Every year a handful of players seemingly come out of nowhere to become major impact players in the NFL. These players all rise from relative obscurity or limited expectations to become major contributors on their respective clubs. Let’s take look at potential 2014 breakout candidates for the New York Jets.
Last off season Coples’ appeared primed to break out. In the 2013 preseason he made the Lions and Jaguars offensive linemen look like blocking dummies. However, Coples suffered an ankle injury from which he never seemed to recover. He finished the season on an upswing with three and a half sacks in the last five games, that rate projects to just over eleven sacks on the season. Barring another injury, Coples should enter the 2014 in a position to become an impact pass rusher. Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, and Muhammad Wilkerson each consume blockers upfront, add Coples to the mix and there just aren’t enough blockers to defend against them. Coples’ unique blend of size and athleticism should allow him to easily dispose of whatever would-be blockers his fellow linemen do not demand.
Gang Green Nation’s Scott Salmon addressed Dowling’s break out potential in this post and I tend to agree with him. Dowling was a second round pick in 2011 for a reason. He has all the talent in the world but, like Coples, has struggled to put together a full season. Early reports out of camp are that he has been blanketing Jets pass catchers and making plays on the ball. He should be in competition with Dimitri Patterson, Dexter McDougle, and Darrin Walls for the starting spot opposite Dee Milliner. Dowling has more talent than any of his fellow competitors but lacks refinement after two injury plagued seasons in New England. If he can stay healthy and put together a solid training camp, don’t be surprised to see him in the mix for the starting gig and thrive opposite Milliner.
Winters looked completely lost for most of last season. However, to be fair, he was a rookie making the transition from tackle to guard. He, like fellow rookies Milliner and Geno Smith, ended the last quarter of the season on a positive note. With some improvements in technique and pass protection, Winters looked competent by season’s end. Winters has the tenacity and physicality needed from a solid starting NFL offensive lineman and if he can continue to improve through the offseason program, could become just that.
Like Winters, Milliner is the penciled in starter at his position. He had a strong final four games in 2013 and looks to build off that in 2014. Milliner experienced the growing pains one expects from a rookie corner but something clicked in that final quarter of the season. He began to read routes, position himself, and play the ball with better refinement. With the front seven ever improving and rookie Calvin Pryor enforcing the backend, Milliner will have support around him. If he continues on this same trajectory, Milliner could become one of the better cornerbacks in the league by year’s end.
With Willie Colon out until training camp and Winter’s development up in the air, Dozier has a shot to steal one of the starting spots at guard. Dozier is talented and is competing against the still developing Oday Aboushi and William Campbell in Colon’s absence. Should he impress this spring, Dozier could play himself into a three way competition with Colon and Winters for the two starting spots. Should he find himself in the starting lineup, Dozier has the size and athleticism to make an immediate impact.
Though he was drafted in the third round, the team placed high expectations on the linebacker out of Arkansas State. Davis was expected to take over for the departed Bart Scott in 2013 and contribute right away. While his sideline to sideline speed helped contain speedier offenses, he has underwhelmed in pass coverage. Davis certainly has the athleticism and physicality to thrive in his role, he just needs to put it together. With as solid a supporting cast as he’s had in New York, this could be the year he steps it up.
The Jets wide receiver and recent special teams woes are well known. Jalen Saunders should step right in to the punt returner role and contribute. With Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley taking the majority of the receiver snaps, the third spot is wide open and Saunders has the talent to run away with the job. He can both take the top off the defense and work the slot; a veritable swiss army knife in Mornhinweg’s tool box.