Now that the dust has settled after the NFL draft, we have a better idea of what the New York Jets are going to look like when they open up the 2014 season in a few months against the Raiders. General Manager John Idzik faced a ton of criticism during free agency from impatient fans and media types, but it’s clear by now that he has a plan and he’s sticking to it. He’s going to build this team how he sees fit, mainly by building through the draft.
But just how improved is this year’s team over last year’s 8-8 squad? Well, just as I did a year ago, I’m going to find out by going position by position and comparing last year’s team to what we expect to see come September. And also just like last year, I’m going to use the very scientific and accurate “Tebows” Rating System!
Here’s how the grades will be done: If a position was majorly upgraded, it will get +2 Tebows. If a position was majorly downgraded it will get -2 Tebows. Moderate upgrades or downgrades will get +1 or -1, and if a position is expected to get the same amount of production as last year, it will get a 0. At the end, we’ll add up all the positions and see where the roster stands compared to the 2013 version. Let’s get going.
Quarterback – There’s really no sugar-coating this: For the majority of 2013, the Jets quarterbacks – mainly Geno Smith – were pretty terrible. It would be easy to just say “It can’t be any worse than last year, right?” and give this a +1 Tebow, but there are legitimate reasons to expect a big improvement at the QB position for the Jets in 2014. For one, the team added free agent Michael Vick to the mix, and while Vick is nowhere close to being the player he used to be in his prime, he is a legitimate NFL quarterback. His presence gives the Jets a solid option in case Geno Smith falters and at the very least, he is a good mentor for the young players.
The big reason to have hope for 2014, however, has nothing to do with Vick and everything to do with Geno Smith. Yes, he mostly struggled and was even benched at one point last year, but if you look at the way he closed out the season, there is reason to believe he’s going to be much better in Year 2. Over the last four games, Geno was 68-116 (59%) for 790 yards, 4 TD’s, and 1 interception passing. He also rushed 31 times for 186 yards (6.0 ypc) and 3 TD’s. If we get that Geno Smith over 16 full games, the Jets offense can actually be really good. And with a full offseason under his belt working with Marty Mornhinweg and getting more comfortable in the offense, it’s reasonable to think we will get something closer to “End of the Season” Geno instead of “First 12 Games” Geno. There is hope, Jets fans! GRADE: +1 Tebow.
Running Back – Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell formed a decent 1-2 punch last year, but it was pretty clear that the Jets needed to upgrade this position going forward, especially if they were going to go back to relying on the run a little more in 2014. Ivory is a terrific runner (108 carries for 603 yards, 5.6 avg, over the last 8 games in 2013), but he has durability issues and battled injuries for a good chunk of 2013. Bilal Powell is a very steady and reliable back, but he was used more last year than the team probably wanted due to injuries to Ivory and Mike Goodson. A big goal for this position in the offseason was to add some explosiveness and start racking up some big plays, which is something that was sorely lacking last year.
Enter Chris Johnson. The former 2,000 yard rusher is obviously no longer the player he once was, but in a timeshare with Ivory, he can still be very effective. He brings a pass-catching element to the offense and with his speed he can take a screen (which Marty Mornhinweg loves calling) and take it to the house at any time. Powell slides back into his backup role and will help spell both Ivory and Johnson and provide valuable depth. Goodson is likely to be released at some point and the ineffective Alex Green will likely join him. Unfortunately, Tommy Bohanon will probably still be around, but in spite of that, this position is still greatly improved from a year ago. GRADE: +1 Tebow.
Wide Receivers – Heading into 2013, I thought the Jets receiving corps was going to be vastly improved over the pitiful 2012 group. Santonio Holmes was returning from injury, Jeremy Kerley showed lots of promise heading into his third season, and I was hopeful 2012 2nd-round pick Stephen Hill would step up and recognize his potential. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way because the #1 option, Holmes, was a shell of the player he used to be after suffering a serious injury in 2012, and the rest of the group mostly struggled. Stephen Hill defied all logic and somehow took a step backwards in his development – which was pretty hard to do since he was only at Step 0 – and Jeremy Kerley battled some nagging injuries most of the season.
By the end of the year, mid-season pickup David Nelson – who is a nice player, but hardly a star – had become their most dependable receiver. Beyond that, it was mostly busts as players such as Clyde Gates, Ben Obomanu, Saalim Hakim, Josh Cribbs, and Greg Salas tried to make an impact–and failed. Preseason long shots like Zach Rogers and Ryan Spadola showed why they were considered long shots to begin with, and even Braylon Edwards was brought in at one point in preseason despite having no knees left. Shockingly, none of those options panned out. In retrospect, the fact that fans were even marginally excited about guys like Gates, Rogers, and Spadola at one point or another shows just how pathetic the team’s receiver situation had become.
