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Who is your New York Jets breakout player for 2017?
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Joe Caporoso: I’ll focus on two players at less than flashy positions, who will solidify themselves as competent starters on an evolving defense.
Deon Simon will gradually take over for Steve McLendon at nose tackle and become a steady, two down run stuffer who can occasionally give some push in the passing game. He will fit as a strong complement long term next to Leonard Williams and Muhammad Wilkerson.
Jordan Jenkins finished last season as the player the Jets thought they were getting in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He will not rack up big numbers as a pass rusher (his ceiling feels like a 5-7 sack per season type player) but he will set the edge in the running game and help cover for the inconsistencies of the two inside linebackers next to him.
Daniel Essien: This year is a interesting toss up in terms of who we might see an unexpectedly good performance from with the Jets. There’s competition everywhere on the roster. One player I believe will thrive in this environment and have a breakout season is Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Seferian-Jenkins reportedly showed up to camp in much better shape than last year and is determined to remake his once promising career. Not only is he coming into this season having overcome some major personal battles, but on the practice field he’s being challenged daily by a young star in the making. Getting the opportunity to go head to head with Jamal Adams daily in practice, I believe, will make both players better. On top of that Seferian-Jenkins has the incentive of Jordan Leggett, the rookie TE, pushing him, as they both fight for a starting spot on offense. As if he didn’t have enough motivation, its also a contract year for Seferian-Jenkins, with him set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. I think the competition this offseason will set him up well for success in the regular season and playing for a new contract in 2018 will keep him inspired.
Everyone knows a reliable tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend and with John Morton’s new offense bringing back the use of the TE, we should expect Seferian-Jenkins to have his chance to make a mark. I believe he’ll prove himself to be valuable, particularly in the redzone, using his size and rediscovered athleticism to get open, create easier throws, and make catches in traffic for the Jets’ unpredictable quarterbacks. Don’t be surprised if a position that has been the Jets’ weakest for years has a sudden turn around.
David Aitken: For a team that will be starting so many unknowns there are a lot of arguments to be made here, but the best bet is to look at the handful of players that were playing well last season down the stretch. I’ll go with a personal Maccagnan draft pick favorite of mine, second year OLB Jordan Jenkins.
He came into the league with a reputation for being an edge setting 3-4 linebacker and that is the baseline expectation for him in 2017. But he also finished last season high up the list In several of PFF’s pass rushing and coverage metrics. He’s not going to be the long lost edge rushing terror the Jets remain on the hunt for, it’s not really fair to expect that from a third round pick. But he has it in him to be the Jets new Calvin Pace – an all-around linebacker who can chip in with 5-8 sacks a season while setting the edge and being comfortable with certain coverage responsibilities. That may not be a game-changer, but it’s a piece of the puzzle nonetheless.
Ryan Marcone: He’s been mentioned once or twice in passing, but I’m going to single him out and put my chips on Juston Burris. The former NC State corner was tied for second on the team in both INTs and passes defended in his rookie season, despite playing significantly fewer snaps than other secondary players on the team. He flashes very good coverage ability, ball skills, and recovery speed as well.
You can tell how well he was regarded by the team as a rookie, with Defensive Coordinator Kacy Rodgers saying this spring how Burris was the guy he really wishes they had gotten on the field more last year because of his play. How the coaching staff can be disappointed with a player’s snap counts when they are the ones putting players on the field is beyond me, but that is beside the point.
And Burris has followed up a promising rookie campaign with a very good offseason. Burris has repeatedly be singled out by media as flashing during practice, and has seemingly been one of the Jets’ best defenders in OTAs.
We’ll see how his play carries over once the pads come back on, but my bet is for Burris to secure the second starting corner spot opposite Morris Claiborne, and even be more solid than Claiborne because you won’t be concerned about his staying healthy. He will also allow Buster Skrine to move back inside to playing the nickel corner where he is most effective.
