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Through a Scout's Eye: Inside the Process of Selecting the 2024 Jets Draft Class

Stories written by Ethan Greenberg, Caroline Hendershot & John Pullano

The NFL Draft takes place over three days, but the college scouting process is eternal.

After the Jets landed seven players in April's Draft, GM Joe Douglas lauded his team that laid the groundwork.

"I can't thank our staff enough, coaching staff, scouting staff, analytics, football admin, trainers – everyone came together throughout this entire process. And I feel like we had a lot of fun over the weekend. We added a lot of quality players to this team and our types of guys, guys that we're all excited to add. So, I can't thank them enough.

"Obviously, so many miles traveled, crisscrossing the country away from your family and you miss some milestone moments as a scout. So, this is their weekend."

National scouts Jay Mandolesi and Dom Green, senior regional scout Johnathan Stigall, regional scouts Drew Morris and Andy Davis, and player personnel assistant Thomas Witty were several of the teammates behind the scenes who helped Douglas feel thoroughly prepared come selection time.

Below are seven stories, one per selection, that goes behind the curtain of the scouting process.



Story written by John Pullano

The dream of playing in the NFL starts at a young age for most players hoping to hear their names called on draft day as early as possible. Players, as a result, will often leave school without their degree, which was never an option for Jets rookie left tackle Olu Fashanu.

Fashanu, the No. 11 overall pick last April, chose to fulfill his promise to his mother to receive his degree before living his dream as an NFL player.

"In my opinion, he was one of the best tackles last year," national scout Jay Mandolesi said. "I think a lot of people were surprised when he decided to go back, but you talk about a young man that has his priorities straight. He saw an opportunity to refine some of his game. He wasn't looking to just jump to the league and he knew what he had to do to get a little better."

Fashanu, 21, was also a late bloomer in football years. He first put on pads as a freshman at Gonzaga College High in Washington, D.C., a short drive from his hometown of Waldorf, MD. Throughout elementary and middle school, his plan was to play basketball in high school. He played on an AAU travel team until he was 16.

Fashanu made the switch to football his first year at Gonzaga and fell in love with playing on the offensive line. He would often retreat to the film room during lunch to study tape of Jets LT Tyron Smith, among others.

He sprouted to 6-6 as a sophomore and quickly became one of the most intriguing lineman prospects in the country with his blend of size and athleticism. As a junior, Fashanu blocked for QB Caleb Williams, the No. 1 pick by the Bears in last April's NFL Draft. Fashanu helped the Eagles to a 9-win season, earning first-team All-Conference and All-Metro honors.

A three-star prospect by the time he graduated, Fashanu was cast as a project because of his inexperience on the field, but most of the blue-blood college programs valued his potential. He received offers from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Michigan and Ohio State, but he ultimately signed to play at Penn State for head coach James Franklin.

"To me, he's the model Penn State football player," said Franklin, who's coached the Nittany Lions since 2014. "I think he's one of these guys, whatever he wanted to do he could be successful. He's just that type of guy, a tremendous leader. You guys are going to love him on the field, there's no doubt in my mind he's going to get the job done."

Fashanu made his first start as a redshirt freshman in the Outback Bowl, playing 64 snaps and not allowing a pressure. He became the full-time starter the following season and earned second-team All-American honors.

"It was 2022, Olu's first real year and you get out to the practice field and see big number 74 and, I mean, right away, you're like, 'Alright, who's that guy?'," player personnel assistant Thomas Witty said. "And then you see him play a few games, you turn on the tape and you see him move and you get really excited about the player. And then you hear about the person he is, too, and you just couldn't say enough good things about him."

After his redshirt sophomore season, Franklin urged him to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft.

"I sat down with his family and advised that he should leave," Franklin said. "His mom [Paige] said, 'Thank you, we appreciate your recommendation, but he planned on being in college for four years. He's not leaving without a degree.' She told me Olu is coming back and I said, 'Yes ma'am.'

"The pressure was on me. I had to put Olu in a position to get better, to go from being a first-round pick to a top-15 pick, to graduate and keep him healthy."

In what some would consider to be a risky move in the NFL world, Fashanu's decision paid off. He was named a consensus All-American, Big Ten offensive lineman of the year, first team All-Big Ten and team MVP this past season.

"2022 was essentially his first year as a starter for them and his year ended with an injury," said Witty, referring to Fashanu's meniscus injury that caused him to miss the final five games. "He showed some great flashes in '22, but putting it together over an entire season showed you that he can do it again, and I think it shows that he's going to be able to do it at our level as well."

