New York Jets: 5 Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
Every year, players emerge in training camp from the ranks of the unknown and discarded to earn valuable roles on every roster.
Whether these players were disappointing draft picks, overlooked undrafted free agents or under-the-radar free-agent signings, there are always players who find a way to sneak onto a roster with an impressive training camp.
With so many young players on the New York Jets' roster (12 draft picks), there are bound to be surprise players on both sides of the ball who emerge as key contributors after being afterthoughts all offseason.
Here are some players who will surprise for the Jets in training camp this year.
After two years of incredibly disappointing football, former second-round pick Stephen Hill needs to put on a show this offseason if he wants another year on the Jets' roster to prove his worth.
So far, he appears to be doing just that. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg noted Hill has looked "excellent" in OTAs.
Hill has put on impressive OTA sessions in the past, but he has a much higher sense of urgency entering his third season with his job on the line and two years of experience under his belt. The fact that the regime that was responsible for trading up in the draft for Hill is no longer in place only provides Hill with less job security.
It would hardly be unprecedented for Hill to make a huge leap in his third season, as many players at the receiver position take one or two years to fully adjust to the NFL game. At such a young age (23), perhaps expectations were too high for Hill to being with.
Either way, if Hill is going to make the necessary strides in his game to live up to his potential, now is the time to do it. After all, the Jets need a receiver to step into their No. 2 spot at least as badly as Hill needs the Jets to stay employed.
While Stephen Hill will be busy trying to save his career, David Nelson will be trying to take his job from underneath his feet.
A midseason addition last season, Nelson turned out to be one of the Jets' most reliable targets (just two drops in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus). By midseason, he had wrestled the No. 2 receiver job away from Hill for good—and he doesn't appear to be willing to give it up anytime soon.
After the team brought in three receivers in the draft in addition to their two free agents (Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford), Nelson will face more competition than just Stephen Hill. Despite the newly crowded receiver meeting room, Brian Costello of the New York Post lists Nelson as the favorite to win the No. 2 receiver job based on his OTA observations.
Jane McManus of ESPN notes that Nelson and quarterback Geno Smith have developed a nice chemistry this offseason, only increasing Nelson's value to the team.
The unfortunate reality for Nelson is that no matter how well he performs in camp and on the field, the Jets will always be looking to find an upgrade over him in the mold of a more dynamic, speedy weapon. In the meantime, he can earn a valuable role opposite Eric Decker and give the Jets some much-needed consistency at the position.
After finding a permanent home on the inactive list as a rookie, Oday Aboushi is primed to make huge strides in his second season thanks to a much-needed position change.
After spending his college career and rookie NFL season at tackle, the Jets have begun the process of converting the Virginia product to guard. Given his relatively slow foot speed, making the move to the inside of the line makes plenty of sense for Aboushi. In this new position, he can take advantage of his power without being exposed by his lack of speed.
The Jets had planned to move Aboushi to guard all along, per Darryl Slater of the Star-Ledger, but a sidelined Willie Colon has opened the door for Aboushi to work with the first team, where he has shone in his new position.
Takeaway from Jets OTA: Brian Winters could transition from LG to RG if Colon biceps/knee rehab lingers. Aboushi has opened eyes at LG #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) June 11, 2014
It will take more than a few nice spring practices from Aboushi to win a starting job, but he appears to be on the right track in his development and should carry this momentum into training camp. At worst, the Jets have some security in case Colon's injury issues linger longer than expected.
After being discarded by the New England Patriots last year, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham has enjoyed a career revival since getting picked up by the Jets in the middle of the 2013 season. He climbed the depth chart to the point where he was given playing time on defense in the final two games.
Cunningham appears to be carrying that momentum into spring practices, where he has been impressive while working with the second-team defense, per Brian Costello of the New York Post.
As disappointing as he was with the Patriots as a former second-round pick, Cunningham is still only 26 years old and has plenty of room to continue to develop—perhaps a change of scenery to the rolling hills of Florham Park will do the trick.
The next step for Cunningham will be to transfer his new-found productivity to training camp, where he will be able to win a role on defense outright. With the status of veteran linebacker Antwan Barnes still up in the air, Cunningham may get an opportunity to earn a vital role on defense as a situational pass-rusher.
One of the many pass-catchers who have been overlooked in the revolving door of wide receivers is Greg Salas, a midseason addition in 2013 from the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.
Despite recording just eight catches, Salas was one of the most explosive receivers on the roster. Specializing in catching screens and short passes to get yards after the catch, Salas averaged an impressive 17.9 yards per catch.
Salas has continued to look impressive in practice, according to Jane McManus of ESPN. His constant upward career arc suggests the best is still to come for the fourth-year player. At age 25, Salas still has room to develop into a more complete player.
As with every fringe receiver on the roster, nothing is guaranteed in terms of roster spots with the incredible volume of young talent at the receiver position. The Jets will look to keep as many of their drafted players and free-agent signings as possible, but Salas figures to be a very difficult player to part ways with if he continues to improve.