As we know by now, much has been made this offseason about the amount of players the Jets have lost to free agency. Whether it is from the Jets-hating media, or self-loathing Jets fans themselves, I’m under the impression that many people think the Jets shouldn’t even show up this season because they lost several underwhelming pieces from last year’s 6-win team. I don’t exactly see it that way, because most of the players the Jets lost were either underachievers or washed up veterans who had outlived their usefulness. I’m going to go position-by-position and compare last year’s lineup to the projected 2013 lineup and give them a positive or negative grade. For the purposes of this column, the points will be called “Tebows” and the grading system will go from +2 Tebows for a major upgrade to -2 Tebows for a major downgrade, and anything in between.
Quarterback – In 2012 Mark Sanchez was a complete and total disaster from about halftime of week 2 until the bitter end of the season. The Tebow experiment was an absolute failure, and Greg McElroy looked as though he placed a bet on himself being able to break the record for most sacks taken in one game. Heading into next year, I expect Mark Sanchez to again be the starter, but should he falter, he will be on a very short leash and David Garrard will take over. With Marty Mornhinweg taking over the offensive play-calling and installing his new system, I expect the quarterback play to improve, regardless of who is taking the snaps. After all, it can’t get worse than it was last year, right? Grade: +1 TebowRunning Back – It became painfully clear as the season wore on last year that Shonn Greene was running himself out of the team’s future plans, one 3-yard plod at a time. Make no mistake, that’s a good thing for 2013. Greene had zero big-play capability, and that’s something the team badly needed to add to the offense. Bilal Powell showed impressive ability down the stretch last season as he ran for 4.8 yards per carry throughout the last 5 games. Joining him this year will be big-play threat Mike Goodson, who many people felt was one of the better under-the-radar signings in the NFL this year. If Goodson can stay healthy, expect him to be a major part of this offense, both running the ball and as a receiver out of the backfield. Grade: +1 Tebow
Wide Receivers – Let’s call a spade a spade here. Last year the Jets receiving corps was quite possibly the worst unit in the entire NFL once Santonio Holmes got injured. Stephen Hill battled nagging injuries all year as well, and we were left watching XFL talents such as Jason Hill, Mardy Gilyard, Chaz Schilens, and Clyde Gates man the position. The one bright spot was Jeremy Kerley, who blossomed into a very solid receiver, and he should continue to improve next year. Stephen Hilll also showed a few flashes, and while he can’t be relied upon to start, he does have the ability that made him an early 2nd-round pick just a year ago. The key, of course, will be how Santonio Holmes returns from his injury, and if he is back to full strength, the unit will be MUCH improved over last season, especially if it’s supplemented by a reliable veteran such as Braylon Edwards (who returned late last season) as well. Grade: +2 Tebows
Tight End – While I was never the biggest Dustin Keller fan, there is no denying his loss will be felt, especially after the team was unable to lure in a reliable veteran like Fred Davis during free agency. As it stands now, Jeff Cumberland is pretty much the only TE on the roster with any real NFL experience, and quite frankly, he isn’t that good. He looks the part of an NFL player, but he can’t block, he makes too many mental mistakes, and his route running leaves a lot to be desired. Hayden Smith is the wild card here, and if he develops, it will be a major plus for the team, but that can’t be counted on. The team is likely to draft a TE in the early rounds of the draft, but as of now, this is a major downgrade position. Grade: -2 Tebows
Offensive Line – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, and Austin Howard are all coming back in 2013 and there is no reason to expect any of them will decline in productivity. In fact, there’s a good chance Howard can improve a little bit heading into his second season as a starter. The major changes here are at the guard position, where last year’s starters Matt Slauson and Brandon Moore are both gone. Willie Colon was brought in to man one of the spots, and while he’s likely a better player than Moore at this stage of his career, there are major concerns with his health. The team has also been linked to veteran stop-gap options like Jake Scott, but as it stands now, Vlad Ducasse is slated to also start at the other spot. The guard play last year was less-than-stellar, and we are probably looking at a similar situation next year. If a lineman is drafted early, this grade is subject to change, but as of now… Grade: 0 TebowsDefensive Line – The story of the 2012 season was the emergence of Muhammad Wilkerson as an absolute top-notch stud on the defensive line. In fact, he’s blossomed into the best 3-4 End in the league not named J.J. Watt. First round pick Quinton Coples improved mightily as the season went on as well and led the team in sacks during his rookie season. Expect him to take a big leap in his second year as those two will form one of the best DE duos in the NFL going forward. It wasn’t all good on the DL in 2012, however, as Sione Po’uha battled injuries that led to
ineffectiveness all season long and the run defense took a big hit.
