NY Jets: 5 players who might not have had a career with COVID-19 restrictions

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
NY Jets (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

The NY Jets have a number of players who would not have had careers with current COVID-19 restrictions.

The NY Jets are preparing for what promises to be a training camp like no other. And while the restrictions brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have caused plenty of issues for teams, perhaps no one will be hit harder than the players.

From the absence of minicamp and OTA’s to the potential elimination of the preseason altogether, players will be given fewer opportunities than ever before to get into playing shape and prepare for the season.

On top of that, those fewer opportunities affect the back-of-the-roster players who are looking to make a name for themselves and earn their way on to the roster.

Now with the expected shrinkage of training camp rosters by as many as 15 or more players, the opportunities are scarcer than ever. That’s bad news for some bubble veterans or undrafted rookies who would normally need every chance they could get.

The Jets roster is full of players who benefited from the same opportunities that others won’t receive this year. And it’s fair to wonder just how their careers would have panned out if they were placed in a similar situation.

Today we’re going to do a little fantasy hypothesizing. What would happen if the same COVID-19 restrictions that are impacting the NFL today had a similar effect on prior time periods?

We take a look at five Jets players who may not have had NFL careers if they were subject to the same restrictions that players are dealing with today.

Next: 5. Neville Hewitt

NY Jets (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

5. Neville Hewitt, LB, NY Jets

Neville Hewitt has managed to carve out a very successful NFL career for himself as a stout special-teamer and reliable sub-linebacker. But he certainly wasn’t handed any opportunities coming out of college.

After originally attending Georgia Military College — a junior college in Milledgeville, Georgia — Hewitt transferred to Marshall where he became one of the team’s best defensive players.

The Maryland native was named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 solidifying himself as one of the best players in his conference. But despite his success, Hewitt didn’t garner much NFL interest.

Seen as a hybrid safety/linebacker prospect, Hewitt was too slow to play safety full-time but a little undersized for a traditional linebacker role. He didn’t have a clear-cut path to earning an NFL roster spot.

But that didn’t stop the Miami Dolphins from giving him an opportunity to compete in training camp. Hewitt was moved to a full-time linebacker role and put on some weight. And after a strong showing in the summer, he managed to make the Week 1 roster.

His success was a result of superb special-teams play and his ability to transition smoothly to a true linebacker role. However, if the same COVID-19 restrictions were applied, he wouldn’t have been able to do either of those things.

Hewitt wouldn’t have been given the same time to hone his skills as a linebacker or even show off his special-teams aptitude. And as a result, it’s very likely he might not have made the team.

Who’s to say how Hewitt’s career would have turned out if he received the same limited opportunities that undrafted players will receive this year. But it’s safe to say that his path to NFL success would have been significantly more challenging.

Next: 4. Vyncint Smith

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

4. Vyncint Smith, WR, NY Jets

Perhaps no player on this list was less highly-touted coming out of college than Vyncint Smith. Smith attended Division-II Limestone College for two years despite some initial interest from South Carolina.

And as expected, Smith went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft despite a strong showing at South Carolina’s Pro Day. The Houston Texans picked him up in the post-draft process and he managed to earn his way on to the roster following an impressive preseason.

That preseason, Smith flashed his big-play potential finishing with four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. The German-born Smith was able to show off his speed and downfield ability — surely something that endeared him to the Texans’ coaching staff.

And as a result, his spot on the Week 1 roster was well-deserved.

But what if he never got to show off in the preseason? What if there was no preseason? Or even worse, what if he was cut before training camp even started?

With 75-man rosters, there’s certainly no guarantee that the Texans would have opted to keep around a raw undrafted receiver from a little-known Division-II program. And if that’s the case, Smith may have never been given another opportunity.

The next Vyncint Smith could be on the Jets roster right now. Unfortunately, his opportunities will be much more limited than Smith’s were.

Next: 3. Brian Poole

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

3. Brian Poole, CB, NY Jets

The Jets struck gold with the signing of Brian Poole last offseason and after a very impressive 2019 season, he’s arguably one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL.

But just a few years prior, he was an undrafted free agent fighting for a spot on the Atlanta Falcons’ roster.

Poole played a solid four years at Florida never breaking out as a true top-flight prospect, but he developed into a key part of the Gators’ defense by his senior season. Despite this, he went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft.

He had his fair share of options in the post-draft process but decided to sign on with the Falcons because of his close relationship with head coach Dan Quinn. And his decision evidently paid off.

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Poole entered training camp competing for a roster spot with a host of other young players and by the end of the summer, the undrafted free agent had not only earned a spot on the roster, but a spot in the starting lineup.

Poole was named the team’s Week 1 starter at nickel cornerback behind Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford and he would follow that up with an impressive rookie season.

But with no minicamp or preseason to prove his worth, there’s no way the Falcons would have given the starting job to an undrafted rookie. Perhaps he could have still earned a roster spot — after all, he was a pretty highly-touted undrafted free agent.

However, it’s safe to say his road to a starting job would have been much more difficult.

Next: 2. George Fant

NY Jets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

2. George Fant, OT, NY Jets

George Fant would have not received an opportunity in the NFL if he was subject to the same COVID-19 restrictions back when he was coming out of college in 2016.

Or at the very least, it would have been much, much more difficult for him to break into the NFL than any other player on this list.

That’s primarily because Fant didn’t exactly have much college tape to show scouts. In fact, he played just two games of collegiate ball — football that is.

Fant was a four-year starter for Western Kentucky’s basketball team before finally getting persuaded to give football a try as a fifth-year senior. Being used as a tight end, Fant appeared in two games and made just one catch thus ending his brief college football career.

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As expected, Fant went undrafted in the 2016 NFL Draft, but his intriguing athleticism made him an appealing target for a number of NFL teams. The Seattle Seahawks were one of those teams and they decided to give him a contract following an impressive workout with the team.

A workout that would have never been able to take place in a post-COVID-19 world.

From there, offensive line coach Tom Cable essentially taught Fant the offensive tackle position from scratch and made him his personal project for the summer. It’s hard to see that process going as smoothly if the two weren’t able to meet in-person until late July.

Fant’s story is truly miraculous and proof that athleticism and work ethic can overcome a lack of experience sometimes.

But with an opportunity, he would have been given the chance to prove that.

Next: 1. Steve McLendon

NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NY Jets (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

1. Steve McLendon, DL, NY Jets

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more respected member of the Jets’ locker room than Steve McLendon. A leader on and off the field, McLendon has worked for every opportunity he’s received in the NFL and he no doubt has the respect of his teammates and coaches alike because of it.

But who’s to say how his NFL career would have panned out if he was forced to deal with the effects of a global pandemic in his rookie season.

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McLendon entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Troy way back in 2009. And although he would eventually develop into the starting nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was far from smooth sailing at the beginning of his career.

The Alabama native was released as a part of final roster cuts in his rookie season and spent most of the year on the practice squad. The same would be true for the following season, although he would spend a little more time on the active roster making seven appearances.

But what would have happened if the Steelers were forced to cut training camp rosters down to 75 in July? Pittsburgh already boasted an impressive defensive line at the time featuring the likes of Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith.

Throw in first-round pick Ziggy Hood and veteran Travis Kirschke and there’s no guarantee that McLendon would have survived that first wave of pre-training-camp cuts.

Compare that to a player like Damon Harrison whose path to the NFL followed a similar trajectory as an undrafted rookie out of William Penn. Undrafted players rely on these offseason opportunities to carve out NFL careers.

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Unfortunately, those little-known players will have a much more difficult time standing out this year.