In addition to his success on the field, he earned his degree in supply chain and information systems from the Smeal College of Business and was a finalist for the 2024 William V. Campbell Trophy, referred to as the academic Heisman.

"He is outstanding young man overall, and I think last year is what makes him so special," Mandolesi said. "As we went through this process, there were very few holes in terms of the person, the player and his. He played at a high level. He's been productive. He's smart, he's tough. He's everything we look for to bring into our organization."

After signing Smith, the eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time first team All-Pro, in free agency, the Jets are hoping their first-rounder will be Smith's successor. But they're confident he can be thrown into the fire, too.

"Olu is the perfect guy to learn, too," Mandolesi said. "He's going to soak it all in. He's going to be a professional. He's going to wait his turn. Ultimately, you can never have enough offensive linemen and when you have a 21-year-old left tackle, you jump on it."



Story written by Caroline Hendershot

Some young receivers can be cast with stereotypes of being flashy and shy of contact.

Jets third-round pick Malachi Corley is the antithesis.

"A lot of receivers go down fairly easy," Jets national scout Dom Green said. "This guy doesn't. He's looking to punish people. He plays hard, he plays tough, he plays physical."

Corley, nicknamed the "YAC King," put himself on the radar in the 2022 season at Western Kentucky with 101 receptions, 1,293 yards and 11 touchdowns while imposing his will on defenders and forcing 40 missed tackles. His 975 yards after the catch were 292 more than the next-closest FBS receiver.

"I know it's been documented, but he'll run over a relative if he has to," national scout Jay Mandolesi said. "We feel like Malachi is a kid that when the game is on the line or when the ball is in his hands, he wants to win. That's what we want, and he's got that. That sense of urgency in his mind that he wants to be the best.

"From the scouting staff to the coaching staff, this was a player that it felt like everyone in the building had a feel for. We love the way the kid plays. We love him with the ball in his hands. We love his mentality."

Corley is set to begin his NFL career in the nation's biggest city, but he comes from smalltown roots.

He grew up a multisport athlete (baseball, basketball and football) in Orange City, FL, which is 30 miles north of Orlando. His mother, Latonya Bridgewater, moved to Campbellsville, KY, to be closer to her sister, who attended Campbellsville University on a volleyball scholarship. Corley and the rest of the family relocated six months later.

It didn't take him much time to acclimate to his new surroundings as he earned a spot on the varsity team as a freshman where he played wildcat quarterback, receiver, cornerback and returner.

Corley was named District Player of the Year in 2018 and '19. He had 94 tackles and more than 2,500 all-purpose yards as a junior before a 21-touchdown senior season where he earned third-team All-State honors.

Despite a decorated high-school career, he was overlooked. He graduated from a small school (his senior class had 250 students) and played in the lowest class level in Kentucky (1A). Corley, who became the first football player in his high school's history to sign with a D1 program, only received 10 collegiate offers, with Western Kentucky being the only FBS school.

"A lot of receivers go down fairly easy. This guy doesn't. He's looking to punish people.” Jets national scout Dom Green

As you'd expect, more prominent college programs tried to poach Corley from WKU during his time in Bowling Green. He had offers up to $400,000 in NIL, but his loyalty remained with the team that first believed in him.

"I was never in it for the limelight or for the fame or for any of that," he said. "I love ball and I love communication, I love relationships. And the people of Campbellsville and Western Kentucky gave me that love, that support, that home, that heartwarming energy that you want. People that wanted to see you grow as a human being and as a person more so than just a football player, so that's why I stayed at Western."

In addition to his rare commitment, Corley's tape is unique -- defenders bounce off him like pinballs.

"I mean, the guy's a highlight film," said Jets senior regional scout Johnathan Stigall. "Watching him, you get the ball in his hands and he's going to be productive. He's so tough and competitive."

Green added: "There isn't one play [that stands out] because his tape is really consistent. He is a smalltown guy from Campbellsville, Kentucky, that has kind of earned his way and climbed through the ranks so to speak. … He's loyal, he's tough, he's smart."

Before the draft, Corley was forced to, again, prove his worth. The former two-star recruit left Western Kentucky with a school-record 259 receptions. Now, he had to prove his chops as a route runner -- 75.7% of his 79 catches last season came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Corley accepted his Senior Bowl invite and, for the final time, put on a Hilltoppers helmet. In front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams, including Stigall, and Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who coached the National team that Corley was on, he continued to check off boxes.

