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Having looked at some of the players signed to futures deals since the end of the regular season, we'll this week be taking a look at two players added to the roster late last year to assess their chances of making the roster and contributing in 2017.
Running back Brandon Wilds was a rookie out of South Carolina and tight end Eric Tomlinson was in his second year out of UTEP. Both made their first NFL appearance with the Jets down the stretch in 2016.
The 23-year old Wilds consistently averaged over 4.5 yards per carry at South Carolina, racking up over 2,400 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns in four seasons. While he had a few 100-yard games, he failed to exceed 600 rushing yards or four touchdowns in any given season. Last year he signed with Atlanta and rushed for 86 yards on 21 carries in the preseason, with two touchdowns, and then gained 47 yards on 12 touches in limited regular-season action with the Jets.
Tomlinson, 24, was more of a blocking specialist than a pass catcher in college, but caught a career-high 30 passes during his junior year. He signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent, but was released in final cuts and ended up on Houston's practice squad throughout the 2015 season. They released him in final cuts after preseason. He ended up starting five of his seven games with the Jets but did not catch a pass.
As noted, Tomlinson has primarily been employed as a blocking specialist and that continued to be the case once he joined the Jets. Wilds lines up outside or in the slot from time to time and had a lot of success taking direct snaps and running the ball out of the wildcat in college.
Wilds has good size at 6 foot 1 and 220 pounds, but his workout numbers were mostly mediocre. Having said that, he posted a solid 36.5-inch vertical jump and displays some impressive burst on film:
Tomlinson also has good size at 6 foot 6 and 265 pounds but his athletic numbers are poor. He posted a disappointing 19 reps on the bench press, although he has no doubt been working to improve his strength since entering the league.
Neither player seems to have any off-field concerns. An apparent controversial tweet by Wilds turned out to be a hoax.
Tomlinson battled through some minor injuries during his senior year, which contributed to a drop-off in his statistical production and perhaps to his going undrafted. Wilds was released with an injury settlement by Atlanta following a knee injury in the preseason and missed time due to elbow and head injuries in college.
While neither player is considered a major special teams contributor, they each saw action there with the Jets. Tomlinson proved that he could be an asset as a blocker on return units, while Wilds played some coverage but didn't make any meaningful contributions. Wilds only returned one kickoff in college.
On-field ability - Brandon Wilds
Wilds impresses with his ability to finish runs with power and is effective at planting his foot and cutting upfield, suggesting he might fare well within a system that features a lot of stretch/zone runs. He's not particularly elusive, but does have enough speed to turn the corner and break out to the second level. He also flashes the ability to make defenders miss in the hole.
As a pass catcher, he had modest production in college, mostly on dump-offs. He had a 30-yard touchdown on a downfield throw but that came on a gadget play where the receiver took the snap and Wilds leaked downfield with the defense anticipating a run. He had a nice first down on a dump-off pass for the Jets.
One area where Wilds needs to develop is in pass protection. He had issues with that at times in college and gave up a couple of sacks with the Jets last year. These seemed to be more down to confusion and reacting slowly than poor technique or being overmatched physically.
On-field ability - Eric Tomlinson
Tomlinson has graded out well as a blocker in college and preseason action, showing some of those traits with the Jets. They ran multiple plays requiring him to sustain his block on the edge and he was able to display some good strength and nastiness. He lacks experience as a pass blocker though, and he was beaten a few times in the 49ers game.
Tomlinson hasn't been a productive pass catcher, although his first-ever preseason game saw him rack up five catches for 61 yards, mostly over the middle. While he did show good hands and an ability to get open underneath and break tackles in that game, Tomlinson has caught just two passes for 10 yards in his 14 regular and preseason appearances since then. There was also a pass off his fingertips that was almost intercepted.
Wilds doesn't appear to be at the forefront of anyone's mind in terms of competition for roles at the running back position, with some experts even predicting that the Jets could spend a high pick on a running back even though the team has both Bilal Powell and Matt Forte under contract. While he's shown some ability, he'll need to maximize his chances in camp to get more than a cursory look.
Tomlinson, on the other hand, established himself as an asset to the running game in the second half of last season and might be able to carve out a role for himself as a cheap blocking specialist. While he seems to be a one-dimensional player, he certainly provided the team with an upgrade in one of their weakest areas last year, so he could prove valuable.