New York Jets Rookie Expectations

Cole Patterson on the expectations for the New York Jets rookie class this season

The NFL Draft provides an opportunity for teams to supplement rosters, improve on weak positions, and build a strong foundation for the future. While the hope for any draft class is that every player can become a contributing member of the team, that is far from reality. More often than not, a draft class will produce one or two starting caliber players at most. As the newly minted 53 man roster is composed today, the New York Jets look to be starting five rookies by year’s end. Is this level of rookie production a pipe dream or a realistic option?

Seven out of the seven players drafted by the Jets in 2013 have made the roster cut (plus one UDFA): Dee Milliner, Sheldon Richardson, Geno Smith, Brian Winters, Oday Aboushi, WIlliam Campbell, Tommy Bohanon, and Ryan Spadola. Six of the eight are expected to come in and immediately make an impact on the field.

In the past, rookies in the NFL were expected to come in and wield a clipboard for a season or two at least. The rookie would be present, but silent, absorbing as much information as possible from experienced veterans at the top of the depth chart. Recent trends, however, have shown rookies stepping in and contributing at a high level. You only have to look back one season to see such evidence.

In 2012 alone, three rookie quarterbacks led their teams to the playoffs (Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, and Russell WIlson), two rookie rushers broke the 1,400 yard mark and were in the top five at their position (Alfred Morris and Doug Martin), and one rookie linebacker led the NFL with 164 tackles (Luke Kuechly). Just 10 years ago, this level of production from one rookie class was unheard of, but is now within expectations. When did this trend begin?

Many point to Ben Roethlisberger as the player that paved the way for modern rookie production in the NFL. Roethlisberger was the third quarterback drafted in the 2004 NFL draft, behind Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers, and accompanied by other offensive standouts like Larry Fitzgerald and Steven Jackson. However, despite his obvious competition, Roethlisberger earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors following a 15-1 campaign that culminated with a run to the AFC Championship game. Roethlisberger was the first quarterback ever to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Roethlisberger opened the floodgates and led the way for five rookie quarterbacks to be awarded the honors in the following eight years (Vince Young, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, and Griffin III).  Once quarterbacks were considered viable rookie starters that could produce at a high level, expectations rose for rookies at positions that were less demanding. If a rookie quarterback can come into the league and lead a team to the Super Bowl, why can’t a rookie defensive end lead the league in sacks or a rookie tackle protect the franchise quarterback’s blind side?

In 2013, new Jets General Manager John Idzik managed to combine need with a “best player available” draft strategy. Going into the draft the Jets lost: an all world cornerback, two starting guards, two starting defensive linemen, and needed to provide a boost to the quarterback position. Coming out of the draft, the Jets touted young and talented options at each position of need.

The modern level of expectations for rookies, along with this draft class filling positions of need on the roster, create the perfect storm for the Jets 2013 rooks to make a significant contribution.

As high first round draft picks, Milliner (9th overall) and Richardson (13th overall) would be expected to start under most circumstances. Considering the fact that the Jets needed starters opposite Antonio Cromartie and Muhammad Wilkerson, these two should be seeing plenty of time on the field.

Smith came into a situation where his eventual starting seemed inevitable, considering the rocky situation surrounding Mark Sanchez. Add to that a higher ceiling and change of pace from the turn ver prone incumbent and Smith’s eventual taking of the reins was never truly in question.

The Jets brought in Willie Colon to start at right guard and drafted Winters to compete for the left guard spot. Stephen Peterman disappointed, leaving the door wide open for Winters to run away with the job. Winters lower leg injury slowed down his progress but did not derail it entirely as he is expected to take the job away from perennial underachiever Vlad Ducasse at some point this season.

Tommy Bohanon (Idzik’s personal project drafted in the 7th round) came in relatively unheralded. However, a useful skill set of blocking, running, and catching ability plus poor competition from Lex Hilliard helped the rookie out of Wake Forest secure the starting fullback/h-back gig.

Finally, the Jets brought in numerous highly regarded undrafted free agents hoping to supplement their roster. Wide receiver Ryan Spadola proved to be the best of the bunch, catching everything thrown his way. He earned his spot as the fifth receiver on a surprisingly deep pass catching depth chart.