"It was big," Stigall said. "The offense they run [at Western Kentucky], he doesn't run a lot of pro-style routes. So, putting him in a position to do that, he did well.

"You could see the speed, the strength, the quickness, and the hands. Our league is physical and he's not going to shy away from any of that. His mindset is catch the ball and find the endzone, and he did a good job of that. I thought he had a good Senior Bowl week."

Pro comparisons, perhaps unjustly, are often handed out like fliers throughout the pre-draft process. Most evaluators see Corley (5-11, 215) through a similar lens as 49ers' first-team All-Pro WR Deebo Samuel (6-0, 215). Samuel, like Corley, has a reputation of being a headache to tackle. Coincidentally, they both played in the Senior Bowl.

"I'm not going to say [Corley's] a running back, but he's got that running-back mentality," Mandolesi said. "As soon as the ball gets in his hands, he's looking north-south. There's no east-west. I think the comment was most DBs don't want to tackle him, right? So, if we can just get him out in space and force people to tackle him, he's going to make a long day for those guys."

Head coach Robert Saleh overlapped with Samuel in San Francisco for Samuel's first two seasons when Saleh was the 49ers defensive coordinator.

"Deebo is a special player, so I don't know if I want to compare him to anyone," Saleh said. "If there's one thing [Corley] does unbelievably, when the ball is in his hands, he makes DBs pay. He fights for extra yards. He's a guy that doesn't run out of bounds. I joked with Joe [Douglas] that if he had a relative sitting at the goal line, he is going to run him over, too."



Story written by Ethan Greenberg

If you were to guess what position Jets rookie Braelon Allen plays based on his stature, running back wouldn't be the first. You may not guess it at all.

"I mean, he's built like a Mack truck," regional scout Drew Morris said. "I might be dating myself a little bit, but he looks like he should be on the cover of the old video game NFL Blitz. I met him as a 17-year-old freshman or maybe even a little before that. The first time you go out to practice, you see this guy and how big he is and then he's just continued to get bigger over the last three years."

Allen, 20, is the youngest player in the NFL. He was born on January 20, 2004, 12 days before Tom Brady won his second Super Bowl with the Patriots. Paul Hackett, the father of current Jets OC Nathaniel Hackett, was the Green & White's offensive coordinator in '04, calling plays for a 10-6 playoff team led by QB Chad Pennington and RB Curtis Martin.

Most college prospects have room to fill out their frame after they're drafted, which could be frightening for defenders since Allen came in at 6-1, 235 pounds at the NFL Combine. The average height and weight of the 10 NFL linebackers with the most tackles in the 2023 season is 6-1, 234.7.

Allen, from Fond Du Lac, WI (about 90 minutes from Madison and 60 miles north of Milwaukee), has been on the fast track to the NFL since high school. Physically, he was squatting 515 pounds and power cleaning 405 pounds as a high school sophomore.

In the classroom, he took extra classes in the fall of 2020 since the football season was cancelled, and reclassified from the 2022 recruiting class to 2021. He signed with the Badgers at 16 years old in December '20. His final season at Fond du Lac High School, where he also won a wrestling national championship as a freshman and competed in track and field, was in the spring of '21 as a junior.

"I don't know if I've ever scouted anyone whose entire college career was as a teenager," Morris said. "I look at me and think about how I was at 17-, 18-, 19-years-old and think about having to handle all the publicity that was surrounding him. I just think that's an extremely impressive aspect to him. I think it's really prepared him well for coming into the NFL."

Allen arrived on campus in Madison in the summer of '21 with the intent to play safety. He was recruited by former Jets S Jim Leonhard to play the position with the potential to move to linebacker, something Jets All-Pro LB Quincy Williams did at Murray State.

"He was five-semester guy at Wisconsin, that's it," Morris said. "A lot of these guys are 10-plus semesters now with everything going on. So, I think there's a ton of upside and still room for him to grow, and even get better from what you saw at Wisconsin."

But things didn't go according to plan. The coaches kept Allen at running back because of depth concerns and he quickly established himself as the Badgers' bell cow. He led the team with 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries with an average of 6.8 yards per carry while earning freshman All-American honors.

"We always throw the term 'traits' around, but this guy has all the traits," Jets senior regional scout Johnathon Stigall said. "His strength and his body build, especially for that position, the ability for it to hold up with all the wear and tear and hits that he's going to get and has taken, he's shown he can do that. He was 245 pounds when I went to see him in August and it was a pretty amazing looking 245. It wasn't a sloppy one at all."

