New York Jets – The 2017 Training Camp Preview: Is The Tank Rolling?

Joe Caporoso on what to expect from New York Jets training camp

The New York Jets begin 2017 training camp this week amidst their lowest expectations since before the 2013 season. Many believe this is the worst team in the NFL, if not at least in the discussion for it. The offseason saw a full clean out of veterans, as the team only has four players over 30 years old and twelve players 28 years old or older.

Head Coach Todd Bowles is on a scalding hot seat. GM Mike Maccagnan is on a somewhat warm seat. Owner Woody Johnson is picking out his new flat in London as the UK Ambassador. The favorite to win the quarterback competition is 2-20 in his past 22 starts. Are the Jets in full tank mode or is this team going to overachieve thanks to an under appreciated amount of young talent? 

Let’s preview what we will see in rural North Jersey over next month or so. Football is back. Click on the player’s names below for a film breakdown of their game or a deeper dive into their expected 2017 role. 

OFFENSE 

Questions 

  • Who is getting a high potential group of skill position players the ball?
  • Who the hell is John Morton?
  • Can somebody block?

Likely Starting Lineup 

  • QB – Josh McCown
  • HB – Bilal Powell
  • FB – Julian Howsare
  • TE – Austin Seferian-Jenkins (serving 2 game suspension)
  • WR – Quincy Enunwa
  • WR – Robby Anderson
  • LT – Kelvin Beachum
  • LG – James Carpenter
  • C – Wesley Johnson
  • RG – Brian Winters
  • RT – Brandon Shell

Other players to watch 

Despite limited league wide name recognition, the Jets have an intriguing collection of talent and potential at their skill positions. Quincy Enunwa has the physical traits of a lead pass catcher and has vastly improved with each passing season. Robby Anderson showed potential as a complimentary vertical threat his rookie year. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a 2014 second round pick who has shown flashes and seems to have his head on straight after an impressive spring. At running back, Bilal Powell was one of the most productive (when actually used) backs in the league down the stretch last season. Matt Forte has slowed down but is still a threat out of the backfield and is competent as a 1B option.

The Jets invested mid round picks in ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen and Jordan Leggett to complement these pieces and develop behind them. Late round running back Elijah McGuire will also get a chance to contribute in certain packages of plays and similar to Powell and Forte, is a threat as a pass catcher out of the backfield. The team also took a flier on Marquess Wilson, who has flashed when healthy in Chicago and still has 2016 7th round pick Charone Peake competing for reps at receiver.

The list above will not turn many heads but has the potential to be better (maybe even much better) than the league wide joke they are regularly panned as.

Now, to the catch. Who is getting all these players with all this potential the football? Josh McCown is a 38 year old journeyman, who will likely remind many Jets fans of Ryan Fitzpatrick (not in the good times). Christian Hackenberg followed up 2 tough seasons at Penn State with an ugly rookie preseason and 16 inactive games. Bryce Petty looked over his head when asked to play in 2016 and likely doesn’t have much development left ahead at 26 years old.

McCown is the safe bet to start week 1 with Hackenberg being the first beneficiary if he is ineffective or gets hurt. It is not out of the question for Hackenberg (or Petty) to win the job in camp but it will take a strong, consistent preseason where they show an ability to not only protect the football but also handle protections, read a defense and an ability to attack down the field.

The offensive line is anchored by the unit’s best player, guard James Carpenter, who is flanked by one of their best players, guard Brian Winters. Center Wesley Johnson showed signs of competency last season. The Jets may be solid, or even flat out good up the middle. Tackle is a bigger question mark. Brandon Shell was solid in his three starts last year but it was only three starts. Kelvin Beachum struggled heavily in Jacksonville in 2016 but the Jets are banking on getting the player he was in Pittsburgh. Ben Ijalana played a decent amount last season and would be the first off the bench if either struggles.

There is a high variance on the Jets line. If Shell turns out to be a late round steal and Pittsburgh Beachum is here, the Jets will have a solid unit. If one or two injuries hit, Shell is fool’s good and Beachum is the 2016 version of himself, things are going to get ugly fast.

