New York Jets Roster “Safety Meter” – Part 1

Mike O’Connor with a look at what New York Jets might be more on the roster bubble than you think

Thankfully, we’ve escaped the dullness of June and we’ve reached the dead heat of July.  While the news is still awfully dry around the league, there’s reason for optimism.  Training Camp has appeared in sight among the fog, with the Jets’ rookies reporting to Cortland on July 22nd and veterans reporting on July 25th.  Sure, it may be a month of chaos and heartbreak for some as they strive for roster spots, but it’s our main course as football fans and evaluators.

Recent years have proved more than ever that every roster spot counts on an NFL roster, so it is always a good idea to try and prepare for how the roster will shake out.  With that said, a good way of doing so is by analyzing who’ll be most challenged for a roster spot heading into training camp.  Since us fans have such limited resources for actual training camp knowledge as it is, knowing who we are specifically keeping tabs on is essential. Thus, here are my opinions on who will be facing the least security come late July and beyond, and whose jobs are on the safer side.

(Scale of roster safety: The higher the grade given from the 1-10 scale, the “safer” the player is of making the team.)

10 – Key team assets; only included for organizational purposes:

Muhammad Wilkerson, DE/DT
Wilkerson is quickly becoming one of the league’s premier inside forces with his work against the run and pass rushing ability.  To me, he is uncontested as this team’s best overall player. Not much to say here.

Nick Mangold, OC
The durable center may have shown us a sign of age or two in his slight off-year last year, but he’s still one of the league’s most consistent centers. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Antonio Cromartie, CB
With Darrelle Revis gone, NFL fans everywhere seem to think Cromartie has to take a massive step to make up for his parting.  The joke is on them, however, as it’s Kyle Wilson, Dee Milliner, and others who need to show us something to help Cromartie, assuming he plays as well as he has in the past two years.

Quinton Coples, DE/OLB
He’s still miles behind teammate Muhammad Wilkerson, but Coples made us angry that Rex Ryan waited so long to give him significant snaps because he played so well.  He can work towards a better all-around game and become a force.  This young talent will hopefully stick around for a while.

Dee Milliner, CB
First round picks don’t get cut, and it’s that simple.  Milliner could start this year if he impresses.

Sheldon Richardson, DE/DT
Another highly-touted first round pick. Richardson was up there with my favorite overall draft prospects during the draft process this year. He likely won’t see as big of a role as Milliner will in their respective rookie years, but Rex loves his versatile plug-in lineman. We’ll see a lot of the menace.

Geno Smith, QB
He’s not the face of the franchise (yet?), but you’re looking at the guy that, in my opinion, should start and will start. It’ll be very interesting to see how I write this same little blurb for a similar article next year…

D’Brickashaw Ferguson, OT
People nail Ferguson for everything they can since he has finally escaped his “bust” shell and evolved into one of the best left tackles in the game. After only allowing one one-on-one sack last year, D’Brick is primed for another stellar year in green and white.

Brian Winters, OG
It might be a little bold to claim Winters is totally safe from getting cut, but even third round picks are held on teams if they perform poorly in camp for a year. Besides, the depth at guard will have Winters smack in the middle of a positional battle in training camp that he can surely win over Stephen Peterman.

Chris Ivory, RB
I can’t imagine that there’s even one Jet fan in the world who isn’t psyched to see Ivory let loose this year. He should get the early and often. If he develops like many have been hoping he does back from his days in New Orleans, he could be around for a while.

Josh Bush, FS
Bush is nowhere near a proven player yet, but he has a big role ahead of him in 2013. He has reportedly looked great in OTA’s, and even if he underwhelms in training camp, he’ll be kept no matter what for free safety depth on a roster that needs it.

Jeremy Kerley, WR
I struggled putting Kerley in this category, because as much of a fan of him that I am, he’s still just a slot receiver with a chance at an expanded role like he had last year when Santonio Holmes went down in Week 4.  However, he’s proven, young depth that will likely hold up in camp and provide essential depth at wide receiver.