It's easy to fall into the trap that Allen is purely a bruiser -- 69.5% of his 984 yards last season came after contact -- but his finesse stands out, too.

"For a guy that size, being able to move through the bags and change direction that the way, I think probably one of the most underrated parts of his game," Morris said.

His receiving skills aren't shabby, either. Allen had a single drop on 30 targets in the 2023 season and finished his collegiate career with 49 receptions. He flashed the gloves in OTAs, too, and snatched a 35-yard pass from Tyrod Taylor out of the air in 7-on-7.

"In terms of him as a player, the size is going to stand out," Morris said. "The strength, the power, the ability to break contact, I think that's something that he was able to do from freshmen year on. Outside of that, he's improved a ton in the passing game, both as a pass protector and as a receiver catching the ball out of the backfield. I think that's one of the most evident things that you see from watching him as a freshman to watch and now."

"I might be dating myself a little bit, but he looks like he should be on the cover of the old video game NFL Blitz." Jets regional scout Drew Morris


Story written by John Pullano

Playing quarterback is the most challenging position in sports. Identifying which QB to draft involves many factors.

In the case of Jordan Travis, he'd been on the Jets' radar years before he emerged as the leader of the undefeated Seminoles last season.

"I went down to Tallahassee three seasons ago and [Travis] immediately checked a lot of the boxes," Jets regional scout Andy Davis said. "I want the schools to really rave about a kid and it's hard to find anybody in that building that doesn't love Jordan Travis. We were big fans of him early."

Travis, a native of West Palm Beach, grew up watching Seminoles football. In recent years, Florida State was led by E.J. Manuel, drafted No. 16 overall in 2013, and Jameis Winston, drafted No. 1 overall in 2015. Travis wanted to become next in line to lead the Garnet & Gold, but never received an offer.

A three-star recruit, Travis committed to Louisville and played in three games before he decided to transfer. The door opened for him to wear the uniform he grew up admiring on TV and he officially committed to FSU.

"I want the schools to really rave about a kid and it's hard to find anybody in that building that doesn't love Jordan Travis. We were big fans of him early." Jets regional scout Andy Davis

Adversity, however, bookended Travis' career in Tallahassee.

Head coach Willie Taggart was fired after a 4-5 start in 2019, Travis' first season. Florida State hired Mike Norvell as Taggart's replacement in 2020 and three-and-a-half seasons later, Travis left as the school's record-holder with 10,665 yards of total offense and 99 total touchdowns.

"Mike Norvell identified Jordan as a guy that could change their program, and he did just that," national scout Jay Mandolesi said. "They had a lot of skill players that came in from other schools and Jordan was the one that brought them all together and really got that offense rolling. He's a kid that, through the process, just kept getting better."

Between the Covid-shortened 2020 season and the full 2021 season, Travis started 14 games, throwing for 21 touchdowns and more than 2,500 yards, running for 14 more TDs despite missing 3 games due to injury.

In 2022, Travis threw for 3,214 yards, 24 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and ran for 7 touchdowns to earn second team All-ACC honors.

He saved his best for last, his sixth collegiate season, as Travis helped Florida State stake its claim as one of the nation's best teams.

Davis, watching Travis live for the first time since meeting the signal-caller two years before, watched him lead FSU to a 45-24 win over then-ranked No. 5 LSU. The Tigers were quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, who would go on to be selected No. 2 overall by Washington in the NFL Draft.

In the early-season tilt, Travis threw for 342 yards and accounted for 5 touchdowns (4 passing, 1 rushing).

"He was lights out in that game," Davis said. "He had a bunch of really big plays. You saw the athleticism, the creativity and that was a tight game early on that they kind of separated from late in. So that was my initial exposure to Jordan this last season. It was a great first exposure in a huge game doing it in the kickoff classic in Orlando."

Travis had thrown for 2,755 yards, 20 touchdowns and 2 interceptions when things came to an end in a non-conference game on Nov. 18 against North Alabama. After rushing for 15 yards off of a run-pass option in the first quarter, Travis' leg got caught under a defender who tackled him. Writhing in pain on the grass of Doak S. Campbell Stadium, Travis' college career ended as did Florida State's chances to compete for a national championship.