Finally, we wrap with John Morton…the mystery man from New Orleans. He has not called plays ever in the NFL and has not been a coordinator at any level since Matt Barkley was his quarterback at USC. Most are assuming Morton will bring some version of the New Orleans offense to New York but that is easier said than done without Sean Payton and Drew Brees. It remains to be seen how Morton will utilize the team’s top two playmakers, Enunwa and Powell, and if he can effectively deploy the supporting cast around them. We also need to find out how creative he can get when it comes to coaching around his quarterback’s shortcomings.

DEFENSE 

Questions 

  • Can they rush the passer?
  • How big of a difference can the rookies make from day one?
  • What is going on with Sheldon Richardson?

Likely Starting Lineup 

  • NT – Steve McLendon
  • DE – Leonard Williams
  • DE – Muhammad Wilkerson
  • ILB – Darron Lee
  • ILB – Demario Davis
  • OLB – Lorenzo Mauldin
  • OLB – Jordan Jenkins
  • CB – Morris Claiborne
  • CB – Buster Skrine
  • S – Jamal Adams
  • S – Marcus Maye

Other players to watch 

  • DE – Sheldon Richardson
  • CB – Juston Burris
  • CB – Daryl Roberts
  • LB – Dylan Donahue
  • LB – Bruce Carter
  • CB – Marcus Williams
  • DE – Lawrence Thomas
  • NT – Deon Simon

Once again, the Jets should have a very good defensive line, on paper. Last year, they did not live up to the hype outside of rising star Leonard Williams. Muhammad Wilkerson is playing to convince the Jets to avoid using the out in his contract. Sheldon Richardson is playing to increase his trade value and next contract (likely not from the Jets). Steve McLendon could be a training camp causality if Deon Simon and newly signed Mike Pennel have a strong summer. Lawrence Thomas is a player to keep an eye on, especially if Richardson ends up being traded. The Jets badly need this unit to step up, as they are likely going to struggle generating consistent pressure from the linebacker position. There is no reason that Williams and Wilkerson can’t threaten for double digit sacks if they are playing to their potential.

At linebacker, it is a cluster of question marks. Darron Lee and Lorenzo Mauldin are coming off disappointing seasons but are being counted on to take the next step. Mauldin will also be dealing with an August court case. Next to Lee, Demario Davis will battle with Bruce Carter, Spencer Paysinger and Connor Harris for playing time. Jordan Jenkins had an encouraging finish to his rookie year and is hopefully evolving into Calvin Pace 2.0 when it comes to setting the edge here long term. If Lee doesn’t start playing to his draft pick status, this positional group could be ugly to watch. Look for a large rotation of players at both inside and outside linebacker depending on the situation, which could lead to extended looks for rookie Dylan Donahue and journeymen Freddie Bishop and Corey Lemonier.

In the secondary, it is all about the young pups. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye will be counted on to make an immediate impact and help mask the deficiencies at the cornerback position. Morris Claiborne is the expected lead corner but is usually good to miss 6-8 games per season. Buster Skrine is an overpaid slot corner who Todd Bowles miscast on the outside last season. 2016 4th round pick Juston Burris is the early favorite to see extended reps on the outside but Daryl Roberts and Marcus Williams will also be in the mix. Unless Adams, Maye and Burris grow up fast, this group could be tough to watch in 2017.

SPECIAL TEAMS 

Questions 

  • What the hell is going on out there?

Likely Starting Lineup 

  • K – Chandler Catanzaro
  • P – Lachlan Edwards
  • LS – Tanner Purdum
  • KR – ArDarius Stewart
  • PR – Elijah McGuire

Other players to watch 

  • K – Ross Martin
  • KR – Jordan Todman

The Jets have been generally awful on special teams the past few years. They will be counting on the newly signed Catanzaro to help steady the kicking game, year two strides from 2016 draft pick Edwards at punter and more juice in the return game from the rookie class. In coverage, Rontez Miles and Josh Martin will lead the way with rookie Donahue, expected to contribute heavily as well.

OVERALL 

Jets fans should get over feeling insulted when people project the team to be bad. This is a highly unproven team with question marks at multiple key positions, most notably quarterback, pass rusher, tackle and cornerback. Despite that, there is reason for optimism at the skill positions on offense, safety and defensive line. This should be a young, hungry and competitive group who is able to steal more than the 1-3 wins many are projecting them to finish with. It should not be considered shocking if they match or slightly exceed their win total from 2016. Yes, that is a low bar to clear but rebuilding isn’t meant to be enjoyable.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com 

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports