Undrafted DL already making strong first impression for NY Jets

The Jets may have found another UDFA gem
Eric Watts
Eric Watts / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

The NY Jets have a successful recent history of discovering and developing undrafted talent on defense, and defensive lineman Eric Watts is looking to become the team's latest undrafted gem.

Watts faces an uphill battle to make a name for himself in a crowded and stacked defensive line room, but he's wasted little time making a strong first impression this spring.

The Jets held their first OTA practice open to the media on Tuesday, and Watts was one of the team's most notable standouts. The undrafted defensive lineman beat rookie tackle Olu Fashanu for a would-be sack of Tyrod Taylor in 11-on-11 drills and was routinely getting the better of the Jets' second-string offensive line.

Watts has a real chance to not only make the 53-man roster but carve out an important role in the defensive line rotation as a rookie. The Jets seem to have high hopes for him, too.

Eric Watts is a strong candidate to make the NY Jets 53-man roster

Watts was widely seen as a likely Day 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, which is why it came as a notable surprise that he went unselected. The Jets made the former Connecticut standout a priority after the draft.

Watts was given a hefty $245,000 in guarantees upon signing, the most of any undrafted rookie on the Jets' roster. While fellow UDFA defensive linemen like Leonard Taylor III and Braiden McGregor have received more attention, Watts might have the best chance of the three to stick around.

At 6-foot-5, 274 pounds, Watts is a well-built versatile defensive lineman in the mold of someone like John Franklin-Myers. That should serve him well and increase his odds of making the 53-man roster.

Watts put together a standout junior season at Connecticut in 2022, finishing with a team-high seven sacks in 13 games. He also added two forced fumbles and a pair of blocked field goals, showcasing his special-teams prowess as well.

A disappointing senior season is part of the reason Watts went undrafted, but his physical and athletic upside leaves plenty of room for development. It's easy to see him being maximized in Robert Saleh's defensive system.

Saleh has helped develop a number of young defensive linemen over the years. From Bryce Huff to the aforementioned John Franklin-Myers, Saleh has a knack for discovering and developing defensive line talent.

There's every reason to believe a player like Watts, who has flashed his upside but hasn't been able to put it all together, could be the next project for Saleh this summer.

The early signs have certainly been promising. Eric Watts is a player Jets fans should keep a close eye on as we approach training camp.