Click the BGA link at the top of the page to look back at some of the scouting work I've done on some of the other signings the Jets have made since the end of the season.
Griffin made his first NFL appearance with the Jets last December but did not feature on offense. Prior to that, he had been a last minute cut for the Bengals in 2011 and spent time with the Omaha Nighthawks in the UFL. He's listed at 5-11 and 208 and played his college football in the North East, with three years at Northeastern and one at UMass.
After the jump, I'll be reviewing his career so far and looking in detail at footage from the 2011 season to see what he's capable of and assess his chances of competing for a roster spot.
Who is John Griffin?
After just playing one year of football at high school (where he set school records with 25 touchdowns), Griffin played his first three seasons of college ball at Northeastern. After a Junior year where he rushed for over 1,000 yards and caught 25 passes, he transferred to UMass, where he would earn All-CAA Third Team honors, despite backing up Jonathan Hernandez. He would rush for 843 yards in 11 games, averaging five yards per carry.
After not receiving an invite to the scouting combine, Griffin put up some impressive numbers at his pro day, notably a 6.82 three cone drill time which was bettered by just one running back (Christine Michael) at this year's combine. His short shuttle, vertical jump and broad jump would all have also ranked in the top ten had he attended the combine this year, although his forty time (4.57) and bench press (19 reps) were about average or maybe slightly below. However, the shuttle and jump scores are seen as signs of how sharply he can change direction and his explosiveness, which are obviously useful assets for a running back. Despite these impressive numbers, he was undrafted in 2011 and signed as an free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although he was reportedly in the mix for a roster spot, he didn't make much of an impact in preseason and was one of the Bengals' final cuts. I'll be looking at footage of Griffin from the 2011 preseason later on. Griffin would spend the season with the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks, where he averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his first three games. At the end of the year, the Jets signed him to a futures contract and brought him to camp last year.
At camp, he turned heads and was thought to be in the mix for a roster spot with Shonn Green, Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight and Terrance Ganaway. Kristian Dyer wrote this after watching him at practice:
Griffin has good speed and feet and has shown some nice cutback ability. With the Jets looking for a change of pace back after Shonn Greene, Griffin’s ability to change directions and catch balls out of the backfield has created a bit of a buzz around Florham Park.
Unfortunately, Griffin suffered a high-ankle sprain which kept him out of action and the Jets released him with an injury settlement in August - before the first preseason game. This meant that, by rule, they were not able to re-sign him to the active roster until after Week 6, but we are told they kept lines of communication open and said they would consider bringing him back later in the season if they had room. In the meantime, the Jets added Jonathan Grimes in September and when that didn't work out, they signed Kahlil Bell to the active roster and Griffin to the practice squad in November. Griffin was told to get familiar with the playbook because they planned to activate him later in the year if things didn't work out with Bell and that proved to be the case as he lasted just two games and fumbled the ball against the Cards on his only touch.
(As a brief aside, my main reservation when the Jets signed Grimes was that he came from a zone blocking system in Houston that I anticipated would delay how quickly he'd be able to transition into the Jets offense. Ironically, had they stuck with him, he'd likely be a perfect fit for the system we're expecting them to run in 2013. Grimes re-joined the Texans, but they cut him and he got picked up by Jacksonville where he remains under contract).
Griffin featured on special teams only (nine plays) with the Jets, but looked pretty good getting down there and at least got a taste of the pro game. He remains under contract for the 2013 season, one of five tailbacks currently on the roster.
In terms of pro footage to potentially review, all we have to go on is the 2011 preseason footage, so let's look at that, then review what he brings to the table. (If you want to see some college footage, there are a couple of impressive highlight reels on youtube from 2010 and 2009).
Week One - at Detroit
In this game, he carried the ball twice for eight yards and was also given some work as a kickoff returner. He didn't look particularly good in that role, running right into a tackle at the 17 and losing a fumble on his first attempt and then running right into a tackler again at the 10 on his next attempt. On his first carry, he made a nice cut to pick up five and a first down on 2nd and 3. His other one saw him bounce to the outside, but he couldn't juke the tackler on the outside in the open field and was brought down for a three yard gain.
