The New York Jets unofficially kick off what they hope will be a successful season tonight when they open their preseason at MetLife Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are a team the Jets beat last year at MetLife, but who went out and spent a ton of money on free agents like Super Bowl Champion Malik Jackson and AFC leading rusher Chris Ivory. They also drafted arguably the two best players in the draft in Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack to join last year’s first round pick Dante Fowler, Jr. The Jets were busy this offseason as well, as they added Matt Forte, Ryan Clady, and Darron Lee who is now a building block for the future of this defense with newly resigned Muhammed Wilkerson and last year’s first round pick Leonard Williams. Here are 6 things I’m looking for tonight:
1. Dante Fowler, Jr. Versus Ryan Clady
To say that Ryan Clady is the most important Jet might seem like an exaggeration to some but, whereas the Jets have a ton of depth at WR should Brandon Marshall go down and they have a top 5 backup QB in Geno Smith should Ryan Fitzpatrick go down, the Jets do not have anyone behind Clady that can step up and instill at least a little confidence that they can get the job done. Clady is a former all pro LT and, if healthy, is an upgrade from D’Brickashaw Ferguson talent wise. His first game action this season comes against former top 5 pick Dante Fowler, Jr. Fowler was a trendy pick for the Jets last year, and he is coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him all of last year. Clady is the man responsible for protecting Fitzpatrick’s blindside and this matchup with Fowler will not be easy. How Clady handles the second year player will go a long way towards showing us how back Clady really is.
2. Leonard Williams versus a bad Jaguars OL
Blake Bortles and Ryan Tannehill were sacked a combined 156 times last year. I mention Tannehill because no Jet fan can forget the sight of the OL being repeatedly beaten back by this talented Jets defensive line. However, Bortles’s OL was actually worse than Tannehill’s. Where as Tannehill ducked and braced for contact every chance he got, Bortles stood tall in collapsing pockets and took his shots down the field. It didn’t hurt that Bortles was throwing to the third best receiving duo in the league in ascending talent Allen Robinson and the $37M man Allen Hurns. Bortles will probably only get a series or two tonight, so he doesn’t have to worry too much. Leonard Williams should see a lot of time though, and most of that time will be spent in the Jaguars backfield. Williams had a very Wilkerson-like rookie season and you’d assume he is now going to be counted on to play more. Williams taking that next step this season will make it easier for the Jets to move on from Sheldon Richardson in the offseason should they so choose to do that.
3. Can someone on this team stretch the field vertically in an actual game?
You heard Matt Miller from Bleacher Report say on our podcast today that he was surprised Jalin Marshall went undrafted. Marshall, Robby Anderson, and Charone Peake all have a really good opportunity here to stick on a 53 man roster and contribute right away due to the unavailability of Devin Smith. Marshall in particular seems to be the star of training camp but it would not surprise me if Peake carves out a role similar to Quincy Enunwa last year. The Jets like their big WRs, and Peake is no different in physical make up, so it will be interesting to see which one of those guys sticks and if they can attack a defense in a way we haven’t really seen from a Jets offense in a long time.
4. Idzik’s Bunch
Geno Smith, Dee Milliner, Richardson, Jace Amaro, Enunwa, Brian Winters, and Calvin Pryor are all guys drafted by former Jets GM and current Jaguars executive John Idzik. They’re mostly all expected to be key contributors for the Jets this year and into the foreseeable future. Which one of these 7 cements their place as a building block going forward? Pryor and Enunwa seem like locks, but is this Richardson’s last season as a Jet? Will Smith get an opportunity to show what he can do with better talent around him? Can Winters hold off Jarvis Harrison and make his claim as a starter on this OL going forward? And then there’s Milliner and Amaro, the two that will probably have to stay healthy and take a next step if they want any shot at being here next year. I’m interested to see how they do tonight.
5. Geno Smith
Some Jets fans have constantly hopped in conversations on social media just to state that Geno Smith will be cut and the Jets will not go into the season with 4 QBs. It could be a conversation about how salt water is good for your stomach, and you’d get the same remark. I’m here to tell you that Geno Smith, barring a complete implosion, is a lock to make this team. He is the most experienced back up and he is better than the two guys behind him by a lot. With that said, expect some roster gymnastics to occur where one of either Petty or Hackenburg land themselves on IR with some phantom injury. Here’s how it should unfold in your head: if you trust Todd Bowles is a good coach and that Mike Maccagnan is a good general manager, tell me what good coach/GM cuts their most experienced backup? The next part is that some people say Smith only plays well in meaningless games. If that’s the case, what is more meaningless than the preseason? By that logic, Geno will play well and Bowles/Maccagnan are too smart to cut him. The sooner you wrap your head around it, the better off you’ll be. Now, tonight is the first time since 2014 that Geno plays a preseason game and it’s his first game action in almost a full calendar year. Playing in an offense that suits him and that he can play in is going to be exciting to watch because the Jets will be better if Hackenburg never sees the field this year.
6. Christian Hackenburg and Bryce Petty
Hackenburg was drafted to be the QB of the future, and Petty now apparently slots in as the backup of the future. I don’t think the Jets cut either of them. I think they’re developing Petty and, similar to Smith, a QB who knows your system is invaluable. With that said, Hackenburg and Petty have a great chance to showcase themselves for the next year. Petty has already said he is going to go all Brett Favre during this game, but Hackenburg is the one that has to play well going forward to validate not only the decision to take him in round two but also the decision by Maccagnan to pass up Paxton Lynch for ILB Darron Lee. I’m really excited to see Hackenburg in game action because he did not look good the last time he played, and the Jets are banking on him to be the man going forward. It starts here, if he even plays.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com