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New York Jets’ Kenrick Ellis: Dark Horse on the Defensive Line

February 12th, 2012 at 10:00 AM
By Donald Lappe

New York Jets defensive tackle Kenrick Ellis isn't a player weighing heavily on the minds of many heading into 2012. He wasn't heard from much in 2011 and the most notable thing about him to this point is probably the status of his current trial. The Kenrick Ellis trial has been delayed again, but barring any interference from a bad result for Ellis in that case, he could be in line to take a big step forward this season.

The first issue with the general perception of Ellis is the third round pick label. While Ellis was a third round pick, he's not your average third round pick. He's also not your average small school prospect. He's from Hampton, but Ellis originally attended South Carolina before being kicked out due to a violation of University policy. Prior to his dismissal, Ellis appeared in 11 of 12 games as a redshirt freshman at an SEC school. Ellis walked into the NFL with immense size, strength and raw ability. He was rated as a first or second round talent, but his stock fell greatly because of his impending trial and his previous issues off of the football field.

At 6-5, 346, Ellis is a mountain of a man. He has the size and strength to be a force in the middle of the defensive line. The Jets are looking to harness that raw ability and are working with Ellis on his leverage and his ability to digest what is unfolding in front of him. His size and strength allowed him to be dominant at the FCS level without having to consistently play low and be attentive to the different keys for a defensive lineman on a given play. Understanding these facets of playing the defensive line at the NFL level will allow him to potentially be dominant for the Jets.

Ellis played well in his NFL debut against the Miami Dolphins, earning him a start the following week against the San Diego Chargers. Ellis was injured early on in that game, and didn't do much the rest of the season. We can make guesses about how his season would have turned out had he not been injured in that game, but he appeared to be on his way to playing a role the rest of the way. That bodes well for him moving forward.

The Jets aren't expecting Ellis to make such an improvement that he will be dominant in the middle this season, but expect him to see some rotational playing time. As he continues to grow it just makes the defensive line deeper as a unit, something that bodes well for the group as a whole as players can be mixed in and out to keep them fresh not just for individual games but over the long haul. The Jets defensive line was worn down at points during the 2011 season, and having a deeper unit up front means a more active unit up front. That helps out the linebackers by keeping the offensive line occupied with the first level.

Another part of the Ellis story that has been discounted is the impact the NFL Lockout had on him. As a player that needed some polishing, the lack of a rookie minicamp and other offseason team activities had a major impact on his readiness for the season. Having a full offseason to grow under the tutelage of Rex Ryan should be a major boost to him as he enters his second season as a pro.

Of course, all of this depends on Ellis getting a favorable ruling in his trial. With a few delays already and deportation possibly on the table, it's still a very volatile situation.

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Tags: Football, Kenrick Ellis, New York, New York Jets, NFL, NFL Lockout, Rex Ryan

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