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NY Jets’ best UDFA dominated once again vs. Bucs

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Trey Dean, New York Jets, Getty Images

Trey Dean is creating a difficult decision for the New York Jets’ coaches

From the beginning, Florida safety Trey Dean was arguably the most highly-anticipated defensive addition in the New York Jets‘ 2023 undrafted free agent class.

Dean was an SEC standout with impressive production. He fell out of the draft largely due to injury concerns, which also caused him to test poorly in the pre-draft process. The Jets showed their faith in Dean by giving him a $100K guarantee, the fourth-highest sum among all undrafted safeties in the NFL.

Three games into the preseason, Dean is completely living up to the hype.

Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yielded Dean’s third consecutive standout performance. Dean led the Jets with 10 total tackles against Tampa Bay. That stat means nothing on its own, but what really matters is the fact that Dean was racking up impactful tackles against the Bucs.

Dean recorded four tackles that held the runner to a gain of one yard or fewer. He also added a tackle in punt coverage that held the returner to one yard.

Not only is Dean making a ton of splashy plays, but he’s doing it efficiently, too. Dean’s sublime tackling efficiency jumped off the tape in each of his preseason outings. Through three games, Dean has now recorded 20 tackles without being credited for a single missed tackle by PFF. His total of 20 tackles leads all players in the NFL this preseason.

Obviously, playing an extra game helps. Still, Dean’s average of 6.7 tackles per game ranks fifth-highest among players with at least two appearances. It’s wildly impressive for a rookie to be making such a high volume of tackles without committing any noticeable whiffs.

While Dean allowed a 19-yard first down catch into his coverage against the Buccaneers, that was his first coverage hiccup of the preseason. To this point, Dean has dropped into coverage on 66 snaps and only coughed up three catches for 24 yards and one first down.

Dean is doing all he can to make the Jets’ initial 53-man roster. There’s just one problem: Dean’s sterling display against the Bucs coincided with a similarly impressive game from his closest competitor, Ashtyn Davis.

Davis’ performance on Saturday is one of the best outings he’s ever had as a Jet. All night long, the former third-round pick made one high-quality stop after the next.

Across 43 defensive snaps, Davis made seven tackles without missing any. Like Dean, his stops were often impactful. Four of them resulted in a loss and another resulted in no gain.

Through three games, Davis has now played 81 defensive snaps with 10 tackles, one missed tackle, and just 2 yards allowed in coverage (on 3-of-4 passing). So, he’s done a nice job of fending off Dean.

Special teams will be a key part of this battle. Davis served as the Jets’ primary punt protector last season and was heavily involved in five of the six special teams units. Overall, he averaged 19.7 special teams snaps per game, ranking third on the team behind only Kenny Yeboah and Justin Hardee. Davis made five tackles on special teams and had three missed tackles. He also converted a fake punt as a rusher.

It would go a long way for Dean if he can prove to the Jets that he is capable of at least matching Davis’ perceived impact on special teams. So far, he is doing a good job of that.

Across five snaps in punt coverage, Dean has already made two tackles, and each held the returner to just a one-yard gain. He is also yet to be credited with a missed tackle on special teams. Overall, Dean has played 18 special teams snaps, tied for 15th on the team.

Another factor in this duel is Davis’ contract. Davis is set to have a cap hit of $3 million this season. If the Jets release Davis, they’d clear $2.7 million in savings while only being on the hook for $0.3 million in dead money. This is something that could work in Dean’s favor. If the two players are close, taking the cheaper, younger player with more upside would seem like the obvious move.

However, in a Super Bowl-chasing year, if the Jets think Davis helps them win games more than Dean, they could be willing to eat the larger cap hit to keep the better player.

We’ll see how it all plays out, but no matter where Dean ends up, his preseason excellence is painting a bright picture for his future.

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