It may have felt as if Tony Adams came from out of nowhere at the end of the Jets' season. In reality, the Jets safety came from out of five seasons at Illinois as an undrafted rookie free agent and spent six of his first 11 pro games deactivated and the other five playing almost exclusively on special teams. All of which is located just down the road from nowhere.
But Adams has a belief in himself that helped him realize one of his two goals for the season, which he wrote down before the start of training camp in July: Make the 53-man roster. Indeed, for the season opener against Baltimore, Adams was the only undrafted rookie in uniform for the Jets.
His belief also helped see him over some early bumps in the road.
"I think the word to describe my first year is resiliency," he said after the Jets' season concluded. "It kind of started not going so well. ... Well, I wouldn't call it not going so well, but I needed to develop so it took time. I went from active to inactive, active sometimes again. Then I started really picking up a groove. I think it trended upward toward the end of the year."
It sure did. Adams played in the final six games, and when a hip injury felled Lamarcus Joyner for three games and most of a fourth, he was thrown into the action. He received 60 defensive snaps at Seattle, then fulfilled the second of his two goals when he got his first pro start, alongside S Jordan Whitehead in the season finale at Miami.
"I was ready for the moment. I spent a lot of time with Lamarcus," he said. "We had a lot of talks and he taught me a lot. Just listening to Marcus, listening to Brick [coordinator Jeff Ulbrich], I learned a lot throughout that process. So when my time came, I was ready for it."
Adams' pressbox stats don't say a lot about his season. The 6-0, 205-pounder had a sweet fourth-quarter, third-down pass breakup against 6-4, 254-pound TE Dawson Knox that produced multiple high-fives from the Jets sidelines in the wet snow of Buffalo. Then with the increased playtime in the final two games, he added a pair of six-tackle performances.
But Pro Football Focus's grading system dives deeper to uncover a fairly impressive distinction for Adams. This season, nine undrafted NFL rookies logged 100-plus defensive snaps and 100-plus special teams snaps. Of those nine, Adams drew the highest PFF grades both for defense (69.5, 22nd among 105 rookies) and teams (82.2, 12th among 111 rookies). Not bad at all for a UdFA.
"I think every year I surprise myself," he said. "It's God, it's hard work, it's discipline, it's attention to detail, like Lamarcus always teaches me."
And Adams will be pleasantly surprised if a team goal of his for next season comes true.
"Hopefully, everyone comes back," he said about his defensive mates, some of whom can and will test the free agency waters beginning in March. "I'm praying for it because I love them boys. I lay it all on the line for them. This is the first time ever in my life that I felt like I was part of a brotherhood. I was playing with those guys, meeting with those guys every day, laughing, talking, bickering.
"So I know if we all come back, this thing is going to be special. It's going to be really special."