Signed as an UDFA, Jason Brownlee could be an underrated pickup for the New York Jets
In the NFL, much of the focus on team-building is on the upper echelon of the draft. First-round and second-round picks are valued like gold; they can turn around franchises if made correctly or set them back for multiple years if missed.
An underrated aspect of the team-building process is the later rounds and undrafted free agents. While some become superstars, those are rare. It is more likely that these players fill holes at the middle or back ends of rosters, such as a fourth wide receiver or a critical special teams contributor. These spots are not glamorous but are still some of the most important roles on NFL rosters.
The New York Jets, even with all of their high capital additions over the past few seasons, are not any different. They need their late-round picks and undrafted free agents to step up and strengthen the depth of the roster.
Last year, the Jets’ best find was NC State running back Zonovan Knight, an undrafted free agent who not only made the team but showed flashes of being a productive NFL player across seven regular season appearances. This year, the Jets’ best find could be former Southern Miss wide receiver Jason Brownlee – who has been generating buzz for his early performance in training camp.
Jason Brownlee with a terrific catch deep down the right sideline on a pass from Zach Wilson. Contested catch that Brownlee was able to keep from Brandin Echols. #Jets
— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) July 23, 2023
Rodgers hit Jason Brownlee with a sideline pass and the rookie kept his feet inbounds. Rodgers gave him a slap on the back and a head tap when he got back to the huddle.
We’ve seen Rodgers chat with Brownlee a lot this offseason. #Jets
— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) July 21, 2023
Brownlee, who stands at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, played two years in community college before transferring to Southern Miss. He was consistently productive throughout his three years at Southern Miss, never posting less than five touchdowns or 600 yards in a college season. Brownlee topped out at eight touchdowns during the 2021 season and had his best overall season in 2022 with 891 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
The main strength Brownlee can bring to the Jets’ offense is his contested-catch ability. In 2022, Brownlee tied for 12th among FBS wide receivers with 15 contested catches, with most coming in the field’s deep and intermediate areas. Additionally, he recorded an ADOT (average depth of target) of 15.0 yards, showing that he was consistently targeted for big plays in his offense.
Brownlee offers the potential to be a productive run blocker, which is key for wide receivers in the Jets’ offense. The former Southern Miss wideout had a 71.5 run-blocking grade at PFF in 2022, ranking 14th-best out of 154 qualified FBS wide receivers (min. 250 run-blocking snaps).
Brownlee brings some special teams experience to the table as well. He logged snaps on kick return, kick coverage, and punt returns, showcasing an ability to contribute outside the offense.
Despite his jump ball ability, Brownlee has forced too many throws to become jump balls over his college career. In 2021, 23 of Brownlee’s targets were deemed contested, and in 2022, he ranked eighth among FBS wide receivers with 33 contested targets. This is a sign that he can improve at creating separation. Brownlee also has struggled with drops at times, registering four this past season and nine in his career (6.3% drop rate).
At this stage of his career, Brownlee should not be considered a receiver that could potentially help to carry the weight of an offense. Luckily, the Jets are not in a position where they would need to rely on Brownlee. They can just utilize the skills he brings to the table and count on him as back-end depth.
His blocking ability fits well with the style of some of the team’s receivers, such as Corey Davis and Allen Lazard. Brownlee’s jump ball skills have already shown up in training camp.
Jets QB Zach Wilson throws it up to UDFA WR Jason Brownlee, who makes an INCREDIBLE catch over the defender. pic.twitter.com/E5jDef0Mzf
— Arye Pulli (@AryePulli) July 23, 2023
Most importantly, Brownlee plays and can contribute on special teams. This is what can separate the rookie from other wide receivers on the roster bubble. Part of the reason Denzel Mims was traded to Detroit is that he does not offer any special teams ability. Brownlee can avoid the same fate as Mims since he is capable of providing value to the team even if he is not contributing on offense.
It is not a certainty that Brownlee will make the Jets’ roster. The team is very deep at multiple positions, which may cause Brownlee to compete against defensive linemen or secondary players for a roster spot.
Despite this, Brownlee has a skill set that every NFL team, including the Jets, can benefit from. If the former Southern Miss wide receiver can continue his highlight reel plays and develop further as a player, the Jets may not have a choice but to keep him. Brownlee, even with the depth at receiver, has the opportunity to emerge as the diamond in the rough from this year’s draft class.