Week Two - at New York Jets
In this game, Griffin carried five times, gaining 14 yards, all in the fourth quarter. On his first carry, he had no chance as Ropati Pitoitua destroyed his blocker, so Griffin had nowhere to go. He showed good patience and toughness on his next carry as he initially had nowhere to go, so he bounced off his own man and dragged a defensive tackle for a couple of extra yards to make four yards out of nothing. His next carry was interesting, because he bounced outside and was one-on-one with Ellis Lankster on the outside. This was the kind of play that could have been stopped for no gain or could have gone for big yardage, but the two young Jets effectively played each other to a tie. Griffin did turn the corner, but Lankster managed to keep hold of him and drag him out of bounds for five. His next carry, on the next play, was probably his most impressive. His own man was driven into the backfield, but Griffin cut to avoid him and then made a cut again at the second level to avoid clean contact with Brodney Pool and keep going downhill so he could get to the marker for six yards. His last carry went for a loss as he showed some initial indecision and was tripped low. It looked like Griffin saw the hole here and was just about to burst through it when Kenrick Ellis got a paw on his ankle.
Other than his five carries, Griffin was also thrown to once, but the pass was low and out of his reach in the flat. He likely would have had a chance to pick up some yardage there because he looked to have had Garrett McIntyre, who had dropped off to cover him, well beaten. In pass protection, Griffin tried to make a cut block on one play, but it was ineffective.
Week Three - v Carolina
As is often the case in the third preseason game, the starters and primary backups got most of the reps here for the Bengals. Griffin got just one carry and was tackled for a loss as he was unable to avoid a virtually unblocked defensive end in the backfield.
Week Four - v Indianapolis
Conversely, in the final preseason game, Griffin got plenty of chances, carrying 10 times and catching one pass for a total of 37 yards. Six of those ten carries were stopped close to the line of scrimmage, although that was mostly due to bad blocking. He did show some indecisiveness on a couple of runs, but that may have been because he was waiting for some kind of hole to develop. A couple of the runs went to the outside and were stretched out all the way to the sideline by the defense and a couple more saw him just plow ahead up the middle. On another he almost slipped and one saw him start to cut back and then change his mind, giving the defensive back a chance to come up. He showed some flashes on his other four carries - a burst outside for six, a run off the edge following his blocks downhill for five, a six yard run on a 3rd and long draw play where he broke a tackle in the hole and drove ahead at the second level and an eight yard run where he slipped a tackle to get to the outside and then went out of bounds.
As a pass catcher, he had a nice play where he caught a pass underneath and avoided the first tackler to pick up eight yards. However, he dropped the ball in the flat on his other target. Griffin may also have missed an assignment on one play where the quarterback ended up rolling out on a broken play and missed a block that led to his quarterback getting hit on a quick pass. He did show good hustle to recover a fumble on one play though.
Overall, Griffin's numbers were not impressive - 50 yards on 18 carries - but a lot of that could be attributed to poor blocking in front of him. He did flash some burst, vision and shiftiness, but unfortunately wasn't able to get out to the second level where he could make an impression and improve his statistical productivity.
Unfortunately, we don't have a lot to go on because he wasn't able to make much of his limited opportunities in 2011 and didn't get a chance to play in preseason last year. However, there were plenty of positive comments about how he practiced from both the Bengals and the Jets and the fact that the Jets kept him in the system is obviously a sign that they do still see some potential in him.
Here's what running backs coach Anthony Lynn has to say about Griffin's chances:
He was really raw when he got here at first but I'm expecting John to really compete, not just be a camp guy but compete for playing time. He's a big back ... He's fast, he's quick, he can make people miss inline and he does some really nice things that I like.
In light of the Mike Goodson arrest, it will be interesting to see what their plans are for the running back position. If Goodson is to be released, which I understand is a possibility, then they will likely add another tailback to go into the offseason with five as they usually do. However, I would expect it to be a cheap young prospect rather than an established veteran. That being the case, Griffin would likely move up to fourth on the depth chart, which should see him get some opportunities in preseason. Before the Goodson arrest, Kimberley Martin of Newsday wrote a good article about Griffin's optimism despite the challenge ahead of him.
Barring injury, Griffin was seen as a long shot to make the roster, but now that Goodson's status could be up in the air, perhaps his chances have improved. Although he didn't stand out in preseason the way Chris Ivory did early in his career to earn a role, he did show some flashes and some of his college highlights are very impressive. Although it's a lower level of play, Griffin did rush for 96 yards on 17 carries (including several nice runs) against Michigan, a team whose defense featured several players currently under contract with NFL teams (eg 2nd round pick Jonas Mouton and new Jets guard William Campbell).
In order to have a shot at earning a role with the Jets, Griffin is going to need to create a niche for himself. He looks to be a natural pass catcher and, if they can get him into the open field - which is what this offense is supposedly designed to do for its backs - that seems to be where he can turn some heads. I haven't seen much from him in terms of pass blocking, but hopefully that's been something he's worked hard at over the last couple of years.
Griffin could be someone to keep an eye on, especially in light of Goodson's situation and Joe McKnight's recent comments. The competition this summer should be pretty good, even if they are a man down.