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NY Jets: Scouting newly-signed backup safety J.T. Hassell

NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
NY Jets Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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The NY Jets have signed former Division-II standout safety, J.T. Hassell.

With injuries at the safety position, the NY Jets added some much-needed depth to their defensive backfield on Friday with the signing of former Cleveland Browns safety J.T. Hassell.

But who is the Jets’ newest addition? What exactly should Jets fans be expecting from the 25-year-old safety?

A native of Florida, Hassell was born with just two fingers on his left hand as a result of a birth defect. But despite the odds being stacked against him, he managed to overcome them all and excel at football in both high school and college.

Hassell was originally recruited to play linebacker at South Dakota State — nearly 2,000 miles from his home in Titusville, Florida. After two seasons as a starter in Brookings, South Dakota, Hassell decided to transfer to Florida Tech to be closer to his family.

He wasted little time picking up where he left off leading his team in tackles and being named second-team all-conference. But it was in 2018, his senior season, that Hassell really put his name on the radar of NFL teams.

Hassell was named first-team all-conference, awarded his conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and named a unanimous Division-II All-American. However, at 5-foot-11 and just over 200 pounds, he was never going to make it as a linebacker in the pros.

Fortunately, he had the speed and athleticism necessary to make the transition to safety in the NFL. And when we say speed, we mean speed.

The NY Jets were likely intrigued by J.T. Hassell’s athleticism

Hassell crushed it as his pro day running a 4.38 40-yard dash and recording a 42-inch vertical. The Browns took notice and quickly scooped him up as a free agent once he went undrafted.

Hassell would play in all four preseason games for the Browns in 2019 leading the team in special-teams tackles. He was inevitably cut before the start of the season, but Cleveland signed him to their practice squad soon after.

Eventually, Hassell would receive the promotion to the active roster and become the first Florida Tech player in school history to play in an NFL game. Hassell played in four games as a rookie making a whopping seven tackles — almost all coming on special teams.

But the following season, he was released as part of final roster cuts and was not brought back on the practice squad. Late last month, the New England Patriots came calling and they signed Hassell to their practice squad.

His stint wouldn’t be long, however, as he requested his release a little over a week later to sign on with the Jets. Now in New York, he’s being given his second chance on an NFL active roster.

Hassell’s speed and athleticism make him an ideal special-teams contributor and he’s found plenty of success contributing there in his brief professional career thus far.

And with Ashtyn Davis and Bennett Jackson sidelined for this game and likely longer, the Jets will roll into Sunday’s game with Hassell as their only backup safety. If either Marcus Maye or Matthias Farley goes down, it will likely be Hassell who gets the call.

While it’s a longshot to suggest that he could be anything other than valuable special-teams depth, Hassell has been defying the odds his whole life.

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From being born with two fingers on one hand to being the first player from his college to ever make it in the NFL, J.T. Hassell has never been one to abide by the improbable.

He’s a longshot — but this longshot has as good a shot at making it as anyone.

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