It's been a long time in wideout years since Jason Brownlee led the Jets this preseason with 10 catches and 102 yards and was part of the heralded young WR class of 2023, which also included Xavier Gipson and first-year man Irv Charles, to make the 53-player active roster.
He barely played in the first nine games. Then when he did get offensive snaps and even the first few starts of his NFL career, it was hard to notice No. 16's contributions.
But Brownlee has kept to the time-honored path for rookie free agents sooner or later to make their marks in the league that pays.
"What I've learned the most about the NFL is just be patient, stay humble, stay grinding, and when the opportunity comes, you've got to take full advantage of it," Brownlee told newyorkjets.com's Ethan Greenberg this week. "That's what I've been doing, just staying patient and finally getting some playing time, trying to go out there and make plays for the team and be there for the guys."
Brownlee's first start came in the home game against Miami, an easy game for a young player to get lost in. He did log 57 offensive snaps and his first two pro receptions.
But it would take three more games, two of which he sat out due to an ankle injury, before getting on the TD map against the Commanders.
"If the linebacker blitzed, my route became hot, so automatically [Trevor Siemian] knew to throw it to me right there for an easy touchdown," Brownlee said of his 8-yard jaunt to the end zone for his first pro score a mere 4:34 into Sunday's festivities. "Garrett [Wilson] made the defender go over the top of him, so it really gave me enough room to catch it and turn up. I saw that blitz come off the edge and I knew it was coming to me so I just caught it and went on in."
So all went to plan ... except that he lost track of that personally significant pigskin that he carried across the goal line.
"Yeah, we got the ball back," he said with a smile. "I got too excited and I dropped the ball."
Brownlee is a Mississippian all the way, growing up in West Point, MS, and stopping at East Mississippi CC before finishing at Southern Miss, where he compiled 101 catches for 1,534 yards and 16 touchdowns his last two seasons. His work down south set the stage for the first part of his journey up north, coming to the Jets after the draft and making enough room for himself to stick around.
He is a part of the Jets' cadre of young players who have had an impact on the slow growth of the offense after Aaron Rodgers' opening-night Achilles injury.
"Brownlee gets his first touchdown, Xavier Gipson is becoming more and more of a player," head coach Robert Saleh said after the win over Washington, evaluating some of the names in his last two rookie classes. "Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall are still just second-year players and both were obviously major contributors, like they are every week. [Joe] Tippmann is a rookie, Carter Warren's a rookie, Jacob Hanson is trying to prove that he belongs.
"So there's a lot of youth on the offensive side of the ball that is just trying to find ways to get a little bit better and really kind of propel themselves into the 2024 season."
Underscoring Saleh's analysis, in the 30-28 win over the Commanders, 89% of the Jets' rushing yards , 83% of their receiving yards and all three touchdowns were produced by rookie and second-year players.
But Brownlee still have more work to do before that propulsion into the offseason, road games to play at the Browns and Patriots before he closes out his first Jets campaign.
"I just want to continue to play and learn, continue this experience and this journey," he said. "Taking advantage of all my opportunities, going out there and playing hard for my teammates and just leaving it all out there every play and every game."