New York Jets: Top 5 roster hopefuls to root for


Jun 9, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets safety Durell Eskridge (35) during New York Jets minicamp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

This is the toughest time of year for aspiring players trying to make the final roster of the New York Jets.  Broken dreams and crashed careers define the drive to the final 53-man roster.  There’s the superstars, and then there’s everyone else — so there’s relatively little difference between the talent levels of the bottom half of any NFL roster.  This is where all the compelling backstories of these athletes’ hard roads and compelling lives come to light.

Practice squad space can be tight, even with the league increasing them last year from six to ten players and allowing up to two-year vets.  There’s the guys the coaches love, and then there’s the cuts coveted from other organizations.  Most of the players detailed herein won’t make the final roster, all could see practice squad offers, hopefully with the Jets.  The team see themselves as a wild-card playoff contender, so given their litany of problems, there’s little room for error in terms of identifying play-making personnel.

Here are some of the more interesting, lesser-known stories as I take a look at the top 5 roster hopefuls to root for in making the final roster of the Jets.

Next: 5. Julian Howsare

Aug 29, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Julian Howsare (59) tackles New York Giants running back Akeem Hunt (39) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Giants 28-18. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

5. Julian Howsare

The Altoona High School star received Division I offers but decided to stay home and attend Clarion University, where his unrelenting Brian Urlacher-esque pass-rushing motor earned him the nickname “Chain Saw.”  Julian became a back-to-back consensus Division II All-American, two-time Gene Upshaw Award finalist and 2014 FCS National Bowl Defensive MVP.  He produced insane numbers of tackles, sacks and blocked kicks, but he was clearly a man among boys.

Howsare was told he’d be a late-round selection in May’s draft, but went un-drafted and signed to the Jets, quickly becoming a fan favorite of the green-and-white diehards in Florham Park.  Coach Bowles projected the game-changing defensive end as an outside linebacker, where there are few roster openings and has also tried him as a fullback, where he will not supplant Tommy Bohanon (one of Idzik’s better pickups).

Especially because of the Geno Smith fiasco necessitating four quarterbacks on the roster, Howsare will have to make the team as a special-teamer or practice-squadder.  But the best way to judge a player’s impact with the staff is with playing time, and in three preseason games, Julian has registered just one combined tackle in limited garbage time.

Howsare will definitely play in the NFL, just hope its for the Jets.  There are plenty of wily coaches out there who could figure out how best to best employ his football acumen and dedication.

Next: 4. Rontez Miles

Aug 21, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Teammates congratulate New York Jets defensive back Rontez Miles (45) after he recovered the football for a touchdown during the second half of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium. The Jets defeated the Falcons 30-22. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

4. Rontez Miles

The 26-year-old had a rough childhood as it was hard finding refuge on the football field.  Rontez Miles was supposed to play safety at Kent State with his half-brother Vondre Griffin, who got into trouble there, so Rontez followed him to California University of Pennsylvania, located in the rural netherland between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, West Virginia.

Miles, a punishing hitter, starred for the Vulcans, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference rivals of Julian Howsare’s alma mater Clarion.  Like Howsare, Miles became a two-time D2 All-American.  Then Miles signed, and spent the better part of two years, on the Jets’ practice squad.  And then there was that scary episode last December when Jets’ trainer John Mellody likely saved his life, noticing something not right with Miles’ swollen bruised right leg, rushing him to hospital, and thus sparing the aspiring athlete amputation.

There may be more skilled or experienced players, but when Rontez gets on the field, something big happens.  Coach Bowles seems intrigued.  Antonio Allen was teaching Miles to be a pro, but AA’s season-ending injury just may be Rontez’s path to the NFL.  Based on performance alone, if there is a strong safety to cut, it would be last year’s No. 1 draft pick Calvin Pryor (yes, Idzik whiffed on “The Louisville Slugger”).

Next: 3. Wes Saxton, Jr.