Scott Mason: Being that the Jets are obviously going with a youth movement (you can count the number of players on the current roster over 30 on one hand), there are a lot of interesting candidates for breakout player. On defense, there’s 2016 first round pick LB Darron Lee or 2016 4th round CB Juston Burris, both of whom showed flashes last season. On offense, speedy WR Robby Anderson is a distinct possibility to breakout this season, as are tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, and – controversial though he may be among Jets faithful – second year QB Christian Hackenberg.
But I’m going to go with a less sexy pick and say the guy who will emerge as the one who turns the most heads of those who watch this team closely will be Brandon Shell. Mike Maccagnan used a 2017 4th round pick to snag Shell out of South Carolina in the 5th round of the 2016 draft with the idea that he would be a bit of a project who might take some time to develop. He didn’t play until late in the season, but when he did, he excelled, allowing zero QB pressures on 114 passing plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
Shell obviously has an excellent pedigree – his uncle is hall of fame offensive lineman Art Shell – but he also appears to have the physical gifts and pure football instincts you need to be a successful NFL offensive lineman. He reminds me a little bit of Ryan Young – a 7th round pick in the 1999 draft out of Kansas State – who became a really strong right tackle for the Jets for 2 1/2 seasons before being lost in the expansion draft to the Houston Texans before the 2002 season (The Jets were looking to she’d cap room at the time and basically had a “wink wink” deal with Houston that they would leave Young unprotected if the Texans agreed to take their expensive CB duo of Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman).
I think Shell can be a lot like Young – who turned out to be an absolute steal – and plug a hole at right tackle for years to come. If that does happen, all the credit in the world to Maccagnan for recognizing Shell was being undervalued and doing what needed to be done to land him. Any time you can get a long term starter, it is a huge boon for an organization, so if that is what Shell turns out to be – and I think he will – then it will turn out to be one of the best mid-late round picks of the post-Mangini era.
Joe Malfa: We’ve already had one rather mundane selection of an offensive lineman on this list — I’ll go ahead and make it two.
Wesley Johnson has always been “Nick Mangold’s understudy,” but this is the year he becomes “the guy.”
He struggled at times when filling in for an injured Mangold in 2016, but he had some good moments as well. He’ll never be the Pro-Bowl stud capable of shutting down anyone he lines up against like Mangold was, but he has what it takes to be an above-average center in the NFL.
The experience Johnson gained last season plus a full offseason of work as the starter could prove to be a recipe for success.
It will be a very quiet breakout, but Johnson could be an under-the-radar breakout player in 2017.
He’s in a contract year and is only 26-years-old, which could provide extra fuel for his breakout. A strong season could earn him a lucrative four-year contract as he enters his prime.
Edward Gorelik: Yeah, Enunwa and Powell are going to breakout. We already know. They’ve also both already broken out too, everyone knows their names. You know who will definitely break out though that will shut up the entire NFL-analysis world about how the Jets have an awful receiving group? Robby Anderson.
The Jets are going to be behind often this year. Being behind means you need to pass, and being behind enough means you need to make every pass count. Who other than a deep specialist is getting the most value on a per target basis? Who else has the most value of an occasional on-target pass from an otherwise untrustworthy set of QBs?
Anderson is that guy. Anderson will get his name known this season. His incredible athletic profile and collegiate dominance that started from a young age, will prove to be the perfect vehicle for carrying him to NFL success.
“The current NFL betting odds and predictions for Todd Bowles’s squad point to a possible disaster. Parting ways with veterans David Harris and Eric Decker are unfortunate moves at best, and bringing in a 37-old QB only creates more questions than answers. Regardless of what Bowles and his team are planning to do, none of the changes announced so far make them a good pick heading to this season. The Jets are 20/1 to win the AFC East, 40/1 to win the AFC and 80/1 to win Super Bowl 52. Never in NFL history a team with such long odds have been a wise pick unless you bet against them” says MyBookie line manager Dave Strauss.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com