Earlier this month, the Jets announced that they had signed Michigan offensive lineman Ben Braden to an undrafted free agent deal. Braden had attended the Jets' rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis.
The 23-year old Braden is 6'6" and 329 pounds and was a three year starter for the Wolverines. He was a second team all-Big Ten conference selection in 2016.
Braden was a two-year starter at right tackle in high school. After being recruited to Michigan, he did not play in his freshman season and red-shirted. He played in two games in his red-shirt freshman season and made his first start on opening day in his sophomore year.
Braden remained as starter for three years, although he missed a couple of starts in 2015. After being an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection in 2015, he was voted to the second team in 2016.
Braden was invited to the scouting combine and played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, but wasn't drafted or even signed to a UDFA contract. He earned a contract with his performance at the Jets' rookie camp earlier this month, having been invited to attend on a tryout basis.
Braden has some nice size and turned some heads with an impressive 5.04 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. As you can see, the rest of his numbers were about average. He reportedly also measured as having 17% body fat, which is considered a good number.
Scouting reports seem contradictory in terms of how athletic he is, but former teammate and current NFL starter Taylor Lewan once referred to him as the most physically gifted athlete he'd ever seen. We can say that he shows intermittent flashes of athleticism on the field.
You can see a glimpse of that here as Braden (#71) gets out in front of this screen, although he doesn't actually make a block that affects the play:
Braden has displayed some good versatility while at Michigan. He started at right tackle, his high school position, in 2014, but then moved to left guard for 2015. In 2016, he started off at left guard, but was moved to left tackle halfway through the season due to injury. He returned to left guard for the NFLPA game.
Braden has graded out poorly as a run blocker over the past three years, due to a number of issues. These include inconsistent pad level at the point of attack, an inability to prevent his man from shedding his block and a tendency to overextend and lose his balance when trying to stay on his blocks in space.
Here's a play from when he was playing right tackle where he initially controls his block at the point of attack, but allows his man to shed the block and stuff the run:
At the start of the 2016 season, Braden demonstrated more consistency in the running game than he had shown in the past, but he moved to left tackle and struggled the rest of the way, seemingly because it exposed him to more situations where he had to sustain a block in space.
He does seem more comfortable on the inside. On this play, he engages his block at the point of attack and is able to steer his man out of the middle to create a running lane:
However, here's an example from when he was at left tackle. He is able to control his block here and create some lateral movement to open a lane off the edge:
Braden gets plenty of opportunities to block on the move, but is inconsistent in terms of locating and engaging a target cleanly at the second level. He does well on this pulling block though:
On this play, Braden anticipates well, and buries the run blitzer aggressively:
Finally, here's an effective block from right tackle as he does an excellent job of setting a clean edge and getting some movement:
Braden's pass protection numbers are not bad with just six sacks given up in three seasons. He has pretty good length but perhaps not ideal lateral footspeed and recovery ability.
On this play, he is beaten badly around the edge for a strip sack. While his short area quickness is exposed here, perhaps the biggest reason this happened is that his initial punch was inadequate and the pass rusher was easily able to get separation:
When playing inside, Braden is often the spare man and shows good awareness to help out if anyone is half-beaten. However, when playing inside he had real issues deal with stunts, often struggling to switch off his own block onto the stunting end in time:
He can also be susceptible to bull rushes at times, but does possess an ability to re-anchor. He could perhaps benefit from adding some strength though.
As noted, there are a few areas where Braden needs to become more consistent with his technique. Pad level, initial punch and footwork when recovering are all examples of these, but the main one is that he'll bend at the waist and lose control of his block.
That didn't happen as much at guard, but here's a play where he lost leverage in a similar fashion:
Generally, he looked more comfortable at guard, with his biggest issue being that he couldn't always make a clean block when pulling or trapping to the right rather than any technical concerns.
In short yardage situations while playing guard at Michigan, Braden was primarily required to do one of two things. Either he would burrow low and try to cave in the interior of the line or pull right and have the back follow him into the end zone. They had mixed results as a unit, but he usually carried out these assignments effectively and it's something that suits him because he's not required to sustain a block for as long.
Penalties were not a major problem for Braden, who has been pretty disciplined over the last three years. He only had six in the last two years after getting through 2014 without any.
One of the penalties in 2015 was particularly costly because it was a hold on first and goal at the one and forced the Wolverines to settle for a field goal against Michigan State in 2015. That was a game they would ultimately lose by four, costing them a chance at the national title.
Braden has displayed good versatility and will have impressed teams with his ability to handle playing multiple roles.
As noted, he was often forced to read and react in pass protection and seemed to handle these situations with good awareness, but didn't fare so well on stunts.
Braden is considered to have good character and is coachable with a good work ethic. He plays with some nastiness on the field.
As an example of what a good teammate he is, when De'Veon Smith lost his helmet in the Indiana game last November but was still caught up in a pile of tacklers, Braden ran over and cradled Smith's head and brought him safely to ground.
Braden's only injury issue in college was a lower back injury which caused him to miss the season opener last year, although Jim Harbaugh indicated he had been cleared to play but they made the decision to rest him.
I'm not sure there's anything to this, but it's worth mentioning anyway: There's a sketchily-sourced internet rumor on a few Michigan message boards that suggests Braden was placed on a medical watch list by the NFL due to concerns over his back and would otherwise have been selected in the third round. The rumor states that Braden would need to sign a waiver in respect of this issue, so that teams would not be on the hook for any rehab costs.
I'm not sure how accurate this is - perhaps not at all - but if there's any truth to it, this might be the reason why no team signed him to an undrafted free agent deal even though he was a projected late rounder.
Although he has adequate length, Braden's has some struggles on the edge and would appear to be better suited to playing inside. However, that ability to play outside could come in handy.
Interestingly, experts are divided as to his best scheme fit. Nolan Nawrocki said he might be a good back-up in a power running scheme, whereas Pro Football Focus said that his athleticism would be best suited to a zone-heavy scheme.
The Jets' system has fallen somewhere in between in recent times, so perhaps that will suit him.
Braden was a key cog in a highly successful Michigan offense over the past few years, playing against good competition. While he didn't grade out particularly well, Braden had some solid games and rarely looked completely overmatched.
He'll benefit from entering into an NFL weights program and might be able to improve his consistency if he is able to refine his techniques.
A player with good versatility and intangibles is always good to have in the organization. While a spot on the 53 is unlikely, Braden has a chance to stick around if he shows potential in camp and he already must have done that at the rookie camp to earn a deal in the first place.
UP NEXT: We take a look at Georgia Tech defensive lineman Patrick Gamble.