Jalen Saunders: Countdown to Training Camp (16 Days)

Feature Image: Associated Press

The time from now until training camp can be filled with a mix of vacations and training regiments for players and personnel, but for hardcore NFL fans it’s more of a time filled with vodka and despair.

We’ll be counting down to the July 23rd, report-to-Cortland date, by featuring current players with roster numbers that correspond with the number of days left. For days without a corresponding player, we’ll be featuring other players and maybe some surprises.

16 Days = #16 Jalen Saunders

Getty Images

Getty Images

Legendary American author Mark Twain once said, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

At 5’9″, 165 lbs, wide receiver Jalen Saunders enters the NFL as the dog-equivalent of a chihuahua. Chihuahuas are the world’s smallest breed, but are often some of the feistiest, perhaps being the pound-for-pound most capable attackers.

Pound-for-pound, Saunders has the potential to develop into one of the NFL’s better attacking receivers.

Ironically enough, when speaking with the media, Saunders did describe himself like a dog with a little bit of another animal mixed in.

“I would describe my playing style like a gorilla. I’m a savage on that field. I would say between a gorilla and a terrier, a pet dog or a terrier. They’re real small and people don’t expect too much from them. They always like to fight and always like to play around. That’s just the type of player I am. I’m real feisty.”  (NJ.com, May 10)

Okay… I guess that makes sense.

When reviewing any tape on Saunders — during his time at Fresno State University (as a freshman and sophomore) and the University of Oklahoma — speed is what jumps off the screen. It is easy to come to this conclusion, however, the number of defenders that could not keep pace to put a hand on him, adds to the validity of his greatest weapon. His 4.42 sec combine 40-time, albeit impressive, may not even do his play justice.

That speed allowed him to sneak past much larger defenders, although at times one could call that agility; Saunders has a quick burst after-the-catch. It is also the reason that Saunders accumulated 64 total kick and punt returns during his time at OU, including three total return touchdowns in his junior and senior years. Saunders’ 15.4 yards per punt return average, in 2013, slotted him 8th in the entire country (FBS).

More than a Speedster; Saunders isn’t Clyde Gates

As I touched on earlier, and Saunders had confirmed, he plays much more physical than his size would lead on.

Associated Press

His upper body strength has helped him beat press-coverage at the line of scrimmage and knock off initial, would-be tacklers. His lower body strength helps him have superb balance, which is key, because Saunders’ quick feet mean nothing if he cannot stay on them. That balance will remain a note worth watching for, as Saunders transitions into the pro game. He’ll be facing larger and stronger opponents, thus harder hits and more opportunities to get knocked off routes.

Truthfully, Saunders was not often asked to plow defenders over or take on multiple defenders. It wasn’t in the offensive playbook or the opposing defensive playbook, either. Because, at the end of the day, Saunders is smaller than most receivers on any field and will never be a team’s premier receiver. At the same time, he uses this fact to his advantage, punishing defenses for any lack of respect in his abilities.

Saunders provided his 2013 OU team with 773 combined receiving and rushing yards with 10 all-purpose TDs. For a player whose ceiling is probably a number three wide receiver (while he does possess value on the outside), the New York Jets will take that kind of production without hesitation. That’s while discounting any added bonus he can bring to what is currently a very pedestrian special-teams unit.

It’s been overplayed, but the Jets’ leading receiver in 2013 was Jeremy Kerley, who totaled 523 yards. That was good for 86th in the NFL in receiving yards, behind guys like RB Matt Forte, TE Rob Gronkowski (who played in just seven games), and TE Garrett Graham (he plays for Houston, which you probably didn’t know.)

In respect to transparency, Kerley played in 12 games last season. That being the case, should he have really led the team in receiving yards? With a sigh, no.

If the Jets will have to continue to receive by committee, depending on Eric Decker’s transition post-Manning, they’ll need value guys like Saunders to have a good showing in Cortland and carry that momentum over into the regular season.

A Note on #17 Greg Salas

Thank you to the readers of our site, as well as those that have been following these daily pieces as we all struggle through this downtime in NFL news and entertainment. As we did not produce a piece yesterday, I wanted to note that we have not forgotten about number 17, WR Greg Salas.

Salas celebreates a 44-yard reception against the Saints, in Week 9. (NOLA.com)

Salas celebrates a 44-yard reception against the Saints, in Week 9. (NOLA.com)

In college — the University of Hawaii — Salas broke the school’s career receiving mark with 4,345 yards on 285 receptions with 26 touchdowns. In 2010, he led the entire NCAA in yards (1,675), 10 greater than the second place receiver, Justin Blackmon.

Salas was initially drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth-round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He was traded to the Patriots in 2012, and later waived, being picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles. Last season, the New York Jets signed Salas off the Eagles’ practice squad, perhaps stealing some potential away from Philly.

Through eight games with the Jets, Salas recorded eight receptions for 143 yards. While the production was modest, he was used sparingly in the offense. He did show great run-after-catch ability, attaining receiving yard ‘longs’ of 44, 30, and 25, in three of the five games that he recorded receptions. In a game that I personally attended, Saints at Jets, Salas’ two receptions for 57 yards came at critical junctures of the game, showing his ability to rise to the occasion when his number was called.

Salas has just as much of a chance to rejoin the 53-man roster as any of the other up-and-coming receivers on the current roster. His contract runs through to the end of the season, so it could be now-or-never for Salas to show his NFL worth.

Brian Johnson

About Brian Johnson

Brian was born in Yonkers, NY and raised in Wappingers Falls, NY. At a very young age, Brian liked Drew Bledsoe and the Patriots. Yet, he grew up quickly, and realized it was only a means to rebel against his Jet-loving dad and brother. Brian (since about 10 yrs of age), bleeds Green and White. He’s the creator of this here website, on a mission to separate the real news from the backpage hyperbole.

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