"It's one of those moments you kind of remember where you were when it happened," Mandolesi said. "I remember watching on TV. Andy Davis and I were texting each other and you just felt for the kid. You felt for the program because you kind of knew like this was really going to hurt their chances. When Jordan went down, you knew they were going to get punished for it a little bit, but that just speaks to his value as a player."

The Seminoles went on to win their final two games with Travis watching from the sideline, but his injury did not stop him from supporting his team.

"You want to see how these guys respond to adversity," Mandolesi said. "And obviously, Jordan's injury was a terrible situation for him and the program with where they were in the season, but just the way he handled it was great. Sometimes guys have to go away for rehab or surgery or whatever it is, but he made sure he was around the team as much as possible. And for us, being a good teammate, especially through adversity, is huge."

Travis was named first-team All-ACC and left Florida State tied for No. 2 in school history in wins by a starting quarterback (28-10). He finished his career with 17 straight victories.

"Just as a player, he grew a ton from year to year," Davis said. "He is an outstanding athlete. He probably could have played receiver or safety. Obviously, he played quarterback at the college level, but he is just a real natural athlete."

Mandolesi added: "The athleticism was really intriguing to me personally. I think, at the quarterback position, things aren't always going to be perfect from a protection standpoint. Your receivers, you can't control if they're always going to get open. So, the ability to make things happen with your feet and get you out of some tough situations, I think that's an advantage for him."

General manager Joe Douglas said he wants the Jets to become the "quarterback factory" like the Packers of the 1990s, who had Brett Favre entrenched as a starter but added three quarterbacks in a six-year span -- Mark Brunell in Round 5 in 1993, Matt Hasselbeck Round 6 in '98 and Aaron Brooks Round 4 in '99.

Douglas turned in the card with the No. 171 overall pick.

"We feel like Jordan is built to learn," Mandolesi said. "Jordan can learn under Aaron [Rodgers] and Tyrod [Taylor] and we feel like Jordan is the best guy to sit back and learn and take it all in."

Davis added: "Through the process, you get to know him and we got to meet with him at the East-West game. He came on a 30 visit and the coaches spent a lot of time with him, but you feel like this kid's got the intangibles that if we're going to take a shot on a guy to learn under Aaron and Tyrod, this is the guy."



Story written by Ethan Greenberg

NFL scouts are tasked with finding needles in a haystack.

How they come across those needles varies. For Drew Morris, a Midwest scout entering his ninth year with the Jets and seventh year as a scout, South Dakota State RB Isaiah Davis came across his radar on TV.

"In 2021, they played in the spring because of Covid," Morris said. "South Dakota State played Sam Houston State in the [FCS] national championship game and that was when we were still mostly at home scouting. I was actually at my in-laws house watching a game with my father-in-law. That was the only football really on at the time and in the spring.

"So, I'm watching and there's this big freshman out there, Isaiah Davis. He's returning kickoffs, he's having a ton of explosive runs. That was really the time where I was like, 'Wow. This guy's got something to him,' and I've been able to follow him since."

Davis led all rushers with 178 yards and 3 touchdowns, including an 85-yard score, on 14 carries in a 23-21 national championship loss. He also averaged 28.5 yards per kick return on four attempts. The freshman quickly became a factor on the Jackrabbits' offense in a backfield that included Pierre Strong, drafted by the Browns in the fourth round in 2022.

Two seasons later, Davis, a 0-star recruit from Joplin, MO, was a first-team All-American, led the FCS with 1,578 rushing yards and was named a team captain. His 54 carries of 10-plus yards led all FBS and FCS players and half of his 24 100-yard games came in the playoffs.

"I really think the most impressive thing about Isaiah Davis is his ability to close out football games for South Dakota State," Morris said. "Those teams played with a lot of leads. Hey, a team might come back, score a touchdown to get within one score. But then they hand it to Isaiah Davis, and he would just continue to turn out first down after first down after first down and then boom -- he breaks a 30-yard touchdown. Watching that guy close out so many football games for South Dakota State over the years, he seems to get stronger throughout the game."

Film is the primary part of the complex equation when evaluating college prospects. Another part is scouting the person. Davis made an impact on several scouts for the Green & White, but perhaps none more than Dom Green, a national scout who lives in Mississippi. Davis was Green's red-star prospect, a scouting nomination that was originated by former Cowboys scout Ron Marciniak.

Marciniak worked for the Ravens in the late 1990s with a group that included Hall of Fame GM Ozzie Newsome and Phil Savage, the senior football advisor to Jets GM Joe Douglas. Marciniak scouted Nebraska QB Scott Frost, who was drafted by the Jets in the third round in 1998.

"Ron just blurted out to our GM Ozzie Newsome, 'Hey Ozzie, this guy would be my red star,' " Savage said. "That really resonated because Scott Frost wasn't a first-round pick. So we came up with the idea of every scout should be able to nominate a red star from their area or their respective schools that's not necessarily the most talented or best player, but maybe the best person in terms of when he comes in, he's going to be at every practice, he's going to make every lift, he's going to be in the front row of the meetings, he's going to be a coach on the field, if you will. He's going to check every box from an intangible standpoint, internally."

Green explained of his red-star selection: "[Davis] weathered a lot. He weathered a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, when he was nine. Him and his family lost everything and he had to overcome that. He wound up being Missouri's Gatorade Player of the Year his senior year but didn't have a lot offers. He was a small-school guy and had two offers coming out of high school, so he wasn't highly touted, Mr. Five-Star or anything like that. He's just a guy that has got a great makeup."

Even though Davis ended his college career as one of the most prolific backs in SDSU history, his first impact on the pro level could be on special teams.

During Morris' two years working at One Jets Drive before he took to the road as a scout, he would often pop into special teams coordinator Brant Boyer's office, something he still does when he's in Florham Park for meetings. Now separated by more than 900 miles, Morris will tag prospects for Boyer to watch. Davis was one of the first players this offseason.

"When I walked in there, I remember saying, 'Hey, I really like this guy from South Dakota State as a potential special teamer and he's like, 'Yeah, I really liked him, too,' " Morris said. "I think he gives you the ability to go back there as a returner. That's something that he's done. He also has the ability to be one of those frontline guys. He's going to block on kickoff, he can cover kickoffs. He's a guy who can protect on punt team, he's a guy who can take a block or set a blocker and go down the field, he's got the speed to cover it.

"I think Isaiah Davis is one of the steals of the draft in terms of getting him in the fifth round."

Morris was thrilled when he was told the Jets were going to select Davis, which came one round after they selected Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen, another player Morris scouted. While he received texts from fellow scouts, Morris was eager to tell his father-in-law about the full-circle moment that started when they were watching Davis with a beer on the couch.

"He was actually here for my daughter's birthday [in May] and I was like, 'Hey, remember that guy that we were watching? Well, that's the guy that we just drafted,' " Morris said. "He said, 'Yeah I remember that guy. He's got a little something to him.' So, he got a real good kick out of that one."



Story written by Ethan Greenberg

Rare may be the most accurate word to describe the road CB Qwan'tez Stiggers took to the NFL, but it still doesn't do it justice.

"This guy is why I love scouting and being able to be a part of some of these guys' stories of where they've come from and how they've gotten there," senior regional scout Johnathan Stigall said of Stiggers. "I mean, his story is unique."

Going from the Canadian Football League to the NFL isn't an uncommon path. Many former players have made that jump including quarterbacks Warren Moon and Joe Theismann or, more recently, pass rusher Cameron Wake. But Stiggers etched his name in football history and became the first player in the NFL to be drafted from the CFL.

His story isn't finished, but it began in Carey Park, GA, where he was a 0-star recruit at The B.E.S.T. Academy. After playing kicker, punter, wide receiver and defensive back at B.E.S.T, he accepted a scholarship offer to Lane College, a Division II school in Jackson, TN.

Stiggers never suited up for a collegiate game.

"This guy is why I love scouting and being able to be a part of some of these guys’ stories of where they've come from and how they've gotten there." Jets senior regional scout Johnathan Stigall

His excitement about continuing his football career appeared to end when his father, Rayves Harrison, was placed in a coma following a catastrophic car accident shortly after Stiggers signed his acceptance letter. Harrison died several months later, in September 2020, and Stiggers dropped out of school.

"Qwan'tez has a big family at home with a lot of siblings [13] and he felt he was the man of the house because he was the oldest," Stigall said. "He felt he needed to go home and work through things to help his mom out financially. So he did that. He never complained, he did everything there to help out."

Football was on the backburner as Stiggers' résumé grew. He worked at DoorDash, InstaCart and Blue Beacon truck wash plus sold cars and spent time as a mechanic.

He struggled with depression. He stopped working out and started eating ice cream. After six months moseying around the house, one of his 10 brothers threw cold water on his face.

"The words still stick with me today," Stiggers said in May at Jets rookie minicamp. "He told me nobody felt sorry for me. He was right. So I got up and started working and working out. Here we are."