9 – Extremely likely roster spots, but anything can happen:

Demario Davis, ILB/OLB
It’s very easy to get wrapped up in young talent, even if that young talent isn’t yet qualified.  Believe me, I’m vulnerable to this as well as every fan out there. I bring this up because fans have taken in Davis as a stud already in his career, and frankly, he isn’t anything close to that at this stage. A lot of Jets’ fans fail to remember that Davis only played limited snaps for Bart Scott in passing situations, and when he was combated with running situations, he struggled mightily in shedding blocks and occupying lead blockers.

Davis’ inexperience and lack of telling signs of a learning player are the only aspects holding him back from being a lock to make the team. He is a promising, young linebacker on a team that is thirsty for overall depth at inside linebacker and versatility at the overall linebacker position. Thus, I really can’t see him not making the team, but like I mentioned earlier, you never know.  We’ve been shocked by training camp cuts before in this chaotic league.

Dawan Landry, SS
I was actually pleasantly surprised by how well the Jets’ fanbase soaked in the Landry signing.  Most fans realized, like they should, that Dawan isn’t a similar or as good of an overall player as his brother: former Jet Laron.  Dawan was still a great signing, as John Idzik and company inked him for a good price, and he’s still a very capable player who’ll start in 2013 at strong safety.

I only limit him to a 9 on the safety scale because of his level of play. Yes, the Jets drastically need everything they currently have at both safety positions, but there’s always a chance that the team doesn’t like what they see in camp from a player that’s knowingly declined in play with his age.

Antwan Barnes, OLB
Barnes, another new addition to the Jets’ squad, provides a nice speed rusher at outside linebacker where speed is needed desperately to help an ailing pass rush. I only slot Barnes as a 9 because I’m just as unfamiliar with his play as the community is.  I know he’s an intriguing speed rusher that was signed for an excellent price, but that’s the extent of my knowledge on him. With the price the Jets signed him for (about 1 million $ per yer), John Idzik and company would lose hardly anything by cutting him before the season if he lays an egg. This is highly unlikely, due to the depth he provides, but crazier things have happened.

Austin Howard, OT
Howard stepped up for the Jets in a big way last year, as he took the starting spot at right tackle and never looked back. While he wasn’t flawless, and particularly declined as the season wore on, Howard proved his worth to the team. One must approach the 6’7 mammoth with caution, though.  Last year showed lots of promise, but it could have been what one would call a “fluke year.” If Howard shows up to camp unprepared and performs poorly, young camp bodies like Mark Popek and Trey Gilleo will be ready to eat him alive. Once again, it’s highly unlikely, but we must be reluctant to guarantee him a spot.

Antonio Allen, S
I’m a big fan of what Allen brings to the table, and apparently, so is Rex Ryan. Allen saw a considerable number of snaps last year, even though he showed some growing pains in his coverage. Regardless, Allen will provide young depth as third safety (an Eric Smith type role), like I discussed in my TOJ article last week.

The only reason I can’t guarantee Allen a roster spot is because, well, the Jets’ managements cut him mid-season last year.  It was a shocking move that frustrated many, including myself. Luckily, I think we can count on John Idzik to not pull any Mike Tannenbaum-like stunts on us this year. I’d like to think Allen is sticking around, and he’ll likely be a piece of the future if he can continue to grow as a player.

8 – Players poised to make the team, barring any major issues:

Mark Sanchez, QB
Ah, controversy. Everybody’s taken their sides on the Sanchez situation, and it’s a complicated one. His contract is abysmal, his play last year was equal in ugliness, and his off-season hasn’t been positive thus far (do I need to bring up the dancing video?!?!?). Regardless, Sanchez still has a shot at the starting job this summer. It’s all up to his play and how well he adapts to Marty Morhinweg’s West Coast offensive scheme, and the scheme actually fits his ability quite nicely.

