John Idzik has made it clear that the Jets would look to field roster spots in the 2013 through undrafted rookie free agents. Former Clemson OC Dalton Freeman might have gone undrafted, but that doesn’t mean he might not be a fit for the team. We’ll take a look at Freeman in this post.
BIOGRAPHY: Freeman grew up around football and from a football pedigree. Dalton Freeman’s father, Ben Freeman, was his high school coach and played at Wake Forest during the 1980s. Freeman was named the Wendy’s High School Heisman winner for South Carolina as a senior and chose to play at Clemson. Freeman redshirted his first year on campus, but became the first center to start at Clemson as a freshman in over 60 years when he played in each of the team’s final nine games in 2009. Since then, Freeman hasn’t left the starting line-up since. As a durable mainstay of the Clemson offense, Freeman led the offensive line over the team’s past 36 games and Freeman was a Remington Trophy finalist and first-team All-ACC pick after playing a school-record 1,044 snaps in 2011. Freeman was regarded as one of Clemson’s locker room leaders and had injuries that necessitated the move, Coach Dabo Swinney was confident enough in his play that he could have moved Freeman to right tackle in a pinch.
STRENGTHS: Freeman is extremely durable as his collegiate career showed. He is quick to set up and is a good positional blocker with footwork to assist one guard and move over to the other as necessary and he moves his feet to sustain his block through the whistle. Freeman has good upper body strength and can play with some sneaky power in short-yardage situations. While not the most athletic player, Freeman has the burst and some short-area quickness to reach linebackers on zone plays and runs between the tackles. His strength allows him to extend his arms to push the defender out of the play should they try to out-maneuver him. It’s not always pretty, but Freeman can get the job done. Freeman the kind of intelligent player needed in the pivot spot.
WEAKNESSES: Freeman needs to work on his lower body strength to help him drive better at the point of attack. He can bend at the waist at times to sustain his block, lunges at targets at times and has a tendency to play upright which makes him lose leverage against power rushes or charging blitzers. Freeman can be quick to cut blocks blitzers he could otherwise handle and will need to remove that tendency as much as possible from his game where extending plays is key in the pros. Freeman will need to demonstrate strength and athleticism to find a roster spot in the NFL, but the technique can be worked on with coaches.
CONCLUSION: Freeman knows that he needs to be versatile to play in the pros and so this offseason he did a lot of work at both guard and as a long-snapper. While he didn’t get an NFL Combine invite, his numbers stood up to many of the best there in his broad jump, his bench and his best timed 40 (4.88). One scout remarked during his pro day that while he would likely go undrafted, he could be the type of player to still play 10 years in the league. Freeman has the work ethic, has the pedigree and the intelligence to play but needs some more time to develop his lower body strength and technique.
It’s not often that Nick Mangold goes to the bench, but as two seasons ago showed, when he does get injured the Jets can be in a world of hurt. Matt Slauson took some reps there in the past, but once Robert Turner left the team, the backup center spot for the team has not looked great and the Jets might be trying to address it in the acquisition of Freeman. The Jets don’t really have a defined backup center right now, but Caleb Shlauderhaff was tabbed for that role in the past. At present, the only two players listed on the roster as centers are Mangold and Freeman.
Yes, the Jets drafted three linemen and have signed two other veterans, but they still need to sort out their backup center spot and signing Freeman might have been a move to that end. Freeman needs some time to acclimate to the NFL game, but he could be a great find for the Jets given some room to grow … no better place on the roster to do that than behind one of the league’s best and most durable centers.
UPDATE: Be sure to read Connor Orr’s article on Freeman that was posted on the Star-Ledger website this morning!