The New York Jets are looking at a major rebuild in 2017, with a roster that showed itself to have plenty of holes in the 2016 season. They may opt to address some of those needs through free agency and the NFL Draft, but the ideal situation for any rebuilding team is to find young, inexpensive players already on the roster who can step up when given a more substantial role. Here are my picks for five New York Jets who can do just that in 2017…
Brandon Shell – Right Tackle
Many scratched their heads when Mike Maccagnan traded up back into the 5th round to select Brandon Shell, the OT out of the University of South Carolina. It seemed like a needless spending of assets for a project player who would be buried on the depth chart if he even made the team, and could probably have been had later when the Jets had picks.
But after an injury to starting RT Breno Giacomini, and the inconsistent play of Brent Qvale, Shell got a chance to show what he could do. He started the last three games of 2016, and he certainly made the most of it. He did not allow a sack in those three games, and committed only one penalty while playing 100% of the snaps against the quality edge rushers of the Dolphins, Patriots, and Bills.
If Shell can carry that momentum over into 2017 and continue to develop, he should be the leader to start at the position next year, and can pair with 2016 breakout Brian Winters to solidify a young and very solid right side of the line which led the AFC and tied for fourth in the NFL in “Power Runs” (runs on 3rd/4th down or goal line of two yards or less to go that resulted in a conversion). Filling the hole at RT without a big free agent or a high draft pick would be a coup for the Jets.
Juston Burris – Cornerback
The Jets will be definitely be searching for one, possibly two new starting corners in 2017, depending on what they decide to do with Darrelle Revis. Whether the team attempts to convert Revis to safety, or cuts him outright, the front office will surely be looking to acquire multiple defensive backs who can compete to start at the position.
They should however, look first at the current roster, as 2016 4th round selection Juston Burris looked at times not just like a promising rookie, but the best corner on the team. That statement may say more about the state of the Jets secondary than anything else, but to deny that Burris showed promise and flashed really quality corner play is just ignoring his tape. At 6’0″ and roughly 210 lbs, Burris has ideal size and length to press and compete with wide receivers on the outside.
Additionally, filling one outside slot with Burris and the other with a draft pick or free agent would allow the Jets to move Buster Skrine back to being primarily a slot and nickel corner, which is by far where he plays his best football. The rookie tied for 2nd on the team in both interceptions and passes defended, a stat made even more impressive when you take into account he played only 7 games this year, and played more than 50% of the defensive snaps in just three of them.
Lorenzo Mauldin – Outside Linebacker
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Jets draft a disruptive defensive player who has a promising rookie year, but then the Jets shoot said player’s development in the foot in year two by trying to change them and experiment rather than sharpening the skills they already have.
Familiar? Quinton Coples, Sheldon Richardson, Calvin Pryor, and you can now add Lorenzo Mauldin to that list of players whose development was stunted by being asked to alter what they do best. For Mauldin, his skill set is using his speed, athleticism, and relentless motor to pressure the quarterback. A skill set that garnered him 4.5 sacks in 2015 and high expectations for the coming year. Then Mauldin was asked to put on weight in the offseason, with the hopes of making him a “more complete linebacker.” So Mauldin reported to camp in 2016 at 265 lbs, fifteen pounds heavier than his normal playing weight. And it showed.
Mauldin looked a step slow all during training camp and preseason, and it carried over into the regular season. The speed rusher had lost his speed. This resulted in a frustrating reduction in snaps and production. However, there is reason for optimism. The edge rusher was really starting to come on in the second half of the season with increased snaps before an ankle injury held him out of the last four games of the year. This is presumably because his increased work load allowed him to get back down to “playing weight”. In fact, Mauldin’s tackle, passes defensed, interception, and hurries totals were all better than they were in his promising 2015 campaign. In addition, the hire of Hall of Famer Kevin Greene as the Jets’ new outside linebackers coach should excite Mauldin and all those looking for him to return to disruptive form. I’d say Mauldin is a prime breakout candidate if he gets put back in a position to succeed.
Charone Peake – Wide Receiver
Charone Peake was definitely not the most talked about rookie wideout for the Jets this year, and for good reason. UDFA rookie teammate Robby Anderson broke out in his premiere campaign, totaling 42 catches for just under 600 yards. But hear me out as to why I think Peake is the receiver to look at next year.
First is his situation. There is a pretty solid chance that both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall are not wearing green and white next season, although I think the most likely scenario is that one is cut and one is retained. And I believe Marshall is more likely to be cut or traded. Peake’s frame (6’2″, 210 lbs) a full twenty pounds more than Anderson) and skill set much more resembles Marshall’s than Anderson’s does. That is why Peake was listed as Marshall’s primary backup as the X receiver on the Jets’ depth chart.
So in my opinion, if Marshall is the odd man out, Peake is the most obvious option to take his snaps on the outside. That allows Quincy Enunwa to play opposite Peake as the Z, and lets Eric Decker (if he’s still on the team) to move back inside as a slot receiver, where he has his most success as a route runner in 2015.
Where does that leave Robby Anderson, you ask? Well that leads me to my other point, and that is scheme. New Jets OC John Morton is coming from a New Orleans system where they spread you out with formations, and spread the ball around in the passing game. Six players had 40+ receptions and at least 3 TDs for the Saints last year alone. That means you need at least four wide receivers who can consistently get open. The Jets can move Anderson around as a speed weapon to exploit matchups and further spread the field. And Peake certainly qualifies as one of those top 4 receivers in terms of usage. He was 4th among Jets receivers in both catches and snaps last year. And all that points towards an incredibly favorably situation for Peake even if Decker is still here. Imagine if he isn’t.
Bilal Powell – Running Back
Many will say that a 28 year old running back going into his seventh NFL season shouldn’t be a breakout candidate, but for Powell I disagree. For one, he’s a relatively fresh 28 year old as far as NFL running backs go. Many Jets fans would say Powell has been criminally underutilized the past several years, with this past season being the most egregious. In fact, Powell has never had more than 176 rushing attempts in a season, only having more then one hundred three times. And he’s never seen 60% of the offensive snaps for the Jets in his career.
That should change in 2017. Matt Forte was brutally overused in 2016, taking valuable touches from Powell, and exhausting Forte’s old legs in the process. And Powell was much more efficient with his touches. Powell had only 91 fewer rushing yards than Forte on 87 fewer carries. He averaged a full 1.8 more yards per carry than Forte. The question is not if Bilal Powell will break out with a larger role, it’s only a matter of time. If Powell and Forte’s usage numbers are reversed in 2017, a much better use of both backs’ skills, Bilal Powell just reeks of a guy who will go out there and get you 1,000+ yards rushing and 500+ receiving. It’s his time to shine.
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