Despite this influx of rookies, the Jets are only the seventh youngest team in the league. The Jets are not the St. Louis Rams (the youngest average team in the league) who are relying on their last two or three draft classes to lead the team. Nor are they the Detriot Lions, who have the oldest roster in the league and not a lot of youthful talent to supplement their aging veterans.

The Jets have a strong core of veterans in Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and Antonio Cromartie. They have a host of up and coming talent in Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, and Jeremy Kerley. Combine these players with the veteran leadership of Dawan Landry, Antwan Barnes, and Willie Colon and you have a strong backbone for a team.

If these six rookies were coming in and expected to run the team, then concern would be greater. However, these rookies are joining a Jets team that has talent and leadership in key areas. The energy and athleticism that the rookies bring to the 2013 Jets will provide an upgrade to the roster and the inevitable rookie mistakes (and there will be many) can be buttressed, to a degree, by the veterans around them.

Author: Cole Patterson

Cole has attended American University in Washington DC and is currently completing a double major in history and global communications at Ramapo College in Northern NJ. He has served as an NFL Analyst for a local DC radio show, Fanatic Radio. He lives and dies with the New York Jets. Cole will help lead Jets coverage and analysis.

  • KAsh

    You cannot put so much responsibility on this class of rookies because their predecessors (very few of them, I might add) have contributed more than their predecessors. Just look over the list of first round draft picks from a few years ago. I have no idea who any of them are with the exception of a few standout players and QBs (because they became the face of their franchise, even if for a short time).

    2013 was a very weak draft class. No starting caliber QBs. A great debate about the pass rushers. Some hesitation about the corners. O-linemen (two guards at that!) were the only sure things. There is no historic trend that is making rookies more capable with each draft. More college coaches now prepare players for the pros and look for pro-material when recruiting. So, a few more rookies come out most years pro-ready, and a few more of those are even more pro-ready than they used to be. Teams suddenly lose their minds and look to the draft for immediate contributions with each pick (and popularize their picks as such.) And yet the vast majority of even high picks never live up to the hype.

    Which brings us back to the Jets. What were they thinking? Does Idzik really care so much for his first draft that he refuses to cut obvious picks. Aboushi and Campbell can hardly help the team this year; they have done very little for someone to pick them up off waivers on their way to the practice squad. I understand sending out Millinet and Richardson, two solid rookies whose only problems should be a few minor techniques while adjusting to the speed of the game, but Geno needs to sit. Winters would only see the field on this team because we have only one competent guard, who unfortunately has had a string of injuries. Bohanon has played well and deserves to start. But I do not see the wisdom in putting so much pressure on all of them so early or where these reliable veterans that will make up for their growing pains are.

  • BIGgeenBALLz

    @cole patterson

    Ahhhhhh, didnt Pitts lose to da patriots that yr and then went on the yr after to beat da colts tto go to SB nd won it on BIG BENS second season

  • Mark Phelan

    Rookies better come through or we will be playing with 8 men on the field.

  • Cole Patterson


    Yes that was my bad, 2005 season =/= 2005 Superbowl….ROOKIE mistake

  • Dan

    The Jets beats are having a field day criticizing the Jets for keeping a couple of draft picks that are obviously not ready for prime time.

    Campbell and Aboushi are PROJECTS…there is no pressure on them to contribute this year (short of multiple disastrous injuries to the Oline, in which case we would obviously find some veteran help–which we have already begun with the post-cut down pickup from the Colts). I just don’t get all the criticism. Who did we cut that was that much better long term? They believe in their potential. Maybe their right, maybe wrong, but these are the judgments they get paid to make.

    With any luck our starting five stay healthy and this is a non-issue for the team.

  • Cole Patterson


    I didn’t say there should be NO concerns or that the expectations are warranted, only that concern could be greater and the expectations exist.

    I agree that these players should not be forced into a starting role, just argue that it is needed and that it could be worse (if the Jets didn’t already have some building blocks in place). I listed the pieces that will help the make up for the rookie growing pains and qualified that by saying they could help to a degree. I cannot explain Aboushi/Campbell’s place on the roster besides Idzik wanting his record to be sterling.

