This is a more optimistic year to preview the New York Jets regular season than in 2017. Yet, despite an active offseason the Jets remain tied for 31st on their Super Bowl odds and have an over/under win total of 6 games in most places. What should you be watching for in 2018 as they look to work towards breaking the NFL’s third longest playoff drought and break in a new prospective franchise quarterback? Here is an overview…
OFFENSE TWO DEEP
- QB: Sam Darnold, Josh McCown
- HB: Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell
- WR: Robby Anderson, Terrelle Pryor
- WR: Quincy Enunwa, Jermaine Kearse
- TE: Neal Sterling, Eric Tomlinson
- LT: Kelvin Beachum, Brent Qvale
- LG: James Carpenter, Dakota Dozier
- C: Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison
- RG: Brian Winters
- RT: Brandon Shell, Ben Braden
Sam Darnold is what the 2018 season is about for the New York Jets. The success and development of the 21 year old rookie quarterback is more important than anything else including the overall win total this season. Darnold easily won the job this summer by quickly picking up the team’s playbook and displaying uncommon pocket presence, poise and field awareness for a rookie. There will be ups and downs but expectations are that Darnold will play older than his age and be ready to lead a legitimate playoff contender in 2019. With the supporting cast around him, there is no reason to think Darnold cannot exceed 3,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns. The bigger question is how much will he able to avoid the turnovers that plagued his final year at USC?
As for the much maligned supporting cast, it is far from the barren wasteland that sone analysts portrayed this offseason. This is the only roster in the NFL with four receivers who have exceeded 800 yards in a season in their career, presenting Darnold with a diverse range of options, all of whom bring intriguing size/speed combinations, including ascendant tight end Neal Sterling.
- Robby Anderson: 6’2, 4.3 forty yard dash
- Quincy Enunwa: 6’2, 4.4 forty yard dash
- Jermaine Kearse: 6’0, 4.6 forty yard dash
- Terrelle Pryor: 6’4, 4.4 forty yard dash
- Neal Sterling:: 6’4, 4.6 forty yard dash
Anderson has the highest ceiling of the group and has a good chance of eclipsing 1,000 yards, a number he would have surpassed last year if Bryce Petty didn’t need to spend time under center. Despite improving the diversity of his game, Anderson can still be a little boom and bust week to week as predominantly a vertical receiver. It would not be surprising if the now healthy Quincy Enunwa ended up leading the team in catches but had slightly less yards than Anderson. Ideally, both players are long term starters for Darnold. Veterans Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor will be situational players behind the two unless injuries hit. Kearse is valued in the Jets locker room, particularly as a mentor Anderson and will see time in the slot in obvious passing situations. Pryor is an inconsistent, athletic freak who will be valuable as a vertical threat and in the red zone.
At running back, Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell will split the lead back role. The Jets have shown a willingness to use Crowell in the passing game during the preseason but Powell is still likely to be the primary third down back and used more frequently in the passing game. The depth is a little shaky as second year back Eli McGuire will not return until week 9 and rookie Trenton Cannon did not look ready for major work in the preseason. Lawrence Thomas and Eric Tomlinson are both on the roster as the fullback and blocking tight end, respectively and should see decent amounts of playing time while not getting all that many touches. Rookie Chris Herndon could gradually work his way to into more playing time in the second of the season if Sterling does not get off to a fast start.
The offensive line has been much maligned this summer but is closer to a league average unit than the complete trainwreck some are making it out to be. Do they have great depth and can they sustain a major injury? No, but the overwhelming majority of teams in the NFL do not and can not. Spencer Long will be a noticeable upgrade over Wesley Johnson and fit in well next to a group of players who are basically all “hold the fort” type talents. It wouldn’t be surprising if this unit had 2 new starters next season but for now the biggest x-factors will be Brandon Shell staying healthy and/or being competent and James Carpenter fitting into a zone blocking scheme.
DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS TWO DEEP
- NT: Steve McLendon, Mike Pennel
- DE: Leonard Williams, Foley Fatukasi
- DE: Nathan Shepherd, Henry Anderson
- OLB: Jordan Jenkins, Brandon Copeland
- ILB: Darron Lee, Neville Hewitt
- ILB: Avery Williamson, Kevin Pierre Louis (1 game suspension)
- OLB: Josh Martin, Jeremiah Attaochu
- CB: Trumaine Johnson, Buster Skrine
- CB: Morris Claiborne, Derrick Jones
- S: Jamal Adams, Terrence Brooks
- S: Marcus Maye, Doug Middleton
- K: Jason Myers
- P: Lachlan Edwards
- LS: Thomas Hennessy
The Jets defense is littered with high draft picks, high expectations (at least higher than the offense) and high praise but limited production. 2015 first round pick Leonard Williams is the last man standing from Mike Maccagnan’s inaugural draft class and through three years has been a slightly less productive version of Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. The Jets need him to make “the leap” and propel himself from very good starter to an All-Pro. When you take a player 6th overall, lack of a supporting cast and double teams are things you are expected to overcome to be consistently productive. Williams is a valuable building block and is likely to get a new contract from the team but he has to improve on his 2017 season.
