FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) - Kenrick Ellis has a past filled with mistakes. He insists the New York Jets didn’t make a big one themselves by drafting him in the third round.
The talented but troubled nose tackle from Hampton was kicked off the South Carolina football team in 2008, was suspended for a game last season for assault and faces a lengthy prison sentence, pending a trial, according to a published report.
“I’m human and I made mistakes,” Ellis said shortly after he was drafted Friday night. “The good thing about it is by making those mistakes, I’ve learned from them.”
Ellis would not go into the details of the trial, citing the fact that it’s a pending legal matter. But the Daily Press in Virginia reported that the altercation on the Hampton campus last spring resulted in a felony charge that will likely put Ellis on trial in July where he faces as many as 20 years in prison.
“We did rigorous background on him, we’ve met with him,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. “Based on all the information that we have, we were comfortable taking him.”
The 6-foot-5, 345-pound Ellis played one season at South Carolina before being dismissed in 2008 for repeated violations of team and university policy. He transferred to Hampton and played three seasons for the Pirates as a run-stuffing nose tackle. But Ellis also sat out the first game of last season after being arrested.
“The stuff I got into, it’s in the past,” the Jamaican-born Ellis said. “I was young when I did those things.”
Despite the off-field issues, the Jets were willing to take a gamble on Ellis and add another big body to Rex Ryan’s rebuilt defensive line.
“Organizationally, we have a good support system,” Tannenbaum said. “I think under Coach Ryan and his staff, he’s going to have chance to have a fresh start and be successful.”
Tannenbaum said Ellis was “very transparent, very honest, very accountable” when he met with the team during recent player visits.
“He’s going to come here with a clean slate,” Tannenbaum said, “and we’re going to move forward together.”
The Jets selected Ellis a day after taking Temple defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson with the 30th overall pick. New York didn’t have a pick in the second round after it traded it last year to acquire cornerback Antonio Cromartie from San Diego.
“We’ve added youth and athleticism up front to a group that we thought was good,” Tannenbaum said. “And now hopefully we’ve made that position even better.”
Ellis could help fill the void left by Kris Jenkins, who was released after the season following serious knee injuries in consecutive seasons. Sione Pouha has played well in Jenkins’ absence, but is 32, and Ellis could eventually replace him as the starter.
Tannenbaum also said they will likely move defensive end Marcus Dixon to defensive tackle after drafting both Ellis and Wilkerson. Ellis knows Dixon from when they were teammates for one season at Hampton, and said he was “kind of a big brother” to him.
“I looked up to him,” Ellis said.
Now, Ellis may be playing beside him in the NFL.
Ellis has explosive upper-body strength, and routinely takes on multiple blockers, freeing up defensive ends _ much the same way Jenkins did when he was healthy. Ellis was extremely effective against the run, getting into the backfield routinely. Joey Clinkscales, the Jets’ director of college scouting, said Ellis was one of the two true nose tackles available in the draft _ Baylor’s Phil Taylor being the other. He had 94 tackles last season, despite suffering a high ankle sprain early.
NFL Network cameras in the Jets’ draft room showed Ryan pumping his first when the selection of Ellis was made official.
“I’m just so excited to be a Jet,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure I’m playing.”
After having just two picks through the draft’s first two days, the Jets will have four on Saturday to close it out.
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