Stiggers' mother, Kwanna, sensed her son still had a passion for football and signed him up to play in the Fan Controlled Football League, an indoor, 7-on-7 semi-pro league in Atlanta. That's where he crossed paths with John Jenkins, a former running back at Arkansas, who has been coaching football since 1977. As you'd expect for a man who's been coaching for more than 45 years, Jenkins has a deep Rolodex of contacts that extends to the CFL, where he coached for six teams, including the Toronto Argonauts as their offensive coordinator from 1997-98 and in 2001.

Stiggers packed up and headed north with the expectation of living on the roster bubble.

"He told me he went to camp and was making plays but thought at one point they were going to cut them because that's what they had told him up there," Stigall said.

Instead, he became the first defensive back since 1998 (Steve Muhammed) to win the Most Outstanding Rookie Award. He was also the league's youngest player at 20 years old.

"It's crazy how good he was up in the CFL," said college scout Drew Morris. "Most of the guys that are playing up in the CFL are guys that had an opportunity in the NFL. They went to a training camp. There are a lot of guys who ended up being drafted in the NFL and playing up there, guys who spent time on practice squads, guys who spent time on active rosters. And you got a guy who basically was playing in the Fan Controlled League a couple of months ago, going up to the CFL and winning Defensive Rookie of the Year."

The college scouts were first informed Stiggers was draft eligible on Dec. 20, so most weren't aware of or familiar with his game until the East-West Shrine Game in Frisco, TX. Like the Fan Controlled League and the CFL, Stiggers stood out quickly, partly because of the Cambridge Blue helmet only seen north of the border.

"We got to the East-West Shrine Game and I have the receivers as a crosscheck position," Morris said. "So, I'm obviously watching the receivers and it's a lot of one-on-ones and the guy in the Toronto Argonauts helmet is standing out a little bit at a corner, but I have a lot of receivers to watch. So, probably on Day 2, I go up to John Stigall and he has the corners as his crosscheck position. I go, 'Hey, that CFL guy, he looks pretty good, huh?' And John goes, 'He's the best cornerback here.'

"Then a little bit later, probably Day 3, I get a text that I'm going to be the primary [scout] on Qwan'tez Stiggers. Based on the fact that he didn't play college football, he doesn't really have a state that he falls into for any of us. Because I have the CFL background, they assigned him to me."

Morris worked four seasons for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, one as a regional scout (2012) and three as a national scout (2013-15). That's when he met Vince Magri, who was the Argonauts' assistant general manager when Stiggers played in Toronto. The two met up after one of the East-West practices to go over Stiggers' background.

After an impressive performance under the microscopic eye of NFL scouts, Stiggers was not one of the 321 prospects invited to the NFL Combine considering most of the invite list had been determined before Stiggers was declared eligible. Instead, he held his own Pro Day at a local high school in Atlanta that Jets' national scout Jay Mandolesi attended. It was Mandolesi's third Pro Day of the day (Kennesaw State in the morning, Georgia Tech in the afternoon) before a six-hour drive home to Raleigh, NC.

"He was the only one there," Mandolesi said. "We had to kind of make sure he caught his breath. He ran a 40-yard dash, walked back to the start and ran a second 40. He didn't have like 30 guys in between (like at the Combine). Actually, school was still in session.

"When we went to go do height, weight and the bench press, there was a gym class going on. Then we went out to the field and I think school got dismissed, so a bunch of the kids came out. It was really cool seeing the support that he had, but he had a great workout. Caught the ball really well, moved around really well. I filmed it with my cell phone (video below), so I could get it back to the office."

Stiggers has left his mark everywhere he's gone, including his top-30 visit with the Jets. When the Green & White turned in the card and called Stiggers to let him know they were selecting him No. 176 overall in April's NFL Draft, the usual suspects offered their congratulations and words of encouragement such as Chairman and CEO Woody Johnson, general manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and cornerbacks coach Tony Oden. There was one, however, not-so-usual suspect – Robert Mastroddi, vice president, security and facilities operations.

"They always save the best for last, so they got me on the phone with you now," Mastroddi told Stiggers while fighting back tears. "You really impressed a lot of people. As a matter of fact, I'm getting emotional now. Listening to you in my office for those 15 minutes was incredible. We're looking for you to do some good things for us here and joining the team.

"We're really happy about this. You come see me when you get here."



Story written by Caroline Hendershot

Mr. Irrelevant.

