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1 – Quarterback: The New York Jets have flipped this room on its head from a disastrous trio of a 38 year old journeyman and two XFL caliber players in 2017. Josh McCown is back but hopefully only a mentoring role, Sam Darnold is in place as the franchise quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater is filling the “please be healthy and show prospective value in the preseason so we can flip you for a draft pick” role and Christian Hackenberg is still here for some reason. The Jets would be wise to take a cue from most of the league and only carry two quarterbacks on their 53 man roster this season. You do not need to waist a roster spot on Hackenberg being inactive every single week when you can keep an extra running back, tight end, cornerback or pass rusher. Get Darnold under center as soon as he is roughly approximating McCown’s understanding of the playbook, let the 39 year old back him up, try to flip Bridgewater for a pick or release him if he isn’t healthy and end the Hackenberg charade by releasing him sooner than later.
2 – Running Back: For all the traffic at this position, Bilal Powell remains the team’s best overall back, best back in pass protection and best back in the receiving game…all valuable things for a young quarterback. Isiah Crowell projects as early down thumper who gets the second most overall work besides Powell, while Elijah McGuire will likely take over many of the passing game concepts Matt Forte was integrated into last season and also be a change of pace back. UDFA Dmitri Flowers and holdover Lawrence Thomas will battle it out of the fullback position. If the Jets are going to carry a fifth back, it would come down to Thomas Rawls (more likely to be a guy who gets a ton of second half pre-season carries and then gets cut in early September) or 6th round pick Trenton Cannon, who will need to win the returner job to make the final 53.
3 – Wide Receiver: Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor seem to be locks as of this point and provide a nice combination of size and unique skill sets for Darnold. Andre Roberts is the most seasoned returner on the roster and will be battling Cannon for that role. Chad Hansen and ArDarius Stewart will be battling for bottom of the roster spots in their second season, while everybody else feels like a long shot. How many receivers are the Jets actually going to carry? Anything more than 6 feels superfluous.
4 – Tight End: Eric Tomlinson is the team’s best blocker and played good football in an extended role last season. He is more likely to make the roster than most fans want to admit. 4th round pick Chris Herndon should stick around as well and has a well rounded game that could lead him to being a year one contributor. The rest of the group is up in the air. Neal Sterling is a basically a receiver who showed some potential last year. Clive Walford is more of a blocker who has a decent amount of NFL experience. Jordan Legget is coming off a lost rookie season and will have an uphill battle to stick around. The same goes for free agent signing Bucky Hodges. The Jets have carried 4-5 tight ends in the past with this regime so it isn’t crazy to think that could happen again but outside of Tomlinson and Herndon, nobody really feels like a lock.
5 – Offensive Line: A unit that is generating some appropriate skepticism but has a chance to be better than most expectations, if a few things break right. If Spencer Long is healthy, he will be a notable upgrade over Wesley Johnson. If Brian Winters is healthy, he should go back to being a competent starter. If Brandon Shell can play more than 60% of the snaps and be more consistent, the Jets will be more sturdy on the right side. It is a unit with a ceiling of being average and it is something Jeremy Bates will have to be mindful of as he hopefully regularly gets Darnold out of the pocket and integrates quick releases. The depth is reasonable as Ben Ijalana, Travis Swanson, Jonotthan Harrison and Brent Qvale all have previous starting experience.
6 – Defensive Line: The Jets need Leonard Williams to take a year four jump and become more than just a good starter. Outside of him, Steve McLendon is a solid, two down nose tackle likely in his final year with the team. The rest of the rotation is going to be sorted out in camp. If healthy, veteran Henry Anderson is probably the favorite to start opposite of Williams, with Mike Pennel rotating through with him and McLendon. Third round pick Nathan Shepherd and Xavier Cooper should be factors in the rotation as well, while sixth round pick Foley Fatukasi could be a practice squad candidate as a rookie.
7 – Linebacker: The Jets loaded up the depth chart with inside linebackers this offseason but generally ignored outside linebacker. We know Avery Williamson and Darron Lee are the projected starters inside, while Jordan Jenkins will hold down one outside linebacker spot (the Jets regularly only play one traditional 3-4 outside linebacker as they are frequently in nickel). Veterans Kevin Minter and Kevin Pierre-Louis could push Lee for playing time, if he doesn’t improve his consistency on the inside. Josh Martin will make the roster for his special teams prowess and because as it stands now, he is the team’s second best outside linebacker. Everything outside of those guys is up for grabs, with veterans Brandon Copeland, Lorenzo Mauldin, Neville Hewitt and Dylan Donahue battling for roster spots.
8 – Cornerback: Some fans appear to be under the impression that the team is going to carry 10 players at this position because they won’t cut any recent draft picks. This won’t be the case. We know Trumaine Johnson, Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine and Parry Nickerson are locks. After that, they are likely to carry two more bodies. Daryl Roberts is the best remaining player of the bunch and they may want a longer look at Jeremy Clark if he’s healthy. Beyond that, Juston Burris, Rashard Robinson and Derrick Jones will have a tough time sticking around.
9 – Safety: Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye will both be looking to build on encouraging rookie seasons. For Adams, there will be more pressure to make “the leap” and get himself into All-Pro/Pro Bowl consideration considering he was a previous 6th overall pick. Similar to Leonard Williams, the Jets need him to be more than a good starter long term. Terrence Brooks and Rontez Miles provide quality depth and special teams value.
10 – Special Teams: Lachlan Edwards is coming off a strong sophomore campaign and Cairo Santos will be an upgrade at kicker if healthy. The battle for returner is likely between Andre Roberts and Trenton Cannon, with Roberts going in as the favorite.
11 – Coaching: Todd Bowles has been an average to below average coach to date. All eyes will be on how his staff (Jeremy Bates) develops Sam Darnold this year and if he can improve his game management and aggressiveness. If the Jets correctly play Darnold 10+ games this season, Bowles is probably going to be back in 2019 unless the team goes 4-12 or worse.
12 – Front Office: Mike Maccagnan bought himself 2 more years with the trade up to land Darnold, rightly or wrongly (he’s been average to below average to date, similar to Bowles). The ascension of Brian Heimerdinger appears to have really helped the Jets front office this season. Hopefully, he is not somebody they lose to another team in the coming offseasons.
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