Top unheard-of Senior Bowl players Jets should target
By Steven Blush
You may know the top names in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. Here are five under-the-radar ballers that both made an impact at this week’s Senior Bowl, and make sense for the New York Jets roster rebuild.
There are many tasks to tend to this offseason. The Florham Park brain trust have franchise-defining decisions to make in free agency. First, they must determine who to re-sign and who to jettison. Then there’s that nine-figure pile of cash — to be likely spent on lunch-pail linemen, a shutdown cornerback, and probably, a flashy new QB. General manager Mike Maccagnan proved his ability to uncover serviceable free agents last season, exemplified by the contributors he brought in during training camp, through trades, and off the waiver wire, throughout the year.
In less than 90 days comes a crucial draft. Going into his fourth player draft, Trader Mike has had one good one, last season — with two foundational starters at safety and a few promising players. So he needs to nail it this time around, especially at the quarterback position, where his first two drafts yielded Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Until the GM solves the QB quagmire, this franchise will remain lost in space. Here are five little-known ballers who excelled in Mobile, and could possibly fill glaring needs for the Jets.
Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky
The South’s starting quarterback comes out of a pro-style system, and in this game, he displayed all the tools of an NFL starter. He’s a huge-armed talent (6’4″, 225 lbs.) with a quick release, great timing, nice touch, and an intelligent command of the game. To play on the pro level, a QB must use their eyes to move off defenders, and not stare down receivers. That’s where the Hilltopper excelled, better than any other QB in this game. No 2018 Senior Bowl report would be complete without comparable raves about Virginia’s Kurt Benkert and game MVP, Richmond’s Kyle Lauretta.
Darius Leonard, OLB, SC State
The MEAC’s top defender still has a huge chip on his shoulder, over getting snubbed by Clemson, where his brother Anthony Waters starred. When Clemson stomped his Bulldogs 59-0 in Death Valley, Leonard made himself noticed with 19 tackles and blocked FG. He’s a weight-room warrior who can run like the wind, has great tackling technique, and a real nose for the ball. In this game, he had 14 tackles and made himself a Day Two pick. At 6’3″, 240 lbs., the Lake View, SC product is “the total package,” who will excel as that classic NFL “WILL” linebacker. The tape on him is scary.
Braxton Berrios, WR/PR, Miami
At just 5’9″, 177 lbs., this product of “The U” is always the smartest and hardest working player on the field. He has excelled on a big stage and has all the playmaking and leadership skills to excel on the next level. He’s an absolute nightmare for linebackers in coverage. But he’s probably an even better punt returner, as exemplified on the field in Mobile. Berrios would be a Day Three steal, for any team. You know Bill Belichick would turn this guy into his next Wes Welker/Danny Amendola. This ultimate student-athlete with a near-perfect GPA is a future business titan.
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Jamil Demby, OT, Maine
This guy really stood out in the first half at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The 6’5″, 335 lbs. Vineland, NJ-bred left tackle opened huge running holes, and none of these vaunted pass rushers got past him. The All-CAA First Team-er got invited to the Senior Bowl after opening eyes at last week’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in Pasadena, where he impressed his coach Mike Martz. In Mobile, the coaches raved over the Black Bear’s week at practice. A solid late-round developmental project.
Bilal Nichols, NT, Delaware
Nichols looks like the prototype NFL fireplug NT. He completely stuffed up the middle during his quarter or so of play. The 6’3″, 301 lbs. Newark, DE native, a four-year Blue Hens standout, achieved 2017 Third Team All-American honors and impressed at the 93rd Annual East-West Shrine Game. So the projected seventh-rounder just elevated his draft stock. For what it’s worth, the last drafted Jets NT was Deon Simon, who’s spent two of his first three years on the practice squad. Steve McLendon is 32, and Mike Pennel ain’t the answer. Gang Green could use better depth.