Kenny Pickett may have been the headliner, but he wasn’t the only former Shore Conference football star who is heading to the National Football League following the 2022 NFL Draft.
After Pickett had his name called on day one of the draft, day three rolled around and the Los Angeles Chargers were on the clock in the sixth round. With the 214th selection, they picked Wake Forest University defensive back and former Brick Township High School star Ja’Sir Taylor.
Taylor is a 2017 graduate of Brick High School where he was a three-sport standout who also excelled in basketball and track and field. On the gridiron, Taylor was a three-time All-Shore selection who played both wide receiver and defensive back. As a freshman in 2013, he helped Brick win the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional title with a 26-15 win over Colts Neck. Brick went 9-2 and won the Class A South division title during his sophomore season, reached another sectional final when he was a junior and was in the sectional semifinals his senior year.
Taylor is the second Brick High School graduate to be drafted, joining Shore Conference legend Art Thoms. A dominant defensive lineman for the Dragons, Thoms played collegiately at Syracuse and was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 1969 draft. He won a Super Bowl ring while playing for the Raiders.
Taylor is also the third player from either high school in Brick to be selected in the NFL Draft, joining Thoms and former Brick Memorial star tight end Garrett Graham, who was selected by the Houston Texans in 2010 after a strong career at the University of Wisconsin.
Taylor was initially committed to Temple in high school but ended up switching to Wake Forest. He would go on to have an exceptional career with the Deamon Deacons where he saw the field immediately and was a mainstay on defense and special teams. Taylor played in all 63 games during his Wake Forest career to set the program record for games play. He started 23 games and totaled 185 tackles (153 solo) and six interceptions. He also became the first player in Wake Forest history to have a kick return touchdown and an interception in the same game. This past season he helped Wake Forest reach the ACC championship game, was a Third Team All-ACC selection by two publications, and was also selected to play in the East-West Shrine all-star game in January.
Taylor was viewed as a potential day three pick or a priority free agent candidate leading up to the draft. He turned heads at his Pro Day when he ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash and had a 37-inch vertical jump. He now joins a loaded Chargers team that added some pieces to its defense during the offseason but still needed help in the secondary.
READ MORE: 2016 SSN All-Shore Football Team
Anthony Brown, Bryce Watts sign as undrafted free agents
Former St. John Vianney star quarterback Anthony Brown and former Toms River North standout wide receiver and defensive back Bryce Watts signed on as undrafted free agents with AFC North teams.
Brown signed with the Baltimore Ravens and Watts signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During his career at St. John Vianney High School, Brown was a three-year varsity player and a two-time First Team All-Shore selection who was also the 2015 Shore Sports Network Offensive Player of the Year. As a senior, he threw for 2,355 yards and 34 touchdowns and ran for over 600 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the Lancers to an 11-1 record and a trip to the Non-Public Group 3 state finals. He finished his high school career with 4,554 yards passing and 59 touchdowns and ran for over 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Brown started his career at Boston College and finished at Oregon, where this past season he threw for 2,989 and 18 touchdowns and ran for 658 yards and nine touchdowns to help the Ducks go 10-4 and reach the Pac-12 title game. Brown threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns vs. Oklahoma in the Valero Texas Bowl.
Brown signed with Boston College out of high school and had an up and down three-year tenure in Chestnut Hill because of injuries. He missed time in 2017 and 2019 due to season-ending knee injuries. He was a three-year starter for the Eagles, throwing 40 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. He then went to Oregon as a graduate transfer in 2020 where he played in Oregon’s final two games of the pandemic-shortened season. He then started all 14 games for the Ducks this past season and was a finalist for the Johnn Unitas Golden Arm Award and a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award.
With the Ravens, Brown joins a quarterback room led by 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and former Utah standout Tyler Huntley.
Watts had stops at three different programs during his college career as a cornerback. A First Team All-Shore wide receiver as a senior, Watts started his career at Virginia Tech where he played two seasons and was a starter as a sophomore in 2018. He then transferred to the University of North Carolina prior to the 2019 season but had to sit out due to the NCAA Transfer Policy. He then opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. With two years of eligibility remaining, Watts transferred to the University of Massachusetts where he started all 12 games this past season, recording 43 tackles, one interception, and four pass breakups.
During his time at Toms River North, Watts helped the Mariners win the 2015 NJSIAA South Jersey Group 5 sectional title, reach the sectional final in 2016, and go 22-2 during his junior and senior seasons. As a senior, Watts caught 33 passes for 798 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver, and as a defensive back he had 43 tackles with two interceptions.
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