FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Alabama safety Jaylen Key said it was “pretty nerve-wracking” waiting seven hours Saturday to hear his name called on Day 3 of the NFL draft. When he learned he had been picked by the New York Jets, he knew exactly what that meant.

He was Mr. Irrelevant.

“It means everything; that’s part of the title,” Key said on a video conference with New York-area reporters. “You just have to take it and lean into it. For me, I’m definitely going to lean into every bit of it. I’m Mr. Irrelevant this year, and we’re going to make something shake, for sure.”

The Jets selected Key with the final pick in the seventh round, No. 257 overall — the franchise’s first Mr. Irrelevant choice since 1969. That year, they picked last after winning Super Bowl III. This time, it was a compensatory selection.

The Mr. Irrelevant title has grown in stature in recent years, thanks, in large part, to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, who helped his team to the Super Bowl last season after being the final player drafted in 2022.

“We’ve got some shoes to fill behind Brock, but I can tell you this: We’re going to make something shake,” he said with a smile.

Key will be the recipient of Irrelevant Week over the summer. The event, held in Newport Beach, California, began in 1976. It was founded by former NFL wide receiver Paul Salata to honor the last pick in the draft each year. The week includes a trip to Disneyland, a trophy presentation and more.

Jets officials also enjoyed the moment. Before making the pick, general manager Joe Douglas gathered his scouts in the draft room, soliciting input from them before making the decision. By then, his draft board had been wiped out. Each scout recommended a player, and they made the call to go with Key, a heady, physical safety who started for coach Nick Saban in his only season with the Crimson Tide.

“Never had a Mr. Irrelevant before,” said Douglas, who has worked in the NFL for more than 20 years. “That was fun.”

Key, 24, graduated Amos P. Godby High School in Tallahassee, Florida, and spent five seasons at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, where he led the team with three interceptions in 2022 and was an honorable mention for the All-Conference USA. He transferred to Alabama, enrolling in May 2023.

Key said he picked Alabama because of Saban, “to learn from one of the best defensive minds in the game.” In one season for Alabama, Key started 12 games at free safety, making 1 interception, 2 passes defensed and 60 tackles. He went to the scouting combine, but probably hurt his draft stock by running the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He was the 10th Alabama player to get drafted.

“I describe my game as just being a physical playmaker in the backfield,” said Key, listed as 6-foot-1, 208 pounds.

Key should have a good opportunity to make the Jets’ roster. Their safety group includes incumbent Tony Adams, veteran Chuck Clark and career backup Ashtyn Davis. Jets coach Robert Saleh listed Key’s attributes, citing his “football IQ and intelligence, his instinct, his length. His play speed is actually much faster than his timed speed, so we’re excited to get him and he has a strong chance to compete.”


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