New York Jets Staff Evaluations – Positional Coach Edition

Daniel Essien with an evaluation of the New York Jets positional coaches in 2017

Our staff evaluations conclude with a look at positional coaches for the New York Jets. These coaches may often work in the shadows, but they have a huge influence on player growth and contribution. Usually, when a player makes a jump in productivity, or plays well beyond expectation, there’s a good position coach behind it. Let’s look at how the Jets’ positional coaches performed this season. 

Jeremy Bates – QB Coach

In his first stint in the NFL since 2012, Jeremy Bates returned to be the QB coach of the Jets. He came knowing the QB situation wasn’t the best. With a QB near retirement, and two rookies with very limited skill sets, Bates had his work cut out for him. In the end, he did fairly well for himself. Despite missing the last three games due to injury, McCown posted career bests in passing yards, touchdowns, and completion percentage under Bates. Granted some of those numbers are false positives, but regardless Bates helped get maybe the best results possible out of the starting QB.

Beyond McCown I think judgment should be reserved. Both Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg were considered borderline NFL QB’s and that has remained the case. The real test for Bates will start when the Jets get their starting QB for next season, particularly if that QB is drafted. Bates will expected to be a major factor next year once that QB is brought in. If eyes weren’t on him before, they will be now.

Stump Mitchell – RB Coach

Stump Mitchell was another hired in the offseason and inherited an experienced group with Bilal Powell and Matt Forte as the lead backs. Rookie 6th round pick Eli McGuire was really Mitchell’s only young project. The hope for this season was for Bilal Powell to be the feature back and get the lion share of touches. The distribution of touches, however, falls on the coordinator and the head coach. As far as Mitchell is concerned, this group did a decent job this season. Powell averaged 4.3 yard per carry and was 4th in the NFL in carries for 20 yards or more (9). McGuire flashed on a few plays this season but finished the season only averaging 3.6 yards per carry and lost two fumbles.

It seems every coach will be hoping for new additions in the offseason. But with the RB class in this year’s draft, Mitchell should make his voice heard. We’ve seen how dynamic running backs can change an offense throughout the league. With Stump Mitchell’s experience in Arizona developing David Johnson, let’s hope the Jets can get him a high ceiling player to groom in this year’s draft.

Karl Dorrell – WR Coach

For the second season in a row, Jets WR coach Karl Dorrell has overseen a young receiver making a big leap in production. Last season it was Quincy Enunwa. This season it was Robby Anderson. As we discussed in the previous evaluation piece on the coordinators, Anderson’s numbers skyrocketed since last year.  He had a 60% increase in yardage, and 5 more touchdowns while somehow increasing his yard per catch average (14.9) despite a 46% increase in targets. Anderson’s big year was partially due to the season-ending injury to the likely main target, Quincy Enunwa, in the preseason. But Dorrell deserves major credit for having the speedster ready to step into a bigger role.

Apart from Anderson, there wasn’t much else to point to in the receiver room. That’s slightly worrying because the Jets invested a 3rd and 4th round pick with ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. However, the last two star Jets receivers broke out in year 2. Perhaps Dorrell has another trick up his sleeve.

Jimmie Johnson – TE Coach

Jimmie Johnson is entering his third season as the Jets tight end coach. He didn’t have much to do in his first two seasons because former offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey, didn’t utilize the position much at all. That changed with John Morton and Johnson’s group faired somewhat better than expected. Johnson suffered a big blow when Rookie TE Jordan Leggett couldn’t overcome injury and had to go forward with Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Tomlinson, and Neal Sterling. He got about as much as anyone could out of this group. Seferian-Jenkins, in particular, emerged as a solid red zone target. Johnson’s most important task going forward will be developing Jordan Leggett in his return for 2018. If the Jets re-sign Seferian-Jenkins, they should expect more from this group next season.

Steve Marshall – OL Coach

Steve Marshall is also in his third season as the Jets offensive line coach. The Jets’ offensive line has been a source of concern the last few years after losing some key veterans, like D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. However, Marshall has helped stem the tide, developing some young talent the last few years. While James Carpenter has been the most solid and consistent member of this group, Brian Winters and Brandon Shell are probably the most important pieces going forward. Both are young players that emerged under Steve Marshall.

Winters played very well in 2016, earning a new contract last offseason. His 2017 season was certainly below expectations. However, we later found out he was battling through injury most of the year. Brandon Shell came on towards the end of the 2016 season and starting turning heads. He tried to continue that momentum this past season and for the most part succeeded but injuries got in the way of his development as well in 2017, as he missed 4 games.