That's what the last pick in the NFL Draft has been called since the nickname was first used in 1976.

Before choosing whom to select as Mr. Irrelevant, something Jets general manager Joe Douglas had not done since he entered the league in 2000, how did he decide what sets him apart from an undrafted free agent?

"He's been given nothing and had to earn everything," Douglas said after he made Key the 48th Mr. Irrelevant. "The right kind of warrior makeup, mentality and perseverance that is going to help him here and in life."

Key's determination has been his north star from being the No. 327 recruit out of Florida to clawing his way up from the bottom of the depth chart in future Hall of Fame coach Nick Saban's defense at Alabama.

Key's football journey started at East Gadsden High School where he played defensive back and wide receiver on varsity as a freshman. He transferred to Amos P. Godby High School in Tallahassee for his senior season and primarily played free safety and nickel, finishing with 28 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception, which he returned for a touchdown.

A three-star recruit and the No. 155 safety in the 2018 recruiting class, Key earned scholarship offers from South Alabama, Southern Miss and UCF, but he committed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That's where Jets regional scout Andy Davis first saw Key.

"Going through there, they had some players that were prospects," Davis said. "You see Jaylen on the field, he obviously looks the part and you're like, 'Alright, that looks like an NFL player.' You start talking to position coaches and staff there and they love him and say he's a great kid."

Key's breakout season at UAB came as a redshirt junior in 2022. He had 60 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 pass defenses, 2 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions in 13 games. With a coaching change on the horizon, Key felt it was best to transfer for his final collegiate season.

"I believe Coach [Trent] Dilfer at UAB is an amazing coach and he's going to do an amazing job over there," Key said. "For me, it was just knowing that there were better opportunities out there for me to be able to improve my game. My overall thing going into the portal was if I'm going to do it, I'm going to go against the best talent in the country every day."

"Going through [UAB], they had some players that were prospects. You see Jaylen on the field, he obviously looks the part and you're like, 'Alright, that looks like an NFL player.' " Jets regional scout Andy Davis

Where could a safety transfer to compete against the best talent in the country? Some say LSU is "DBU" (Defensive Backs University) while others would say Florida State or Ohio State. The answer for Key, however, was always clear. He wanted to play under one of the most successful football coaches at the University of Alabama and receive his "Nick-Saban education" -- the Crimson Tide had finished No. 1 in the CFP rankings in three of the five seasons Key played at UAB.

"It was really like a remarkable situation," Davis said of Key's transfer. "He's obviously transferring to a huge program where defense is an emphasis and Jaylen didn't have another year [of eligibility]. For him, that's a big gamble to go make that move. It's like, 'I'm either going to play or I'm going to waste a year of my eligibility here.' I thought it was remarkable that he made the transfer, got there, and was able to earn the trust of the coaching staff and Coach Saban to get on the field right away."

Key walked on to Tuscaloosa's campus as the sixth and last safety on the depth chart. He started Week 1.

What caught the attention of Dom Green, a national scout for the Jets, was when Key didn't miss a beat after he underwent surgery following the season opener against Middle Tennessee.

"Early in the year, I went to the Texas game and he had just had surgery," Green said. "He played the week before, had surgery on his knee, and didn't miss a game. That is the type of kid we're talking about here. I went to the Texas game to watch him play and I could tell he clearly wasn't 100%, but he was out there playing and did a really good job for them."

In Key's second game playing for Bama, he posted 7 tackles against the Longhorns in a 34-24 loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium with Green in attendance.

"He started learning Nick Saban's system really, really fast, which is really hard to do because it's very complicated," Green said of Key. "He wound up being a good player for them and had a great season."

Key finished the season with 60 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 2 pass defenses and 1 interception. While Alabama's season didn't and the way Key had imagined (27-20 semifinal loss in the Rose Bowl to the eventual national champion Michigan Wolverines), his one-year stop at Alabama made an impression on the Jets' scouts.

"He is a good athlete," Davis said. "He's versatile, he's big, he's strong and has good arm length. I think he's a physical kid. He plays under control. He can play the deep part of the field and he can play near the line of scrimmage because of his frame and that allows him to do both. Really, he's a high motor, smart player."

Key, the 257th and final pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, is hoping he can find his path to professional football relevancy.

"You just have to take it and lean into it," Key said of the title. "I'm definitely going to lean into it, every bit of it. I'm the Mr. Irrelevant this year and we're going to make something shake for sure."

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