FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The Jets were not scared off by Jachai Polite’s rough road to the draft. They believe he was a risk worth taking.
The Florida outside linebacker might have gone in the first or second round if not for a bad week at the NFL Scouting Combine and an unimpressive pro day. But the Jets did extensive work on Polite, and they had a man on the inside who knows him well. They took him in the third round and hope a real diamond in the rough has fallen into their laps.
“We did quite a bit of work on him,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said. “We know some of the risks in him. We also think there’s some really good qualities about him. When we got a chance to interview at the Combine and then we brought him into our facility and spent a day with him here, I felt pretty good with our guys in terms of the background work we did on him.
“There’s risk in every player you take. But there’s also a lot of upside and potential. We had somebody that was on staff down there, so we had a little insight from them, which helped us in our process.”
A member of the Jets' scouting staff is familiar with Polite from working with him at the University of Florida and apparently vouched for him.
The Jets took nose tackle Quinnen Williams with the third overall pick, bolstering their front line. But they still needed an edge rusher, so they took a chance on Polite. They probably will pursue one again next offseason. In the meantime, they’re going to see if they can help Polite reach his potential.
As a junior, Polite had 11 sacks, 19 1⁄2 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles. But teams were turned off after he ran a 4.84 40-yard dash and had a 32-inch vertical jump — both low for an outside linebacker/defensive end.
It got worse from there.
Polite didn’t do well in his interviews with teams and then opened his news conference with reporters by saying the Packers “were bashing me.” Teams asked him about his game, bringing up some negative things, and he didn’t handle it well. It was a test and he failed it, leading to questions about his maturity. “I have a lot of people to prove wrong,” Polite said.
At his pro day, Polite ran an even slower 40. That raised more eyebrows and dropped his stock even further, but the Jets were undeterred.
“He has the potential to be a good player,” Maccagnan said. “He may not have had the best spring he would ideally have wanted. But there are some things that we felt good about in terms of the opportunity to work with and develop.”
Maccagnan suggested that Polite may have struggled physically after putting on extra weight after the season. He said it’s common for players to bulk up and add more muscle to impress scouts. It may have backfired for Polite, who played at about 242 pounds and weighed 258 at the Combine. Maccagnan said he probably is best playing at 250 and under.
“There are some players who have come in the league and played very well who don’t necessarily test and time very well coming out of college,” he said.
Maccagnan also didn’t seem overly concerned about how Polite interviewed. He believes the Jets have a strong enough locker room with veterans Steve McLendon, Leonard Williams, C.J. Mosley, Jordan Jenkins and others who can help show Polite what it takes to be a professional.
“Like any player, there’s always risk,” Maccagnan said. “But we definitely thought this was a good guy to work with there and we thought there was a potential with him.
“We have some good guys in the locker room. We also have some guys who played with him, like Marcus Maye. We have enough guys in that locker room. It’s up to him. He’s going to have to rise to the challenge. But I do think we have enough people in place and a plan to help him fulfill his potential.”