Starting center Wesley Johnson is the main concern along the offensive line after his poor 2017 season. However, considering his work with the other members of the offensive line, Marshall has done a good job in his role so far. The Jets need to reward him with an upgrade at center and young player to mould at left tackle.

Robert Nunn – DL Coach

Robert Nunn just completed his first season as the Jets’ defensive line coach. He took over last season after the Jets moved on from Pepper Johnson. His results this season are concerning. The Jets defensive line this season was, for the most part, invisible. The Jets went from 11th to 24th in run defense, and a big part of that was the decline of the defensive line.  Trading away Sheldon Richardson is part of that but not an excuse at all. Nunn didn’t the best out of Leonard Williams or Mo Wilkerson. While you can argue Wilkerson may not have given his best effort, there’s no doubt that more was expected from Leonard Williams this season. The Jets used a first round 6th overall pick on Williams. They have to know they have someone in place that can help him go from potential to realized talent.

There have been a few positives. Steve McClendon quietly had a great season for the Jets. He consistently got penetration and made plays in the backfield. Kony Ealy also played consistently well all season, particularly in passing situations. He had 9 batted passes this past year. In the end, though, McClendon is 32 years old and Kony Ealy is set to be a free agent. Nunn’s future with the Jets should be tied directly to Leonard Williams’ growth.

Kevin Greene – OLB Coach

Kevin Greene also just completed his first season with the Jets, as their outside linebacker coach. Greene was a praised hire because of his resume as a former player and as a coach in Green Bay. However, like other the coaches, Greene didn’t really have much to work with on the Jets’ roster. It’s early but results have been mixed. Jordan Jenkins was the best of the group, but in his rookie year he was more of a edge setter and run defender than a pass rusher. This year that didn’t really change much. While he did look improved in pass rush, he only had a half sack more than he had in 2016 (3). Josh Martin was a pleasant surprise early on in the season but tailed off as the season went along.

The hope for year two for Kevin Greene is mainly for him to have more talent to work with. But beyond that, you’d hope he can get some pass rush production off the edge. The Jets have sorely lacked that for a while now.

Mike Caldwell – ILB Coach

Mike Caldwell completed his third season as the Jets inside linebacker coach. His group had mixed results this past season after a major change in the offseason. The Jets signed Demario Davis after they released veteran and defensive leader, David Harris. Not much was expected from Davis but ended up having an impressive season. He was a force against the run and finished with a total of 148 total tackles, and 5 sacks. With Davis set to become a free agent, it’s likely the Jets will push hard to re-sign him. Caldwell deserves some plaudits for helping foster this season from Davis. But Davis’ good season is closely coupled with that of his partner at ILB, Darron Lee.

Lee was not able to find any consistency this season. He did have a 3-4 week stretch of really encouraging play this season. However, overall, he continued to struggle with eye discipline, in pass coverage, and with his instincts. It’s concerning not to see the improvements necessary to justify his first round selection after year two. Eyes will be on Caldwell to see if he can find a way to get Lee to play consistently at a high level.

Dennard Wilson – DB Coach

Dennard Wilson just finished his first season with the Jets. His tenure started with a substantial gift when the Jets drafted Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye in the first and second round of the draft. Both players came in as starters from day one and showed promise throughout the year. Maye had the most consistent season, while Adams’ improvement can seen when comparing his matchups against Rob Gronkowski in week 6 and week 17. But both players were seen as already pro-ready and likely would’ve thrived under most coaches.

The best place to look in Wilson’s evaluation will likely be at cornerback. Other than Mo Claiborne (signed in the offseason), and Buster Skrine, the Jets were pretty bare at that position. Claiborne was solid when he was fully healthy, and Skrine actually had probably his best season as a Jet despite the one performance in Miami every fan remembers. But, Juston Burris seemed to regress from his 2016 season. He struggled with basic aspects of his responsibilities. Daryl Roberts stepped in for him and faired better but not by much. The team gave an “NFL redshirt” to rookies Derrick Jones and Jeremy Clark in 2017 and it will be interesting to see what Wilson is able ot get out of them. However, with Claiborne set to become a free agent, the Jets are in danger of a very thin group next season if they don’t make upgrades in free agency and the draft. Let’s hope in Wilson’s second season the Jets can get him more to work with.

Brent Boyer – Special Teams Coordinator

Brent Boyer just completed his second season with the Jets. The Jets did a decent job on special teams this past season. They gave up one return touchdown this season on a punt against Carolina. Lachlan Edwards improved on his rookie season, putting 35% of his punts inside the 20. Chandler Catanzaro was probably the only concern. He had a  83% field goal conversion rate, which was tied for 18th in the league. Boyer has been able to maintain a competent group, but it’s reasonable to expect more from these groups as the Jets add more talent and better athletes slide into special teams roles.

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