I can only hope Sanchez doesn’t get the starting nod, but I wouldn’t be too slighted if he were the guy heading into Week 1. If not, he should supply a reliable backup quarterback, as the Jets eat the money that Mike Tannenbaum oddly threw his way years ago. He’s going to make this team unless he literally shows up to camp unable to outperform both Greg McElroy and Matt Simms.

Mike Goodson, RB
If the Jets’ front office was fed up enough with Goodson’s off-the-field idiocy to release him, they would have done it by now. Besides, with the details of Goodson’s actions released, he’s not as at fault as he sounded originally. When you hurdle the incident (was very intoxicated in a car with a gun in it, though it wasn’t his), you get a very smart acquisition from John Idzik. Goodson will be a change of pace back that can be a lethal weapon in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense if used properly.  His speed and knack for creating yards and seams for himself could account for a large part of the Jets running attack, which looks tobe a three-headed one (60% Ivory, 25% Goodson, 15% Powell).

Willie Colon, OG
Colon will start at one of the open guard spots in 2013, without a doubt. John Idzik made a great move in signing the solid, but injury-prone veteran this off-season. I mention him being injury-prone for one important reason: it could be his downfall.

It would be ideal for Colon to have an injury-free 2013 season, but that would be asking a lot from a guy with two seasons in the last three lost to a season-ending injury (Achilles, then torn triceps).  If he can stay healthy, he has a decently high ceiling when you consider the fact that he’s still only 30. However, it would be plausible for the Jets to cut him if he were to fall off the map with another injury. Waiting for a guy who has played his best football in 2009 to come back from another major injury would be considerate, but that isn’t the NFL. Let’s hope Colon stays healthy this training camp.

Oday Aboushi, OG/OT
Every year, 5th round picks (like Aboushi) get cut before the start of the season to little surprise because of their poor showings in training camp. Although, I have little reason to believe that will be the case with Aboushi. Aboushi adds great depth and versatility to the offensive line at guard and tackle. He’s played both at a solid level in his career.

I really like Aboushi’s chances to stick with the summer’s final roster, but I have to watch myself in over-ranking him because he’s a 5th round pick, and it’s always possible for him to be thoroughly outplayed in camp by William Campbell, Vladimir Ducasse, and even Mark Popek. If the team sees him as strictly a guard in camp, and not a tackle, it’s hard to imagine the team stashing six guards on the roster if he is outplayed. While I doubt this will be the case, and I bet the Jets would keep him anyhow, you never know.

Darrin Walls, CB
I may be eager here in putting such an unproven talent so high on the safety chart, but why not?  Walls provides young depth at corner, and he looked excellent last year in limited snaps.  Additionally, Walls has supposedly taken huge strides already from OTA’s, so it’s fair to expect even more growth from him in training camp.

Even if Walls seems overwhelmed by the likely increase high amount of snaps he’ll see in the pre-season and second team defense, it’s hard to believe that he’ll be outplayed drastically enough by camp bodies like Mike Edwards, Donnie Fletcher, and Royce Adams to the point where he’s shown the door.

David Harris, ILB
Here at TOJ and probably elsewhere around the Jets’ community, the idea of David Harris being a surprise roster cut due to his inconsistent play and massive contract has been kicked around multiple times in the past. While I’m just as critical as anybody else of Harris’ play, this just isn’t the year to cut him. Demario Davis has the other inside linebacker role occupied, but he will need a mentor through the learning curve he’ll surely face. Cutting Harris may be in the plans of the future, but depth at inside linebacker has to be found beforehand.

7 – Players who won’t have their jobs handed to them; poor camps could be their doom:

Santonio Holmes, WR
With the Jets’ constant struggle at wide receiver in the past two years, it might be a little shocking to see Holmes lower than Kerley. Yet, I’m confident in doubting him in the slightest. Holmes’ Week 4 Lisfranc injury has been holding him from serious conditioning in this off-season, and it has been released that Holmes is still in question for the first month or so of the season.

