In between now and the season opener, we'll be looking in detail at the players the Jets have added to the active roster since preseason. We began yesterday with Will Tye, but now we're moving on to look at wide receiver and return specialist Kalif Raymond.
The 23-year-old Raymond was undrafted out of Holy Cross last year and was signed by Denver. After spending most of the year on the practice squad, Raymond saw action in four games down the stretch, during which he averaged 10 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kick-off return.
Despite suffering a serious injury towards the end of his high school career, Raymond was recruited by Holy Cross and excelled for the football and track teams over he next four years.
In 2012, he was used primarily as a kick returner, averaging 24.3 yards per kick-off return but just over five yards per punt return. Over the next two seasons, he became a key offensive contributor with 81 catches for 705 yards and five scores, although his return numbers were underwhelming.
His senior year in 2015 was his best, as he caught 74 passes for 978 yards and nine touchdowns and averaged 24 yards per kick-off return and 10 yards per punt return. He finished his career with three touchdown returns.
Raymond drew some attention from scouts at Harvard's pro day and was signed as an undrafted free agent by Denver after the 2016 draft. He saw action as a return man in preseason and caught two short passes but was released in final cuts. However, he was signed to the practice squad and activated late in the season.
Raymond did a decent job on returns over his four games with the Broncos and also saw some time on offense, although he didn't catch a pass. He was again released by them in final cuts this preseason, despite again putting up some good return numbers and also catching five passes for 54 yards.
Let's move onto some further analysis of what Raymond brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Raymond is only 5'9" and 160 pounds so durability could be a concern if he has a role beyond that of a kick return specialist.
He turned heads by running a 4.34 at Harvard's pro day. Scouts and coaches have praised his explosiveness and quick acceleration.
On offense, Raymond would fit best in the slot, although he still also played on the outside with the Broncos. Over half of his production in preseason games has come while in the slot though.
Raymond had plenty of downfield receptions in college, although many of them were the result of blown coverages. With his speed, he's obviously a good option to run clear-outs.
This was his longest reception in preseason action, as he found an open area down the field once a play was extended:
Raymond worked hard on improving his route running while at Holy Cross and saw the benefit with increased production in his senior year. He understands the nuances and techniques required to get short area separation, so could have some upside as a developmental slot specialist.
Raymond stops sharply and with good technique on button hook and comeback routes and will naturally keep defenders on their toes due to his threat of being open on a go route or crosser just from his speed.
Raymond seems to have pretty good hands in terms of catching the ball cleanly, but there are instances on film of him showing awkward technique when adjusting to the ball in the air. He'll often have to contort and twist his body to reach for the ball and doesn't look natural in doing so, even when he manages to make the play.
He does make some nice sideline catches and can go up to get the ball too. Here's a nice diving catch:
At the NFL level, both his targets fell incomplete including one on a high pass off his hands on a crossing route. Otherwise, he didn't have any drops in preseason.
However, he did lose this fumble on a return:
Yards after the catch
As you'd expect from a return specialist, Raymond is a threat when you get him the ball in space. Holy Cross and Denver each tried to get him involved with carries or wide receiver screens.
He changes direction really sharply and has a knack for darting through small gaps in the defense. However, he's not likely to break many tackles and often goes down on first contact. Raymond will occasionally try to make a a spin move, with mixed results.
You wouldn't expect many blocking contributions from a 160-pound receiver but Raymond gives a pretty good effort when required to do so.
Here was a good second level block on the left side from preseason:
Despite his diminutive size, Raymond has moments of physical play on his game film, including a big hit on an interception return, crackback blocks and fighting for yardage at the end of a run.
There wasn't much evidence that he could deal with physical coverage or catch passes over the middle and hang on through contact.
Raymond obviously has dynamic return abilities and it looks like that might be his immediate role with the Jets. The most alluring statistic from Raymond last season is that he had returns of 19, 21, 22 and 25 yards on just 11 attemps. The Jets had just one return of more than 19 yards all season - a 27-yarder by Nick Marshall.
Here was a nice return he had in college:
Despite his obvious talents, Raymond's decision making could be better in terms of when to signal for a fair catch and when to let the ball go. He will sometimes field punts inside his five yard line or when the gunners are bearing down on him. He also muffed one punt with the Broncos last season, although he recovered it himself.
Raymond displays good instincts in terms of open field running and getting separation as a receiver, but - as noted - his decision making as a return man could sometimes be better.
Raymond has a great attitude towards the game, constantly talking about giving 100% to improve himself and being willing to do anything to contribute to the team.
He hasn't had any penalties in preseason or regular season action with the Broncos.
With seven receivers currently on the roster, it seems unlikely that Raymond will get much initial work on offense, unless either there are injuries or maybe in particular packages designed to get him the ball in space. His road to a slot role was further blocked by the Jeremy Kerley signing a few days ago.
With his lack of size, Raymond is a durability risk, but hasn't missed much time in college. He did have a few leg injuries though and had an undisclosed serious injury before attending college. He missed practice time with a hand injury during the offseason.
Todd Bowles is remaining tight-lipped about who the return man will be on opening day, but he's already said Kerley won't return punts so it seems unlikely it could be anyone else. Raymond is the only player on the current roster who returned any kicks or punts in preseason.
He's the latest in a series of players who all show dynamic return abilities with some ball security concerns and is just going to end up with the job by virtue of being the one in the chair when the music stops. Hopefully he can rise to the challenge because he did add a spark to the Broncos down the stretch.
As noted, I don't anticipate him being used on offense, unless they give him some special packages. However, with his route running potential, perhaps he's someone they also see some value in as a developmental prospect in a slot role.
UP NEXT: We still need to look at linebacker Edmond Robinson and tight end Neal Sterling so we will get to those tomorrow, assuming they don't get released before then.