Kenrick Ellis was impressive in his limited duty, but he battled injuries as well, and we were never able to get a real extended look at him. Heading into next year, long-time favorite Mike DeVito took his run-stuffing ability with him to Kansas City, and Po’uha was replaced by Antonio Garay. Expect a mid-to-late round pick brought in to back up Wilkerson and Coples, and also expect Garay and Ellis to offer more than Po’uha did last year. The key to this unit will be the continued emergence of Big Mo and Coples, whom I expect a lot out of. Grade: +1 Tebow
Outside Linebackers – One of the other things 2012 will be known for is it was the year the Jets aging linebackers finally fell off a cliff and became borderline useless. Ok, maybe not even “borderline”, because they were pretty terrible. Bryan Thomas was a shell of his former self as injuries took their toll on him, and Calvin Pace mastered the art of the “take two steps, extend arms into the offensive lineman, and stand there for five seconds” pass rush move, which surprisingly rendered ineffective results. Garrett McIntyre was OK, and Ricky Sapp battled injuries all year, so the unit as a whole was pretty lackluster. Next year, Antwan Barnes will be manning one of the OLB spots along with McIntyre, and there’s a possibility a veteran like Pace will be brought back to be a role player. The key to this whole unit will be whether or not the team uses the #9 overall pick here on a player such as Ezekiel Ansah, Dion Jordan, or Barkevious Mingo. Grade: 0 Tebows (as of now). If #9 pick is used on OLB: +2 Tebows
Inside Linebackers – David Harris had the worst season of his career, but I’m of the belief that it had more to do with the declining talent around him and him trying to do too much to cover for them. Bart Scott was still stout against the run, but useless in coverage, and the lack of a healthy nose tackle allowed offensive linemen to get up to the second level and block Harris. Demario Davis showed flashes as a rookie, but was not given the amount of playing time many fans were hoping for, but that will change next season as he replaces Scott full-time. Davis brings the speed and athleticism to the position that the Jets badly need, and that will free Harris up to do the things he excels at. Josh Mauga will also be returning as the primary backup after injuries KO’d him last year, and together, that trio will be an improvement on what was put on the field last year. Grade: +1 TebowCornerbacks – Antonio Cromartie enjoyed the best season of his career last year and became a truly elite corner in the league. Kyle Wilson mostly played like Kyle Wilson, and although I make jokes about him and his finger wagging, he’s not terrible. He’s basically an average starting cornerback, and that isn’t going to change. The key to this whole group obviously is going to be Darrelle Revis. If he’s traded, the team takes a big hit at this position, and if he’s brought back, he and Cromartie will form the best tandem in the NFL, with WIlson sliding back into the nickel role. Regardless of the Revis situation, hopefully the team will improve on Ellis Lankster and find someone better to man the nickel or dime spot, otherwise it will be a long season. The under-the-radar member of this unit will be Aaron Berry who was signed from Detroit last year to a two-year deal, and has shown himself to be a very solid player when on the field. Grade: Incomplete (pending the Revis situation)
Safeties – Yeremiah Bell and Laron Landry formed a surprisingly good duo for the Jets in 2012, but unfortunately both have signed elsewhere heading into next season. To replace them, the Jets signed Laron’s brother, Dawan, who had some very good seasons under Rex Ryan in Baltimore and provides a solid veteran presence for much cheaper than his brother. As of now, the only other safeties on the roster are Josh Bush and Antonio Allen, and while both have shown some promise, the team needs to add a play-maker in the early rounds of the draft or at least sign another veteran who can hold down the fort, similar to what Bell did last year. When they do that, this grade will improve, but as of now… Grade: -2 Tebows
Conclusion – By my calculations, the team has improved already heading into the 2012 season by 2 whole Tebows! In the NFL, there is such a thing as addition by subtraction, and with the Jets cutting dead weight from last year’s team and replacing them with hungry young talent, they can absolutely improve on the disappointing 6-10 record from a year ago. If the young players such as Goodson, Kerley, Hill, Coples, Wilkerson, and Davis improve like they’re expected to, along with a strong draft in a few weeks and improved QB play, the Jets may actually surprise some people come September, and I’ll be here to say I told ya so.