Chance of a Lifetime
Expect the atmosphere around and about Weeb Ewbank Hall to be tense this weekend. The New York Jets 2006 rookie camp is scheduled to kick off Friday morning with an abundance of new faces taking the field, and nobody – from hyped-up draft picks to undrafted free agents - expects an easy ride.
Most of the media will swarm the big names of the first few rounds, as in D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Kellen Clemens and Anthony Schlegel. With this attention comes a lot of added pressure; not the pressure that they are used to from their college careers, but the pressure they now must face as pro athletes. These players are now all considered investments, and some more expensive than others.
The rest of the group, generally the undrafted free agents, has to elude a different form of pressure that comes with this opportunity. That is, making a name for themselves, and more importantly, making the most of the opportunity. Even though these players were not announced at Radio City, they are still viewed as assets; unfortunately for many, expendable assets.
In the past, undrafted free agents have undoubtedly proven draft boards askew in one way or another. Many of today's NFL elite's were mere whispers, if spoken at all, over their draft weekend. In 1997, the Ravens took a chance and signed Priest Holmes out of Texas, who is now going into his tenth season as a professional running back, with 10,980 total yards and 94 touchdowns to his name.
A late round draft pick who has made many coaches and scouts lose hours of sleep in just six pro seasons is New England QB Tom Brady. Brady, who led the NFL in passing last season, has found great statistical success, but has helped re-write the Super Bowl history books as well. The former 6th round pick from Michigan has a 10-1 postseason record including three Super Bowl victories, two of which, he was named MVP.
The Jets franchise has seen its share of players come out of the late rounds, even undrafted free agency, and make an impact. One of the most notable names to shine from the rough is frequently seen on the backs of Green and White replica jerseys throughout the country.
Wayne Chrebet, a wide receiver from Garfield, NJ, went unannounced in the 1995 draft. The Jets took a flyer on the 5'10", 180-pound Hofstra standout, signing him as an undrafted free agent following his silent weekend. Rather than let the pressure or adversity affect his psyche, Chrebet went into rookie camp with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
"You want to show them that it was their mistake not taking a chance on you," Chrebet said.
With that approach, Chrebet made a lasting impact in camp, which led to both instant and prolonged success in the NFL. He ended up starting in all 16 games his rookie season and finishing second in the league in rookie receptions. Chrebet battled in 12 seasons while in the NFL, racking up over 7,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. Now compare Chrebet's numbers to Michael Westbrook, the first wide receiver selected (4th overall by Washington) in the 1995 draft, whose career lasted just eight seasons, in which he totaled less than 4,500 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns.
A special year in which the Jets were pleasantly surprised in mini-camp came in 1983, with the emergence of a special teams two-headed monster, Jo Jo Townsell and Bobby Humphrey. Both former college wideouts certainly made the most of their big break, as Humphrey, a ninth round draft choice, and Townsell, a third round pick, served as premier returners in the NFL. Humphrey, a New Mexico State alum, racked up close to 3,000 career kick return yards, averaging 22.9 yards per return in his six-year career with the Jets. Townsell, a UCLA product, returned kicks at a rate of 20.9 yards per return on 1,360 punt return yards. He currently places third all-time for the NFL's longest punt return, a 91-yard touchdown in 1987 against Seattle.
Two Jets players who were given a slim shot during the 1993 rookie camp wound up gaining successfully lengthy careers with the organization. Victor Green, who went undrafted in 1993, was signed as a free agent out of Akron. Green spent eight seasons in the Jets secondary, turning in 24 interceptions, seven sacks and 964 tackles, which currently stands as the most stops ever by a Jets' defensive back. Richie Anderson was picked up in the sixth round of the '93 draft out of Penn State. As a fullback, Anderson was a receiving threat out of the backfield. On top of his ten touchdown catches, Anderson caught 305 passes for 2,449 yards (both stats rank him second in Jets history among running backs). He was voted to the Pro Bowl in 2000 after taking in a career-high 88 receptions.
Both Green and Anderson were adored by the Green and White faithful during their tenure in NY, and they were recently shown deserving gratitude from the Jets front office. Anderson was signed by former GM Terry Bradway in February of this year, in order to retire as a Jet and become the team's assistant wide receivers coach. Mike Tannenbaum, the club's first-year General Manager, offered Green a one-day contract so that he could retire as a Jet, the same team that offered him the chance to make his dream a reality.
"I am grateful to the Jets organization for giving me a chance 13 years ago as a rookie free agent, and now I am proud to retire as a Jet," Green said earlier this year. "I enjoyed my time in New York because of my teammates, coaches and most of all, the Jets fans. I appreciated their support on Sundays, especially hearing the J-E-T-S chant. They know I gave all I had each week. I am also looking forward to continuing my relationship with the Jets in some capacity."
A big chance on a small name certainly can go a long way for both a professional program as well as the professional player. This weekend, the New York Jets could be welcoming in the next Super Bowl MVP, Pro Bowler, or even a future coach. Their fate obviously lies on the field and not through their entry status.