There will be those who question the mentality of Holmes for this slow recovery, but these Lisfranc injuries are not to be questioned. I actually suffered one of these about a month after Holmes’ in late September, and I am just getting the strength back in my left leg for soccer season recently.  Sure, you can run on it, but I can only imagine the constant pain and strain Holmes will feel if he is expected to be practicing even a couple of days and then playing a game in the early season. Not to mention, Holmes’ Lisfranc was said to be the worst possible break, so his recovery time must be at least a full month longer than mine.

I hope Holmes can make a strong, full recovery, but who’s to say the Jets won’t hesitate to cut the rope if Holmes isn’t ready until October and looks sluggish in practices? The guy hasn’t kept Jets’ fans happy for a full year since he’s been here with his outbursts and suspension, anyways. John Idzik may already have his finger on the trigger…

Bilal Powell, RB
I’d still say Powell’s roster spot is decently safe, but it’s just not guaranteed. With the new batch of ball carries to go with him, all he needs to do is show the same vision and quality burst that he exploited last year. As long as he holds off John Griffin and Joe McKnight, Powell should be good to go to compete for Chris Ivory’s main backup with Mike Goodson.

Kenrick Ellis, NT
Ellis is an interesting case, because he’s shown signs of excellence in his limited snaps as a Jet.  That’s the issue, however. In a year that could have been marked as Sione Pouha’s demise at nose tackle, Ellis only managed to stay healthy for 12 games, and was significantly limited in many of those.

Because of his unfortunate luck, Ellis missed his window to breakout, and Rex Ryan could be looking for a possible answer at the heart of the defensive line, which was highlighted by the extensive snaps given to youngster Damon Harrison during Ellis’ absence and the off-season move to bring in Antonio Garay.  If Ellis has further problems with his health or doesn’t catch on like Rex would hope for him to in his third year, the Jets could move on from 2010’s third round pick.

Stephen Hill, WR
As a big fan of sure-handed wide receivers who understand basic pass-catching mechanisms, I was never a big fan of Stephen Hill. Therefore, I have been more critical with his growth than most.  The raw receiver could be poised for a big year if he grasps the offense, stays healthy, and becomes more consistent with his discipline as a receiver, but that is a lot to gamble on from a player who had such a disastrous year in 2012 after Week One.

In the end, it will come down to John Idzik and Rex Ryan’s patience. It really is rare to see a second round pick be cut so early in his career, but sometimes teams make large mistakes, and they realize them. Throwing all of your chips in with a guy who had under 25 career catches in college could very well be one of those mistakes.

Tommy Bohanon, FB
As annoyed as most were when Bohanon was the Jets’ selection in the seventh round of the 2013 draft last April, I was very satisfied. Lex Hilliard was consistently atrocious last year, and in my opinion, lost the Jets a game or two with his mind-boggling misses on blitz pick-ups and such.  Bohanon can immediately start at fullback, and he offers much more.

At Wake Forest, Bohanon flashed his versatility often, as he lined up on the line, in the backfield as a pass protector, as a lead blocker, an H-back, and even saw reps as a tight end in the slot. His excellent receiving ability, blocking smarts, and even strength as a ball carrier make him a very strong case to make the team as a seventh rounder.

Tanner Purdam, LS
The team’s long snapper hasn’t been in the news in the past three years that he’s been starting for the Jets, so that’s a good thing. It isn’t too unlikely that competition for him isn’t brought it, so he just has to be counted on to beat that out.

Rob Malone, P
Malone was counted on to be an efficient, starting punter after not starting elsewhere in his career in the dust of T.J Conley’s release. Malone took the job and ran with it, and surprised Jets’ fans with his consistency. Yet, us NFL fans know fairly well that special team jobs are never safe.  Malone’s competition, Ryan Quigley, will be worth keeping a watchful eye on.

