelton went undrafted and didn’t make an impact with the Chargers in his rookie preseason (2011), but did get some opportunities in the following preseason with the Bengals. In the second game against the Falcons, he caught two short passes on consecutive plays, a screen pass where he was unable to beat the first man and a play where he stopped his route and held on to the ball on the outside despite a good hit from the defensive back. In the following game against the Colts, he had a nice 14-yard catch where he stopped his route on the outside again, but this time was able to turn it upfield for extra yardage. However, with a shot at making the team, they targeted him four times in the last preseason game and all four fell incomplete – one was a drop, one was broken up, one was high and behind him and the other one saw him slip over. He was also targeted one other time in the Colts game with the throw going behind him as there was obviously some kind of communication breakdown between him and the quarterback.

After the Bengals cut him, Hazelton spent the year on Tennessee’s practice squad.

Bonus links: Hazelton is perhaps best known for this sensational catch while at USC. However, this clip shows some of his open field running skills, as he takes a Sanchez pass to the house in spectacular fashion.

Conclusions:

Of course, all of these players are considered extreme long shots to make the team this year, let alone make any kind of impact. However, there are some guys here who’ve been through camps before and therefore have an idea of what it takes to make it, so even if none of them end up on the team, they’ll still hopefully push the guys who they go up against every day to get better.

While there wasn’t anyone who stood out as having immense talent that has somehow gone unnoticed, there were flashes from each of these guys in their preseason cameos, so it will be interesting to see if they get a chance to play in preseason this year and can make some things happen again to turn some heads.

The three receivers – Mayo, Ryan and Hazelton – all benefit from the fact that not only is there no consensus top five at the moment, but there are also several injuries, giving guys like Mayo a chance for some extended reps. As we saw last year with Royce Pollard and Joseph Collins, wide receiver is one position where guys who are unlikely to make the team could be put in a position where they can get a chance to make some things happen.

At inside linebacker, the top four spots on the roster are presumably locked up (Harris, Davis, Mauga, Bellore) but then Dickson and Lansanah are the next men up, so any injuries there would presumably give one of these two an excellent chance to work with the second unit. Lansanah’s special teams experience might make him a contender for a special teams role like Lance Laury or Larry Izzo have had in recent years with the Jets perhaps needing some leadership on that unit with their long time coach and captain both departing.

Safety is another position where the Jets currently seem to have roster spots there for the taking. While he might be the outsider in a battle for the fourth safety spot against guys like Rontez Miles, Jaiquawn Jarrett and maybe Donnie Fletcher (if they move him), Lockett’s special teams play could force everyone in this battle to raise their game.

Special teams spots are always up for grabs, so although Robert Malone will enter camp as the favorite, if he falters Quigley might get a chance to impress. I think a change at long snapper is less likely, but you never know. There’s no guarantee that Purdum will remain healthy.

Finally, Smith obviously needs to improve his run defense based on last year, if he wants to be a factor in a full time role. However, if he gets a chance to rush the passer in preseason, perhaps he’ll make a case for a situational role. He’ll be behind Ricky Sapp to start with, but Sapp has had problems staying healthy, so if he (or one of the other edge rushers) goes down, then maybe Smith will get his chance.

All in all, while these guys are all long shots to make the roster and some might not even make it to camp, maybe someone will get their chance and show they have enough promise to earn a role or even just a spot on the practice squad and a chance to develop towards a second look next year. If not, there’s no harm done and at least they have a handful of guys that have been through the process.