NY Jets top UDFA signing was a projected 1st round pick a few months ago

The Jets may have found an undrafted gem
Leonard Taylor III
Leonard Taylor III / Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The NY Jets have a pretty impressive history of finding hidden gems in undrafted free agents in recent years, and their most high-profile signing this year has a chance to be one of their best.

Miami defensive tackle Leonard Taylor III was widely seen as a future first-round pick from the moment he stepped foot on campus as a five-star recruit. Essentially every "way-too-early" 2024 mock projected him to be a first-round selection a year ago.

But you don't have to go back that far to find analysts projecting him in the first round. In fact, as of only a few months ago — after the college football season had ended — plenty were still projecting him to be drafted in the first or second round.

Just take one look at his player profile on NFL Mock Draft Database. You'll find mock drafts predicting Taylor to be drafted in Round 1 as late as March — less than two months before the draft.

While those mocks were few and far between, and obviously inaccurate, rewind to November or December, and Taylor was a very popular first-round projection. The Jets somehow signed him as an undrafted free agent.

Why did NY Jets defensive tackle Leonard Taylor III go undrafted?

So, what happened? Why did this seemingly high-profile draft prospect garner such little interest? There are a few reasons for Taylor's slide, but even his staunchest of critics wouldn't have projected him to go undrafted entirely.

By the time April's draft came around, Taylor was projected by most to be an early Day 3 pick. Some had him as a top-100 player in this class, but most were in agreement that he would hear his name called roughly around the fourth round.

Taylor has the athleticism and raw physical tools to be an All-Pro level 3-tech pass rusher at the NFL level. Unfortunately, his production never matched the hype at Miami.

Taylor finished his college career with just six sacks in 31 games over three seasons. There were rumblings of an inconsistent motor and a lack of effort at times, which is partially what caused him to fall in the draft.

Still, at just 21 years old, most believed some team would be willing to take a chance on his high upside. The Jets did — only they did so in undrafted free agency.

Taylor suffered from Will McDonald syndrome at Miami, meaning he was often played outside of his natural 3-tech position. Miami frequently deployed him as a nose tackle, which limited his pass-rush production.

There's reason to believe he should be a more productive player in the NFL, however. Taylor's 28.6 percent pass-rush win rate as a 3-tech interior rusher would've been far and away the best in college football last season, but he only received 28 pass-rush snaps at that position.

Meanwhile, he was a nose tackle for nearly 130 pass-rush snaps. That's not an ideal way to maximize your potential star player's production. It's fair to assume he should be a lot better as a natural 3-tech.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh has proven time and time again that he's able to develop and maximize the talents of young defensive linemen. Taylor finds himself in a perfect situation to make good on his potential in New York.

Leonard Taylor III isn't your typical undrafted free agent. He's a former five-star recruit who has been hailed as the next big thing for his entire career. Now with the Jets, he'll have an opportunity to live up to those lofty expectations as he starts from square one again.