Jeff Cumberland, TE
On our recent TOJ podcasts, we’ve kicked around the idea of Cumberland possibly being a roster cut if the team sees him and newly acquired Kellen Winslow as a competition in which the loser is cut. This might sound ridiculous, but for all we know, the team may be set on keeping both Konrad Reuland and Hayden Smith on the final roster, and possibly even one of the UDFA’s in Chris Pantale or Mike Shanahan.

I think Cumberland has great upside, and he should stick around, even if Kellen Winslow shows him up in training camp. It looks like we won’t have a clue on how the front office is going to approach the tight end position and its depth until, say, the middle of training camp or even later.

Antonio Garay, DT
Garay was another stop-gap kind of player who was brought in this off-season for depth where Rex Ryan loves it: the defensive line. Garay is a rotational player who can play both nose tackle, or a defensive talent as the 3-tech (directly across from the opponents’ guard). Garay certainly has nothing guaranteed, though. Damon Harrison, like I mentioned earlier, looked very stable inside when given time in Kenrick Ellis’ absence due to injury. Sheldon Richardson is very versatile, sure, but that would still make four defensive tackles on the roster if both Harrison and Garay stick on the final roster. That’s quite unlikely.

6 – Players deserving of a roster spot, but need to prove it in camp

Kellen Winslow, TE
The stealthy signing of Winslow, who reportedly looked fresh in OTA’s, could go a long way.  Nevertheless, we still don’t know how the Jets want to feature Winslow, or Jeff Cumberland for that matter. It is safe to infer that the Jets would like to exploit a double tight end scheme quite often in Mornhinweg’s spread offense, but the team might also be looking to keep Konrad Reuland. No matter how you slice it, Winslow will probably be a cut if he doesn’t outplay Reuland, for there would be no use in keeping him as a third tight end since he’s strictly a receiving tight end at this stage in his career.

Another factor that could hinder Winslow is his durability. He couldn’t catch on with Seattle last year because he was reportedly sluggish and showing of his age. Though he confidently “won” his tryout with the Jets in OTA’s, there’s still a chance his wear catches up to him in David Garrard-like fashion. I would love to see both Cumberland and Winslow make this squad, but Winslow has considerable factors built up against him. He’s still talented, but the Jets will tread these waters carefully.

Konrad Reuland, TE
Mark Sanchez’s high school teammate had a strict role when given snaps last year: to block at the point of attack. While he’s no mauler, Reuland held up as a solid blocker, and therefore, did his part. Since the Jets kept four tight ends (Keller, Cumberland, Reuland, and Hayden Smith) throughout 2012, it would be no surprise at all if Reuland sticks with the final roster if both Cumberland and Winslow make the team as well.

Reuland will have to pave his way to a roster spot through his blocking. Since he doesn’t offer much in the receiving category, the Jets would likely have no problem cutting him if he doesn’t stand out as a blocker.

Stephen Peterman, OG
John Idzik made another smooth, under-the-radar move in acquiring Peterman via Free Agency.  The Lions waived Peterman as a cap casualty in this past off-season, but it wasn’t only the money that was a problem. Peterman’s play went from a very good player’s to subpar within a span of two years. The move provided quality depth, but that may be it.

With Brian Winters slated to start if he impresses like he should in training camp, Peterman will have a different competition than he imagined on his hands: beating out camp bodies to provide depth.  The starting spot looks out of reach by now, and the team can only carry so many guards on the team.  Unless Peterman returns back to 2009-2010 form quickly, the Jets might eat the little money they signed him for and release him.

End of Part One – So, those are the Jets that, in my opinion, have the inside track on making the team this year heading into training camp, all to a certain extent according to their ranking on the “safety meter.”  Thanks for reading, stay tuned for Part Two in the next couple of days!