When you think of Jets defensive linemen of the past and sacks, Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko and John Abraham are probably the first ones that come to mind for long time Jets fans. If you look closer, Shaun Ellis is one of those players who produced consistently but might not have been as appreciated. With 72 1/2 lifetime sacks, Ellis is third on the Jets career leader list ahead of Gerry Philbin, Verlon Biggs, Mo Lewis and the aforementioned John Abraham.
Shaun Ellis was born on June 24, 1977 in Anderson, South Carolina which was the home town of the NBA’s Larry Nance and MLB’s Jim Rice. He attended Westside High School in Anderson. When the colleges began recruiting him, it came down to Tennessee and Florida. He chose Tennessee mainly because of how impressed he was with the coaching staff and the campus. He played defensive end, piling up some very impressive stats. He ended his college career with 105 tackles, 12 1/2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and an interception that he returned 90-yards for a touchdown against the Auburn Tigers. He played a big part in the 1998 season as Tennessee went undefeated and beat Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl to win the National Championship. He achieved All-SEC recognition during his senior year. His former defensive coordinator John Chavis was really taken with the talent of Ellis. As he said:
“You can’t teach size and the frame of a 6’5” defensive end. There was a standard set that was expected and he knew he could make an impact. He had the right temperament to play football. For a guy that big and strong, he had great speed. What made him special was his demeanor.”
In the 2000 draft, the Jets had four first round picks. With their first pick, the 12th overall pick, they selected Ellis. This was followed by John Abraham (13th overall), Chad Pennington (18th overall) and Anthony Becht (27th overall).
In his first game, he sacked and stripped the ball away from Brett Favre. Ellis made an immediate impact recording 8 1/2 sacks in his rookie season. After his rookie season, his numbers went down. Herm Edwards tried him at defensive tackle after the team drafted Bryan Thomas. When Eric Mangini arrived, Ellis went back to playing defensive end exclusively in a 3-4 defense. In 2003, Ellis had 12 1/2 sacks and the following year he had 11 sacks. In the final game of the 2004 season against the Rams, Ellis had three sacks and the Jets made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
On January 16, 2011, the Jets went up to Foxboro to play the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game. The Patriots had embarrassed the Jets a few weeks before 45-3 on Monday night football. In this playoff game, which many fans consider one of the team’s greatest victories, the Jets won 28-21. It was the defense that was in Tom Brady’s face all day that helped propel the Jets to victory. Ellis was a key factor sacking Brady twice and having five solo tackles.
Besides that New England playoff game, one other game that stands out to me was against the Buffalo Bills. On December 14, 2008 the Jets were the host team. Brett Favre was now playing for the Jets and on that particular day, he was awful. He could not get anything going and threw two interceptions. The Jets were still in the playoff hunt but just barely. J.P. Losman was the Bills quarterback at the time. With under two minutes to go and the Jets down 27-24, Losman fumbled the football and Ellis ran it in for a touchdown to give the Jets the lead and the eventual 31-27 win. Besides the winning TD, Shaun Ellis with David Harris led the Jets with 11 tackles.
Ellis played 11 years for the Jets. On August 7, 2011 he signed to play for rival New England as one of the many players then who went back and forth with the Jets-Patriots shuttle. His timing was almost perfect. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl that year but lost to the Jets cross town rival Giants 21-17.
Ellis finished his pro career with 178 tackles, 73.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and a touchdown. At the time of this writing, he is ranked 8th in Jets team history with 404 solo tackles. And that amazingly ranks him 1st for all Jets defensive linemen for solo tackles.
Shaun Ellis was as consistent as they come for the green and white. He broke the 10 sack mark in 2003 and 2004. He went over 8 twice more. He played with a balance covering the run as well as applying pressure in passing situations. He made the Pro-Bowl twice, in 2003 and in 2009. Only Hugh Douglas had more sacks for a rookie (10) than Ellis’ 8 1/2. And as far as durability, he played in 170 of a possible 176 games during his time with the Jets. He started at least 15 games in a season 9 times which is heading into D'Brickashaw Ferguson territory. And anyone who has listened to my Jets Rewind Podcast or seen my writings, knows how much importance I put on players being on the field. I’m not a fan of talent that can’t get on or remain on the field and Shaun Ellis was almost always on the field. And always producing.
In a time when getting to the quarterback seems to be getting tougher and tougher, having one or two players like Ellis would be great. As the Jets seem to always be rebuilding, one thought is that they haven’t had a pass rusher since John Abraham is always mentioned ad nauseam. Well I have no reservations saying the same thing substituting Shaun Ellis’ name for Abrahams. Too many times we hear that you never know what you have until it is gone. Shaun Ellis is one of those players that fits that saying.
Marty Schupak has been a New York Jets football fan since 1964. Ray Clifford another lifelong fan contributed to this article. Their blog and Podcast are both at: www.JetsRewind.com
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