Jets Rookie Prediction: Jalen Saunders

Noted more for his explosiveness in the special teams return game than pass catching ability, should Jet fans expect rookie Jalen Saunders to play a major role on offense this upcoming season?

With the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected wide receiver, Jalen Saunders, from Oklahoma University.

Averaging 15.2 yards per reception and totaling 26 receiving touchdowns throughout his four-year college career, Saunders originally played at Fresno State before joining the Sooners. In addition to putting up solid numbers as a receiver, Saunders totaled 31 punt returns over his four collegiate years, 20 of which occurred during his senior year. He averaged 15 yards per return for a total of 465 yards and 3 touchdowns.

At just 5-foot-9 and 165-pounds, Saunders is quick on his feet and has good ability to separate against man coverage. With better quickness than vertical speed, he can elude the first tackler and turn a short pass into a big one.

Head coach Rex Ryan seemed to be impressed following the first day of rookie training camp.

"This is one tough little guy," noted Ryan. "He gets after it. He averaged like 16 yards a punt return and you see that burst, that quickness, the acceleration the flat-out speed that he has. He's small, but I don't think we need to tell him that because I don't think he realizes it. He goes out there like he's 225 pounds."

However, with marginal size Saunders is too easily knocked off his route to excel on the outside. With arm length of only 30 inches, he has a small catch radius and lets throws into his body. Saunders also lacks blocking ability and run strength.

With Eric Decker, Stephen Hill, David Nelson, and Jeremy Kerley predicted to be the starting receivers as of right now, Jacoby Ford, Shaq Evans, and Jalen Saunders will still be competing for playing time. As the 31st ranked passing team in the NFL, anyone who impresses during training camp could easily move up this depth chart.

Unless Saunders somehow beats out 6-foot-5, 215-pound David Nelson for the No. 2 receiver position, its unlikely he'll get much playing time this year. Decker has the No. 1 position and Kerley is expected to line up in the slot. There is also the recent addition of TE Jace Amaro, who can basically line up anywhere. Judging by the number of snaps during OTAs and minicamp, Nelson pretty much has the position wrapped up.

However, with Jacoby Ford sitting out with a recurring foot injury that kept him out for the entire 2012 season, Saunders could be this year's primary kick returner.


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