The Jets recently added defensive lineman Mike Catapano to their active roster. He played his first game for them in the loss to Houston on Sunday, although he only saw action on one defensive snap. Jets fans might not know too much about Catapano, so I've been looking at game footage to try and assess what he brings to the table.
The 25-year-old Catapano is listed at 6'4" weighing 285 pounds and was drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 draft by the Chiefs. He saw action in 15 games as a rookie, albeit mostly on special teams, registering four tackles and a sack. He missed all of 2014 due to illness and was released this September after the preseason. Catapano was added to the Jets' practice squad in September and was promoted to the active roster last week.
Let's recap Catapano's career so far and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses...
Who is Mike Catapano?
Catapano was the 2012 Ivy League player of the year as a senior at Princeton after he recorded 12 sacks. He was also named an FCS second-team All-American. His stock rose after the pre-draft period, but he still lasted until the seventh round, where the Chiefs selected him.
In his rookie season, Catapano made some modest contributions in a backup role, recording four tackles and a sack. His best game was actually the first game of his career in which he played 33 snaps and recorded three pressures. He only played 44 snaps over the next 14 games before seeing action on 17 snaps in the last game of the year.
In 2014, Catapano missed the entire season because of a mysterious illness that was later diagnosed as a gastro-intestinal virus. In 2015, he turned up in great shape and had a terrific preseason, but was still released. The reason cited by Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was that Catapano would be a better fit on a 4-3 team.
Here are my observations from watching regular season and preseason footage from Catapano's career so far, divided into categories:
Catapano was used as a defensive end while with the Chiefs, primarily either as a five technique or shading the guard's outside shoulder. He has lined up outside the tackle at times, which is what he did most of the time in college.
Before the preseason, Catapano told the media he was "the leanest, meanest 290-pounder in the league" after having added 20 pounds and cutting down his fat percentage. When he attended his pro day, Catapano was only 271 pounds. He still showed outstanding strength, though, with 33 bench press reps. His vertical leap (37.5 inches) gives some indication of his explosiveness, which is evident from watching him on film. However, his agility numbers were also solid, with a 4.3 short shuttle and 4.75 40-yard dash.
Catapano is able to use his strength to hold his ground well in the running game. Also, when not blocked, he is explosive enough to shoot gaps and pull down the runner in the backfield. At the NFL level, most of his regular season reps have been in pass-rushing situations, but he made some good plays against the run in preseason action.
Even in college, he was never particularly productive against the run, with no more than 20 solo tackles in any one season. He had 29 tackles for a loss in four years at college, but 19 of those were sacks.
Catapano has the strength to make arm tackles and closes well to wrap up ball carriers. He's also pretty relentless in pursuit. Catapano didn't have any missed tackles in the preseason or regular season action as a rookie, but he had two in three games this year in the preseason. One was at the point of attack and the runner was stopped after a couple more yards anyway. The other came as he dropped into coverage and then came up too fast when the quarterback scrambled up the middle.
Catapano seems to give a consistent effort and plays to the whistle. I can see him being a fan favorite if he gets his chance and plays well for the Jets. As already noted, he hasn't played many snaps at the NFL level, but did play 54 snaps in the last preseason game this year.
As noted, Catapano had three pressures in his first NFL game. He ended his rookie season with a sack and eight pressures in 78 pass rush attempts, which is not bad production for an interior lineman. In five preseason games, Catapano recorded 10 pressures (including five quarterback hits) in 103 pass rush attempts.
A lot of his pressure comes from the fact that he is so relentless and therefore if the coverage holds up, he will eventually get to the quarterback. He seems like he is at his best when bull-rushing. However, he also shows an ability to get off his blocker, mostly by using brute strength.
Catapano has only dropped into coverage a few times at the NFL level, but he was credited with 13 pass breakups in college. While I assume most would have been batting down passes at the line, his college film does show some examples of him dropping back and sniffing out screen passes.
Catapano went to Princeton, so he's obviously intelligent. He also showed improvement each year when in college. On film, I didn't see him blow any obvious assignments. He was called for three penalties in his rookie year -- two when he jumped offsides and one when he was called for holding on a return. He also had a holding penalty on a return in the preseason this year.
Catapano has made some good contributions as a wedge blocker on the kickoff return unit. That could be somewhere he could replace Leger Douzable, who has been inconsistent in that role, to provide the Jets with an immediate upgrade on a struggling unit.
Catapano has also contributed on the punt rush unit. He did not get any special teams reps in his first game with the Jets, though.
It might seem weird that the Jets would jump on a player who was cut because he wasn't a good fit for a 3-4 system, but the Jets have been using a lot of four man fronts. Perhaps Catapano can fit in here after all. He was a teammate of Josh Martin in Kansas City, so the two of them may be able to help each other with the transition.
Catapano apparently had a concussion as well as the virus when he was kept off the field in 2014. In his rookie year, he missed time with an ankle injury and continued to be listed on the injury report for several weeks after he returned.
When the Jets first signed Catapano and even when he was activated, it didn't receive a lot of attention, but after this latest loss, many Jets fans are starting to reset their expectations for the season and look ahead. In that regard, Catapano can be added to the list of guys who can make an impression over the next month or so to prove they can be future contributors for the team.
In the short term, he can provide a boost to the return units as I've noted, but I'm also interested to see if he can contribute on defense.
Catapano's preseason game film was really impressive, with PFF giving him the fifth best grade at his position. If the reason behind his release really was just to do with fit, then the Jets might have stumbled upon a player with good ability and upside.
Some statistics from this article came from PFF.