The fans weren’t the only ones to recognize just how dire things had become though, because General Manager John Idzik addressed the problem by signing the top free agent available, Eric Decker. There was much debate (most of it silly and useless) about if Decker is a true #1 receiver or not, but as we’ve discussed at length here at TOJ, it doesn’t matter. The simple fact is that Decker is a huge upgrade over anybody the Jets have had at receiver in a long time and will help Geno Smith and the offense a great deal. Jeremy Kerley is entering a contract year and it’s fair to assume he will continue along in his development and have a nice season if he stays healthy. Also, David Nelson is still around to provides a reliable veteran presence that can help hold down the fort. The team still has some hope for Stephen Hill as well, but as he enters his third season, they simply can’t rely on him and they know it.
At the draft, Idzik put Hill on notice and continued to bolster the group, not by trading up or needlessly drafting a guy in the first round, but rather by going for value picks in the mid-rounds and bringing in several players to add depth. Fourth rounders Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans are going to have chances to play right away and I personally think both can contribute in a big way. Saunders is an electrifying type of player who can give defenses fits in the slot, and Evans is a reliable target in the mold of Jerricho Cotchery. In the 6th round, the team added Quincy Enunwa, who has a ton of potential and was one of my favorite picks in the whole draft. He may not contribute much as a rookie, but if he develops, he can be a terrific addition to the offense down the road. The days of Jason Hill and Clyde Gates getting lots of snaps are finally over. For the first time in a long time, the Jets have a lot of depth at the position, and it should be a great competition in training camp to see who gets on the field. GRADE: +1 Tebow (with potential to be +2).
Tight Ends – Jeff Cumberland is not exactly one of my favorite players and his play can be maddening at times, but I’ve been too hard on him. He’s a solid option as a #2 tight that has been miscast as the top guy. He can’t block and his field awareness is questionable at times, but he can definitely cause mismatches for the defense and he had a solid 2013 season. Kellen Winslow also showed flashes last year, but it’s telling that the two big things we’ll remember most about his season were his 4-game drug suspension and an embarrassing late-night Target parking lot incident where he was umm, “helping himself out” while looking for a Boston Market. It’s no wonder the Jets were looking for an upgrade at the position in the draft, and that’s exactly what they found.
Jace Amaro was drafted in the 2nd round, and he immediately steps in as the top option at the position. At 6’5 and 265 pounds, Amaro is basically a jumbo sized receiver who adds a whole new element to Marty Mornhinweg’s offense in 2014. He has huge potential and should become Geno Smith’s new on-field best friend. Cumberland is still in the plans as well and he gets to slide back into the #2 tight end role where he can hopefully cause mismatches against linebackers and not be asked to do too much. Zach Sudfeld showed promise in 2013 in a reserve role, too, but it’s Amaro that should make Jets fans really excited going forward. GRADE: +1 Tebow.
Offensive Line – This group is still anchored by Old Reliables, Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, and there’s no reason to expect that to change in the immediate future. Mangold fought through some injuries in 2013 and played very well in the second half of the season, and while Brick had a bit of a down year, he’s still a very good left tackle who will protect Geno Smith’s blind side this year. Willie Colon also returns at Right Guard after having a very solid 2013, as does Brian Winters at Left Guard. Winters was mostly terrible after taking over for the even more terrible Vlad Ducasse five weeks into the season, but the 2013 3rd-Round pick closed out the season very well and gives the team hope going forward. After switching to Guard from his college position of Left Tackle, it was reasonable to expect some growing pains for Winters. Hopefully after a year in the league and a full offseason, he’s ready to step up and play like he did the last few weeks.
The only expected change in the starting lineup is at Right Tackle, where former Seahawk Breno Giacomini takes over for Austin Howard who got a ridiculous amount of money from the Oakland Raiders and left as a free agent. While it would be nice to have continuity along the line, it was smart of Idzik to not overpay for Howard and he replaced him with a similar player in Giacomini. For depth, Idzik drafted Dakota Dozier, who needs a bit of seasoning but has a ton of potential and is likely to take over for Colon in 2015. Last year’s draft choices Oday Aboushi and Will Campbell are both in the mix as well, as is tackle Ben Ijalana. As with all of the other positions on the offense, Idzik has brought in many options with the goal being to maximize competition for every spot and have solid depth all around. The days of throwing Colin Baxter to the wolves are over. GRADE: 0 Tebows.
Overall Grade: +4 Tebows. The Jets offense has clearly improved a great deal (on paper at least) since last season ended. Geno Smith and Marty Mornhinweg have legitimate weapons to work with with now with Amaro, Johnson, Decker, and the rookie receivers in the fold, and there’s a very good chance the Jets offense will be a much improved unit in 2014. They won’t be racking up video game numbers like the Denver Broncos, but they won’t need to. If they just improve enough to become a middle-of-the pack group, there’s no reason the Jets shouldn’t be a playoff team in 2014.
(Check back on Friday for Part 2, Grading the Defense. Let me know your grades here in the comments or on Twitter.)