On the field, Kenrick Ellis appears to be a Rex Ryan type of guy. Off it, he’s more of a Braylon Edwards’ type.
The Jets’ third-round draft pick, a beast of a defensive tackle out of Hampton, figures to fit well into Ryan’s scheme — if he avoids jail time.
A highly regarded four-star recruit out of high school, Ellis committed to South Carolina but was dismissed after his freshman year for repeatedly violating team rules. Ellis transferred to FCS program Hampton only to run into trouble again.
Last summer, Ellis was arrested and charged with felony assault after getting into a fight on campus. His court date this July could ultimately lead to 20 years in prison.
“Based on all the information we have, we were comfortable with taking him,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said.
Hampton head coach Donovan Rose eased Tannenbaum’s mind. In fact, he dismisses the premise that Ellis is a risk at all.
“You would have to think that a big guy, a guy as big as Kenrick is, you’d have to keep a leash on him,” Rose said. “But that’s not the case, he’s a big teddy bear kind of a guy. He’s a ‘Yes sir, no sir’ type. He’s always on time, he’s never late. He’s a respectful kid.”
The university eventually cleared the 6-foot-5, 333-pound lineman and let him suit up for the final 10 games of his senior season. Rose said the incident, where Ellis allegedly broke a man’s nose and jaw, was a matter of self-defense.
“A lot of things happened when I was younger. I am not proud of it but I have learned from it,” Ellis said on Friday night. “It was a learning experience and I have learned from my mistakes.”
The mistakes that Ellis makes now in the NFL, if any, happen under a much bigger microscope.
For a Jets team often referred to by the media as “Animal House” for its brushes with the law and the frequent portrayal of the team as one where the inmates run the asylum, Ellis seems to be another character question mark. Whether it was Santonio Holmes’ arrest record prior to being traded to New York last spring, Edwards’ DUI arrest last September, charges of harassment from a television reporter last fall or the sideline tripping incident involving Jets strength coach Sal Alosi; rightly or wrongly, this is a team that has been tainted with poor decisions over the past year.
Poor decisions have haunted Ellis, and Rose readily admits that his former player has had his struggles. Rose won’t comment on Ellis prior to his time at Hampton – “I wasn’t there, I don’t know what transpired there” – but he paints an image of a gentle giant with regards to the Jets' third-round pick.
“He’s the kind of guy that, well, I want more of them here,” Rose said. “We’re pretty much, at Hampton, we’re pretty hands on. We’re a small school, a private school. We stay on top of the guys. Kenrick did fine with everything we did and how we do it here.”
On the field, Rose is certain that Ellis’ almost freakish frame and speed will translate well to the NFL. Hampton sends players to the NFL with some regularity – in 2006 there were five players from the school in the NFL Combine – and Rose anticipates the player blending in well to the 3-4.
“I think ball wise, schematically, the things that they do, he will fit in perfectly,” Rose said.
So do the Jets, who remain confident in their background checks and their selection.
"If we didn't think the guy was right for us, we're not taking him," Ryan said.
New York dug into Ellis' past and found the future looks bright.
“Without a doubt they asked me,” Rose said. “One of their scouts in particular asked me about it - about the incident and his character. They did their homework, they knew about it and felt comfortable with what they learned.
“This kid will come out of it. Character wise, he’s going to come out of this just fine.”