Between now and training camp, we've been looking at some of the veteran players on the Jets roster to assess their potential contributions to the team in 2016. Today, we're going to share the first part of a two-part look at the six players still with the team who were part of last year's rookie class but have yet to make their NFL debut. Which, if any, of these players can we expect to make contributions this season?
We'll start today with a look at the three offensive players that fit into this category: Quarterback Bryce Petty, offensive lineman Jarvis Harrison and fullback Julian Howsare. In part two, we'll look at the three defensive players: Defensive lineman Deon Simon and linebackers Deion Barnes and Taiwan Jones.
Petty was selected in the fourth round of last year's draft, but most people projected he'd be at least a year, if not more, away from contributing. Petty had an excellent senior year at Baylor, but their offense is a college-style spread. Reports indicated there was a big learning curve for Petty in terms of learning pro-style concepts and terminology, but he was regarded as having an NFL arm and good mobility.
While he never saw action, Petty spent the entire 2015 season on the Jets' active roster and suited up a couple of times, however he was inactive for most of the season. He was active in the first two weeks as the No. 2 quarterback and also in Week 3, as the Jets had three quarterbacks active following the return of Geno Smith from injury.
My fear for Petty was he would be seriously out of his depth in preseason, but he actually put together some solid numbers, led the team on some scoring drives and had some nice moments. His final numbers -- 27-of-45 for 270 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions -- were perfectly respectable, although they perhaps don't tell the full story.
In his first appearance, the Jets kept things very simple for Petty, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 50 yards. The next game saw him air it out a little more and he made some nice throws, including his first touchdown pass and a deep connection with Saalim Hakim. In his final game, he didn't get many chances to throw, but showed good chemistry with DeVier Posey, connecting with him four times including a 24-yard deep crosser that accounted for over half of his yards. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see him in the Bollinger Bowl because the Jets were deciding whether to retain Matt Flynn or Josh Johnson, and had resolved to share all the reps between them.
Despite his modest success, each of Petty's performances had a few shaky moments. He had a couple of risky throws that were almost intercepted, lost a fumble and missed a few throws in each game. He also had issues with throwing late, failing to put enough touch on short passes and one occasion when he was sacked because he was oblivious to an unblocked rusher off the edge.
While there were a lot of things to nit-pick, one positive thing from Petty's performances was he wasn't making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again. Then again, this means he has lots of different areas in which he needs to be more consistent. It will certainly be interesting to see what kind of progress he's made based on how he performs in camp and preseason.
When the Jets drafted another raw quarterback in Christian Hackenberg in the second round this year, some people took this to be a bad sign for Petty's future. That's not necessarily the case because Petty was always viewed as a bit of a long shot with developmental potential, and that probably hasn't changed over the last 12 months. However, even though he's the No. 3 right now, it's probably fair to say that he has as much chance of being off the 53-man roster altogether as he does of seeing any action this season. He, like each of the players we'll be considering here, is still fully practice squad eligible.
Signs so far this offseason have not been particularly promising. ESPN New York's Rich Cimini named him as one of his "fallers" in an article about the risers and fallers at mini-camp.
Harrison was a fifth-round pick last year and began the season on the active roster. Eventually the Jets had to waive him because they were short on safeties, so needed a roster spot for Rontez Miles. Harrison cleared waivers and the Jets were able to sign him to their practice squad for the rest of the season and to a futures deal once the season ended.
Harrison's preseason campaign basically saw him pitted directly against Dakota Dozier. The pair played at guard on the third unit, with Harrison on the right side. It was interesting to compare them because Dozier was just about able to handle his assignments most of the time while not necessarily looking smooth or in control. Harrison, on the other hand, really looked the part when he got everything right, but was more prone to mistakes than Dozier.
Harrison showed an ability to pull or get out in front of a screen and to drive his man out of the play at the second level. However, there were times when he seemed unsure of his assignment and allowed his man to shoot a gap or get off his block to blow up a run. He didn't give up any pressure, and while it's a small sample size and against backups, that is definitely a positive sign.
On the play below, Harrison (wearing No. 64) does a good job of getting a surge to help Daryl Richardson get into the end zone. However, he perhaps doesn't finish the play as well as he might have:
Recent history perhaps bodes well for Harrison in that there have been some recent offensive linemen that didn't play as rookies, then started getting some playing time in their second season. Dozier saw his first action last year after having been stashed on the active roster throughout the 2014 season, and Oday Aboushi, a mid-round pick like Dozier and Harrison, started during the second half of his second season after also being a perpetual healthy scratch as a rookie.
The difference with Harrison was the team eventually exposed him to waivers and risked losing him by placing him on the practice squad. Maybe that means they weren't as high on him, although there was a serious need for roster room at the time due to injuries and protecting his rights by having him use up a spot was obviously a luxury they were prepared to forego. Brent Qvale, however, spent his entire rookie year on the practice squad before becoming a contributor last year, so Harrison is still potentially on a similar path.
Cimini named Harrison as one of his mini-camp "fallers" in the aforementioned article. Apparently he had been getting some work at right tackle and struggled in pass protection. With most of his work so far having been at guard, it's possible that was geared towards emergency duties rather than a permanent change though.
Howsare was an undrafted free agent defensive end and special teamer out of Clarion. The Jets opted to convert him to fullback in training camp, and he backed up Tommy Bohanon throughout preseason. He was added to the practice squad after not making the roster. However, unlike the other five players we're focusing on here, the Jets didn't retain his rights all season. They released him from the practice squad for a three-week period in the middle of the season before re-signing him to the squad for the rest of the year and then giving him a futures deal after the season.
Over the course of preseason, Howsare made encouraging progress. He didn't do much to stand out in the first couple of games, but made no obvious mistakes either and even caught a short pass out of the slot. In his third game, he made a good driving lead block on a short yardage play and in the final game, his consistency in terms of locating, locking onto and staying with his blocks was impressive and contributed to a 200-yard rushing day for the team.
Scroll back up to the gif above and you'll see how easily he drives his man out of the play, albeit away from the direction of the run.
Of course, that was all against backups, but with a year to prepare himself both physically and mentally for the role this time instead of a mid-camp transition, hopefully he can build on that progress.
It's understandable Howsare hasn't received much buzz this offseason since fullback is a position in which it's difficult to make an impact before the pads go on. From what we hear, Howsare is hopeful he'll get a chance to beat out Bohanon this season as long as the Jets opt to carry a full-time fullback on the roster. If he's continued to develop at the same rate he did last year, that's a possibility.
Of these three, Howsare has received the least fanfare, but he arguably has the best chance of becoming a contributor based on who is ahead of him. Even something as simple as a Bohanon injury could effectively hand him the No. 1 fullback spot, although he'd likely have to defend it against any other candidates whom the Jets bring in. While the fullback position isn't a major role within the Jets' offense right now, they did have a use for Bohanon against certain opponents.
As for Petty and Harrison, they were both considered projects and, as such, may never make it. Some draft experts regarded Harrison as a player with potential pro bowl level talent, but he had issues related to things like work ethic and attitude. If he can keep working hard, then perhaps he can deliver on his potential, but he has several players ahead of him in the battle for a spot. Petty, who has all the tools but lacks experience in a pro-style system, still seems like a long shot, and some believe he won't be with the team much longer. However, if he's progressed at all since last year, then he'll likely get more time to keep developing, whether with the Jets or another team.
Be sure to check in for part two where we look in more detail at the potential defensive debutants.