Since the last preseason game, the Jets have made a series of roster moves. We've been looking at the new additions in depth and we continue today with a look at tight end Neal Sterling.
Sterling is 25 and listed at 6'3" and 257 pounds. He was a seventh round pick out of Monmouth in 2015 and spent his first two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, catching 12 passes for 110 yards.
Sterling was a productive wide receiver over four seasons at Monmouth, catching over 200 passes in his career and scoring at least five touchdowns in each of his four seasons. In his senior year, he set career highs with 905 yards and a 16.5 yard per catch average.
After an excellent pro day, Sterling was picked up in the seventh round by the Jaguars but released during final cuts. However, he made it onto the practice squad and was activated in October. During his rookie year, he just played on special teams.
At the beginning of the 2016 season, Sterling was converted to tight end, adding 15 pounds. He saw some action down the stretch, catching 12 passes for 110 yards.
Sterling caught three passes in preseason but was waived during final cuts.
Let's take a look at what Sterling brings to the table based on in-depth research and film study.
Sterling is another move-style tight end but is obviously comfortable out wide or in the slot due to his previous experience as a wide receiver. He caught three of his 12 passes in 2016 out of the slot.
He doesn't have any experience of playing at the fullback position.
Sterling's pro day numbers - including a 4.63 40-yard dash and 35.5-inch vertical leap - were all good for a tight end, apart from his bench press. However, at the time he was still working as a wide receiver and weighed 238 pounds, which is almost 20 pounds less than his current listed weight.
In college, Sterling made a few big downfield plays, including an 81-yard touchdown on a bomb where the defender fell down.
At the NFL level, he's shown an ability to stretch the field down the seam but hasn't been successfully targeted on a downfield throw so far.
This was one of his longest catches in preseason action, as he was completely uncovered running down the seam.
Sterling has said he enjoys running routes as a tight end because it's the one aspect of playing the position he feels comfortable with due to his experience as a receiver. His speed is an asset against linebackers, while his size is an asset when matched up against defensive backs.
Sterling shows pretty good hands and looks like a natural pass catcher on film. He showed good concentration to come down with this tipped pass:
He had just one dropped pass last season, on a slightly overthrown pass down the seam.
Yards after the catch
Sterling has yet to show an ability to break or elude tackles at the NFL level, but he runs well in space and will fall forwards after making a reception. This may be somewhere he has as-yet untapped potential.
Sterling was consistently productive in college, scoring 22 touchdowns and could bring a size mismatch in the red zone if you split him out and he gets picked up by a defensive back.
He has one NFL touchdown in a preseason game, on this play:
Sterling has admitted that when he moved to tight end, learning how to block was the biggest adjustment for him because he had "no technique". There are certainly signs of rawness when you watch him and he hasn't graded out too well, but gives a nice effort.
This play illustrates that well, as he whiffs badly on his man at the line of scrimmage, but regroups to prevent the next guy from stopping Blake Bortles from getting into the end zone:
Sterling was called for holding twice last season.
Sterling hasn't been asked to pass block very often and, based on this play, it's easy to see why. His base is not strong enough to prevent Erik Walden from easily bowling him back for a sack:
As noted, Sterling was a special teamer as a rookie, contributing as a blocker, in kick coverage and on the punt rush unit. He continued to contribute on special teams last year. He has two career tackles.
The tight end position was completely new to Sterling and he concedes that this led him to make some mental errors, but if he was still able to generate some production without really knowing what he was doing then perhaps he can do more once he feels more comfortable in his role.
He had one false start last season.
Sterling's willingness to learn has impressed coaches as he's worked hard to make the position change successful. He doesn't seem to have any character concerns.
Sterling seems to have good durability. He didn't miss any games in college and the only game he's missed since being in the NFL was right at the end of last year due to a concussion.
When a team takes a flyer on a late-round prospect from a small school, they're realistically hoping for them to take a few years to develop into a contributor. Sterling has shown some flashes in year two, but the Jaguars have decided to abandon him just as they would have been hoping he'd step up to the next level.
The Jets seem to have identified this, as Sterling is not the only player of this type that the Jets have brought in. They'll be hoping such players will continue to develop and will realize their potential with the Jets, despite their previous team doing a lot of the work and being the ones who suffered through all of the rookie mistakes.
Sterling has potential as a pass catcher but is still very much a work in progress as a blocker. If they do use him in the first few games, you can probably expect them to do so in passing situations.
The Jets have a huge hole at tight end right now, although it's a temporary one with Jordan Leggett and Austin Seferian-Jenkins both expected back before the end of the month. If Sterling plays, he'll have to do well to retain his spot on the roster and it's perhaps more likely that he ends up on the practice squad.
UP NEXT: A look at Edmond Robinson, the linebacker claimed from the Vikings, will bring us completely up to date, barring any last-minute moves.