The big names draw the folks with the pads and the cameras and put the fannies in the seats. But the back end of every NFL roster is just as important to a team's success. Every year players rise and fall during training camp, every year unknowns step up for injured teammates and become knowns.
Who among the Jets' younger, newer players will fill those roles? Here is a list of seven. It's not a comprehensive list and not a final-53 guarantee. But these seven either have been mentioned by head coach Rex Ryan during the first four practice days of SUNY Cortland camp or otherwise have flashed onto the Green & White radar.
Sure, Saunders came in as an interesting fourth-round mighty mite with numerous long gainers in his two Oklahoma seasons. But many can't stop worrying about how long Saunders can last in the NFL at his 5'9", 165-pound program size and if he can be more than just a punt returner.
In general, he reminds, "Obviously, I'm not the biggest guy, but I have a big heart on the field and I like to prove people wrong."
Then he told me after his long autograph session at SUNY Cortland today that he's gained about 10 pounds since he came to the Jets "and I'm trying to be somewhere around 180 soon."
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Regarding his workload, he admitted about getting reps at both wideout and punt returner, "I can say it's a challenge but I'm always up for a challenge."
And as a final touché, he thinks he can play not only the slot but even the outside at this level. "I learned to play receiver from the outside, probably since I was 5 years old," he said. "And my dad, Walt Saunders, played wideout, and my uncle also played wideout in the NFL."
You may have heard of Jalen's uncle, Webster Slaughter, whose penultimate stop in his 563-catch, two-time-Pro Bowl career was with the Jets in 1996.
"I think for a rookie, the little Saunders kid pops to me," Ryan said. "He runs like he's been doing this thing for years. He's a fearless guy, so I think I've been impressed with him.
Both first-year players saw brief action as free agent rookies last year — Davis for 102 plays during four midseason games and Miles for 15 special-teams plays vs. New Orleans. Both could be victims of the numbers game with the influx of veteran and new talent at their positions.
Not so fast, said Rex. He noted Davis goes 100 mph and keeps contributing despite the arrival of Jason Babin, who knocked him down the depth chart a peg. (TD batted down a pass in the final two-minute drive of practice today.) Miles is another run/hit guy who's relentless on teams.
"I have a tough time believing these two young men can't contribute," Ryan said. "Maybe not as starters, but on this team just because of that makeup, that mindset. We talk about playing like a Jet and I think those two guys represent it."
"I wasn't sure I could've said Oday was going to be as impressive as he was," Ryan said, "but he decided in the offseason that he was going to become more physical and more passionate. And I see it on the practice field."
Another bull in the china shop at guard is fourth-rounder Dakota "Bull" Dozier. What Ryan liked about the new Double-D is the way he fought back after some recent adversity in team drills. "Every player gets beat sometimes," Rex said, "but you can tell a lot about a young guy. The good ones say, 'No, it's not happening again,' and they go harder. That's how Dozier came back. That's a real positive sign."
Another area with major back-end competition is cornerback, and Jeremy Reeves keeps throwing his hat in the ring with his celebrated Iowa State pro day athleticism. As Ryan said before the June minicamp: "That guy makes plays and so it's hard to ignore."
Evans started from behind in the WR competition due to his late-finishing semester at UCLA, and he was also fighting the ball when it came to him earlier this camp. But Saturday, Ryan said, "Shaq had a couple of nice catches, so that was good to see also."