Assuming the New York Jets don’t make any more major moves this off-season, it appears they will be relying on much of their improvement to come from within their current roster and whatever draft picks they add. What players in particular will need to bounce back from a rough 2011 season to take the Jets from 8-8 and out of the playoffs, to back to 11-5 and the AFC Championship Game (and hopefully beyond)? In descending order of importance…
12. Kenrick Ellis – The Jets didn’t get anything from him in his redshirt season. If he can play to his potential in his second year, the Jets will have a huge addition to their defensive line rotation that will help stop the run and push the pocket on the passer.
11. Antonio Cromartie – He didn’t have a bad year in 2011 but also didn’t have a great one. We are still waiting to see a playmaker who can pull in more than 4 interceptions in a season and maybe create a defensive touchdown or two.
10. Bryan Thomas – Thomas missed the bulk of last season with an ACL injury. Even if the Jets spend a first round pick at outside linebacker, they will need Thomas to mentor him and on running downs. He is a valuable veteran who is productive in Rex Ryan’s defense.
9. Mike DeVito – He missed 4 games last season and battled injuries all season. DeVito is a big part of the Jets run defense and the Jets need him healthy and productive for all 16 games next season.
8. Eric Smith – Hopefully after the draft, Smith will be relegated to being a role player on defense. Yet, you can be assured he will see significant time on defense next season and when he is on the field, the Jets need him to limit the big plays and at minimum be a sure tackler. This team really needs help at safety.
7. Bart Scott – Scott’s value has always been stopping the run, being a sure tackler, and providing leadership on the field. He did none of that last season, missing a ton of tackles and creating issues in the locker room over his lack of playing time. Scott claims to be refocused and lighter this year, we’ll see if that translates to him playing like he did in 2009 and 2010.
6. Shonn Greene – He didn’t have an inspiring 1,000 yard season in 2011. Greene must do a better job of breaking tackles and occasionally popping a big play. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry as a rookie and has since fell down to 4.1 in 2010 and 4.2 in 2011. The Jets need that number to get closer to 5 again.
5. Calvin Pace – At the amount of money he is making, 4.5 sacks isn’t cutting it. The Jets should give him some support on passing downs with their first round pick and Aaron Maybin in his second year so Pace shouldn’t see many, if any double teams. Regardless of his production against the run, the Jets need 7-9 sacks from him.
4. Wayne Hunter/Vladimir Ducasse – As of right now, they are battling to be the starting right tackle. We can only hope Tony Sparano and his new system can move Hunter from being awful to mediocre or that Ducasse with a full off-season under his belt at right tackle can show some of the signs of why he was a second round pick.
3. Santonio Holmes – The Jets paid him to be their number one receiver and he didn’t perform like one. Some of that was on Brian Schottenheimer and some of that was on Mark Sanchez, yet a share of blame goes to Holmes who dropped his share of passes and couldn’t consistently beat double teams. If Holmes can produce like he did in 2010 when he returned from suspension, the Jets offense will be in much better shape.
2. D’Brickashaw Ferguson – The Jets Pro-Bowl left tackle didn’t play like one last season. His struggles combined with Wayne Hunter’s incompetence left Mark Sanchez constantly under pressure. Brick must return to his regular level of play, particularly if Hunter remains as the right tackle.
1. Mark Sanchez – On the whole Sanchez didn’t have anywhere near the awful year that is portrayed by the mainstream media. However, he did something he had never done so far in his career…he struggled in the games that were the most important. Most notably, the final three games of the season. Sanchez is without question the most important factor in the Jets success this season. If he struggles, their season is going to turn into a quarterback controversy circus and Tim Tebow will be overextended as a full time quarterback. If he plays well, they have a shot to be a contender and Tebow can thrive as a role player.