  • BIGgeenBALLz

    We forgive u my child ; )

  • BIGgeenBALLz

    Lol… Us the fans are like pirhanas, just wait for ya’ll to jump in the water with a mistake so we can call u out on it lol

  • KAsh

    @Cole – Sorry. I will be back in NYC tomorrow, but for the last week have been getting all my news from ESPN, the Internet, and TOJ, of course. Excuse me if I am a little freaked out.

    My worry since Saturday’s cuts has been the decision-making of the Jets’s front office. Up until the roster cuts, I had confidence that the Jets were trying to put the best team possible on the field (using what little they had) and that there was no weight to the ridiculous articles from the DN and the NFL writers thay implied that the Jets were going to start Geno (otherwise known as throwing him to the wolves) with no regard for whether he was ready or not. Now, this roster looks much weaker than the one they had three days ago. I understand potential and future production, but that is what the practice squad is for. When you have a young player of the future but that cannot contribute now at the level of another more veteran player, you put him on the practice squad and you keep the veteran. They were bad, but you cannot tell me that Peterman and Smith were not better backup options than Campbell and Aboushi. Things happen during the regulat season; do we really want Campbell coming out for a series or two while doctors check on an injured guard? And if the FO is willing to expose the team to some Campbell at guard this season, they would probably be willing to let the higher draft picks get away with even more. Milliner may struggle against some #2 wideouts this season, but the struggles may make him better so why not leave him out there without adjusting for his mistakes/weaknesses? Richardson may be weak against the run, but let him cut his teeth so that he might improve.

    I do not think it benefits a player when his weaknesses are tolerated as long as he promises to improve on them at some unidentified point in time. I do not think it is in the best interests of this team to value developing players over winning games at any point in time. Prior to the cuts, I thought this team was going to surprise some people. Now, it is looking like they are trying to win a high draft pick.

  • Frank Antonelli

    Kash. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. Campbell and Aboushi are developmental players that won’t even suit up on game day. Remember you can’t play 53 players on game day. They will be scratches. If injuries happen suitable replacements are available in Ben Ijalana, Brian Winters, Caleb Schlauderaff and Dalon Freeman. There is nothing wrong with developing players especially if the coaching staff feels they have real potential based on their body of work and not just how they looked in the pre-season games. To lose your optimism based on these two is panicking for nothing.

  • Dan

    @ Frank A

    Yes Yes And Yes! You said it much better and more succinctly than I did, but that’s what I was trying to say above.

  • kc.

    the thing that scares ME is Milliner. He missed a little of training camp and in the ONLY game he played in so far he was kinda abused/picked on all night.

  • KAsh

    Campbell and Aboushi both play on a vital unit that already had depth problems before they both made the roster over better players. We are already starting Vlad on the line. Colon has had season-ending injuries in each of his last three years (if I recall). So lets say Colon gets injured, Vlad and Winters are starting, and Winters falls funny after a snap.

    Freeman is on the PS. Caleb needs to backup Mangold. Ijalana and Aboushi are both tackles. Campbell will be the active backup and will enter the game while we check out Winters. We will have Campbell and Vlad around Mangold, and he will need to cast some beard magic while praying that Winters is back soon and in one piece (hopefully before our QB breaks into many). Would you not rather have Peterman on the roster at that point in time?

    Aboushi is the backup swing tackle because those guys never get hurt. Why keep him on the roster once you got Ijalana? Lansanah gets cut to make room for Aboushi’s needless spot.

    How does Aboushi’s presence on the roster contribute to the team this year? He and Campbell got two more PS spots at the cost of the Jets fielding a 51-man team this year. We are one injury away from not having a backup guard and are keeping an extra tackle that we would never want to come into a game at the cost of a roster spot in an area that underwhelmed (Lansanah) or a player that displayed some ability (Obomanu).

    The players you bring to a game are based on the state of your starters and the tendencies of the team you face. The 53-man roster and the 44 activated players create some flexibility in strategy and tactics. The team is not overflowing with talent, so it needs any possible advantage to win. But the team is tying its hands behind its back by keeping players that offer it no benefit.

  • raoul m.

    we hope the jets can manage geno’s transition from raw rookie to a serviceable starting qb. interesting that the jets pick up another firmer high draft pick on waivers to back up geno– brady quinn. maybe geno becomes the next eli manning a qb who took a few yrs to get oriented or maybe he becomes the next brady quinn.

    great article,