New York Jets – Establishing The “Middle Class”

Can the New York Jets re-establish the “middle class” of their roster?

An essential part of any quality NFL roster is a well-established “middle class” of talent. These are the players who aren’t your headline names or playmakers nor are they bottom of the roster depth guys. Generally, they are competent starters and reserve players who are talented enough to be regular contributors without consistently hurting your team. In 2009 and 2010, the Jets had a wealth of these players. Yet as the roster deteriorated at the top and bottom, the middle suffered as well. A huge part of the Jets rebuilding process will be reestablishing this middle class of talent.

When the Jets were having success under Rex Ryan, Calvin Pace, Bart Scott and Bryan Thomas were all good representatives of this middle class as starters at linebacker. None of them were ever going to receive Pro-Bowl consideration but they thrived in their specific role on the defense and were necessary complimentary pieces to Darrelle Revis, David Harris and Antonio Cromartie. Gradually the play of the three of them fell off to the point where all were overmatched as starters last year. This season, the Jets will need 2nd year player Demario Davis to become a competent starter in Scott’s old spot. Similarly, they will be looking for Antwan Barnes to bring more production off the edge than what Pace or Thomas offered last year. Nobody expects Davis or Barnes to be All-Pros but a decent season from both of them could help bump the Jets defense to the next level.

Staying on that side of the ball, Rex’s Jets have found success on defense with tons of middle class talent at safety. Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith and Brodney Pool were all prime examples of this. In 2009, Leonhard played well next to Kerry Rhodes who was inconsistent and replaced by Smith at times, who despite a poor 2011 and 2012 was a capable spot starter in 2009 and 2010, just like Pool was. Dawan Landry should be a steadying hand in the Jets secondary and hopefully either Antonio Allen or Josh Bush can handle extended reps alongside him. Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner will be the headlining players of the secondary but again, competent seasons from Landry and one of the other young safeties on the roster is what can take this defense from good to great.

Offensively, the Jets were filled with middle class talent in 2010, their best season under Rex Ryan. Jerricho Cotchery was a productive third receiver. Brad Smith was officially the team’s fourth receiver but was a weapon who could come up with a huge play or two every few weeks. Ben Hartsock was a very good blocking, backup tight end. Damien Woody was a quality right tackle. He wouldn’t be confused with D’Brickashaw Ferguson at that point of his career but he was never a liability. The Jets need Austin Howard to take another step forward in his development so he can be relied on like that. They need Stephen Hill and another wide receiver to grow up fast so the depth chart is rounded out properly. Can somebody like Chris Pantale become a similar player to Hartsock? The Jets roster is going to be perilously thin if certain young players to can’t meet and exceed expectations.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • jetluva

    I agree that this team needs guys to step up and just be DECENT. I actually like what Idzik did with the draft to bolster the talent on both lines. Along with his FA signings which I think will allow this team to do MUCH better than many are predicting. This team is not gonna be as bad as so many think. The youth on this team may make some mistakes, but they’ll also be much faster and help to make this team more competitive.

  • Bud

    After reading this article I said to myself what one player would I really like to see bring his play to a new level, and that player is Stephen Hill. His play can open up the passing game for Holmes & Kerly. From what I read he hasn’t left Jersey all off season and he sounds like he really likes the offence Marty has in place, and he’s been working hard to learn it all off season. He said last year he was a little lost, but things seem to be falling in place this year. Now all he has to do is let it translate to his play on the field. To be honest I think we will see a big improvement over last year in Hills play. Tony S. system I think had a lot of players playing lost, and I feel Marty’s system will take advantage of the skill set of each player.

  • John C

    Abrahm Elam and Drew Coleman were also good 2nd/3rd stringers in 9/10

  • Joe Caporoso

    Coleman was another great example, yes. Elam was traded before Rex’s first season though.

  • KAsh

    I’ve thpught about it for a day and I still do not like this “middle class” explanation. It is too broad for starters. Pace, Thomas, and Scott were payed like elite talent on both the Jets and in the NFL at large. If you think about it in terms of Jack Welch’s 20/70/10 approach to organization, they were mistakenly evaluated as in the top 20 percent production-wise when they belonged in the middle seventy if not the bottom ten.

    And that was the overall problem with the Jets between then and now. Their evaluations of their talent and what it was worth were much better in ’09 and ’10. But they did not unload aging players fast enough or were too loyal in their expectations of their future performance. At the same time, the young talent they brought in underwhelmed and did not grow into the elite level. The ’12 roster especially had a bunch of players that were well compensated but not going to get back to elite levels of production.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is that Idzik brings a different mindset to the front office. He gambles less with his picks and pays people what they are worth. As long as he remains unattached to the picks he makes and trades players rather than overpay them, he should be able to maintain a constant influx of talent into the team.

  • John C

    My bad on elam, I thought he was around. Always liked him though.

  • Mark Phelan

    KAsh nails it.

    Jets ‘middle’ players paid as if starts. Other middle players (think Harris, Sanchez) paid as if franchise players.

    Time will tell just how discerning Idzik is, and whether the organization has improved its evaluation skill set.