Nov 16, 2013; Annapolis, MD, USA; South Alabama Jaguars tight end Wes Saxton (13) attempts to avoid Navy Midshipmen linebacker Chris Johnson (46) following a catch at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

3. Wes Saxton, Jr.

Saxton began as a wide receiver in community college before three seasons at tight end for South Alabama of the Sun Belt Conference.  The Jaguars almost first-ever NFL pick’s stock fell dramatically, after a senior year ravaged by injuries and a new offensive scheme that did benefit his skill-set.  He ranked among the top TEs at the NFL Combine, displaying eye-opening athletic skills.  Maccagnan was entranced by the possibilities of Saxton as a Gronk-like matchup-nightmare exploitable under Chan Gailey’s space-jamming offense schemes.

But major questions remain about Saxton’s blocking skills and his mental toughness; the latter never a good sign.  Yes, Wes made a few Odell-esque highlight-reel catches in camp, but if the younger cousin of former Dolphin running back Tony Nathan was true NFL caliber — especially in light of Jeff Cumberland‘s “move to H-Back,” and the devastating season-ending injuries to Zach Sudfeld and now Jace Amaro — why has the organization scrambled to fill the void with Kellen Davis, Steve Maneri, Matt LaCosse and now Arthur Lynch?

Saxton embodies the league’s need for a practice squad, as without a viable minor league network, players like he need an environment to hone their craft in a type of apprenticeship.  Going into training camp, it seemed Wes had an outside shot to make the team.  Now with Amaro’s injury, Lynch’s signing, and waiver wire possibilities, Saxton may best suited for practice drills.  Similarities abound to WR-turned-TE Cumberland — and how well has that five-year investment work out?

Next: 2. Keon Lyn

Sep 21, 2013; Syracuse, NY, USA; Tulane Green Wave wide receiver Ryan Grant (3) is tackled by Syracuse Orange cornerback Keon Lyn (8) and Cameron Lynch (38) in the second quarter of a game at the Carrier Dome. Mandator Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

2. Keon Lyn

To replace injured cornerback Antonio Allen on the 90-man roster, general manager Mike Maccagnan signed Keon Lyn, a star at Syracuse, who played in 38 games for the Orangemen with 89 tackles and three interceptions before fracturing his left kneecap in the fifth game of his senior season in 2013.  The South Florida native, star of the 2009 state Class 6A champion Miramar High School Patriots, went un-drafted in 2014.  During his 22 months of grueling rehabilitation, he spent time on the rosters of the Indianapolis Colts and CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Mike Maccagnan saw Lyn at March’s NFL Veterans Combine, and swooped in to sign him as an extra body in training camp.  At the time, the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League had the 26-year-old CB on their roster. Lynn is a physical, high-energy defender, and there must be some reason that he risen from the absolute bottom of the depth chart to one of the last man standing after the first slash of cuts to 75 players.

However, one cannot overlook the fact that he has made minimal impact, and that he could not even get on the field against the dreadful Giants last week.  But if there is ever a feel-good story to root for with practice squad implications, it is certainly Lyn.

Next: 1. Erin Henderson

Dec 29, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson (50) celebrates his tackle of a Detroit Lions running back in the first quarter at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Vikings win 14-13. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Erin Henderson

The former Maryland state high school champion quarterback followed his older brother E.J. Henderson as a gridiron star at The University of Maryland.  That’s where Erin Henderson played inside linebacker, going All-ACC, and coming in second place in Dick Butkus Award voting to Jim Laurinaitis.  Yet he went un-drafted.

Erin followed his brother again, signing as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings, where he excelled for three years, before a well-documented battle with his inner demons, including two DWI arrests in six weeks and 15 months of in-patient rehab.  Henderson did not play in 2014, but from 2011-2013, he was a proven NFL weak-side linebacker.

Maccagnan seemed even more impressed by Henderson’s quiet devotion to family and sobriety, and on April 8, signed him for the $745,000 veteran’s minimum.  Erin was looking like a final roster shoo-in before his sprained MCL in the preseason opener.  The fact that Bowles has offered no timetable for return seems ominous.

The NFL is a cold numbers game, but one has to ask if the Jets’ ILB position is better with current starters, aging David Harris and average Demario Davis, then some veteran mix of skull-rattling signees Henderson, Jamari Lattimore and Joe Mays.  Don’t be shocked if Henderson gets cut or in some waived/injured scenario.  The Jets need serious play-makers, like the bone-jarring Mays or special teams ace Lattimore.  Such players could be the difference between the playoffs and going home.

Next: New York Jets: Todd Bowles discusses starting spots

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