Elsewhere in the front seven, the Jets will be counting on rookie third round pick Nathan Shepherd to be an immediate impact player (a requirement when you are 24 years old when drafted). Shepherd’s physical attributes are off the charts but there is likely to be a steep learning curve going from the small college ball he played to the NFL. Veteran Henry Anderson could prove to be a steal for a 7th round pick as a valuable rotational piece behind both Shepherd and Williams. Veteran Steve McLendon is a two down run stuffer who is holding the fort (and holding it well) until Mike Pennel and other Foley Fatukasi are ready for bigger roles.
Linebacker is the biggest sore spot on the current roster. Free agent signing Avery Williamson is the most proven player and is at best a slightly above league average starter as a two down thumper on the inside. In most people’s minds Darron Lee was drafted to be a switchblade, taking advantage of his speed. Instead, the Jets have played him as a traditional inside linebacker where he has been generally overwhelmed. Lee is on a trajectory to not receive a second contract from the team. At outside linebacker, Jordan Jenkins is competent on the edge and everybody else is a special teamer or castoff. The Jets will try to mask these issues by utilizing a high volume of three safety and nickel looks. The outside linebackers can’t be that bad if you never play them!
In the secondary, the Jets made a necessary splurge for cornerback Trumaine Johnson who will add some needed playmaking on the back end and make life easier on the safeties. Morris Claiborne will start opposite of him on the outside and will hopefully be the player he was in the first half of 2017, not the player he was in the second half of 2017. Todd Bowles favorite/cornerback roller coaster Buster Skrine is still here in the slot. The Jets are hoping Parry Nickerson and Derrick Jones are on a trajectory to take over as starters in 2019.
Jamal Adams was billed as a generational talent and the steal of the draft in 2017 (somewhat similar to Leonard Williams in 2015). Despite quickly establishing himself as the emotional leader of the team and rightly becoming a fan favorite for his approach to the game, Adams rookie year was good, not great. There were flashes of brilliance and an impressive amount of versatility displayed but there were frequent lapses in coverage and a lack of turnovers or game changing plays. When you are taken 6th overall, the expectation is higher than being a good to very good starting safety who predominantly thrives in the box. The Jets need Adams to effectively bounce between free safety. strong safety, linebacker and slot corner en route to being an All-Pro caliber player to meet the pre-draft hype.
Adams’ running mate Marcus Maye has basically missed the entire offseason and seems unlikely to play week one. After a fast start to his rookie year, Maye struggled down the stretch. It is not unrealistic to expect those struggles to continue whenever he returns considering the amount of time he has missed. Doug Middleton and Terrence Brooks will be counted on to fill the gap left by Maye in the early part of the season.
On special teams, the Jets have found a steady veteran presence at returner in Andre Roberts and punter Lachlan Edwards is coming off an encouraging sophomore year. Kicker remains a question mark with the recently signed Jason Myers temporarily holding down the job. The coverage units continued to look shaky and sloppy in the preseason. As it stands now, Charone Peake, Josh Martin and Lawrence Thomas will be counted on to be key cogs across all the special teams units.
The Jets need Todd Bowles to have a mid-career Ron Rivera moment this year. RIVERBOAT TODD? More seriously, Bowles game management has been abhorrent to date and his team has been a disaster on the road. Over the past two years their record away from MetLife has been 4-12 with two of the wins coming against the Browns, so basically 2-12. Unless the Jets make strides away from home and in managing the basics of a football game they will be stuck in 5-11 purgatory. Jeremy Bates hype to resume disparity is one of the highest in the NFL but he should be an upgrade over John Morton and a solid partner for Darnold in his rookie season. Kacy Rodgers is here to explain why the Jets weekly miscommunications and breakdowns in coverage are not a big deal. This is probably his final year on the job.
Mike Maccagnan appears to have empowered rising front office star Brian Heimerdinger more this offseason, with the positive results of letting Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Demario Davis walk and deft handling of the quarterback position. If Maccagnan and this front office have done one thing well consistently, it is make trades (the resume isn’t perfect but the Sheldon Richardson and Teddy Bridgewater moves have been pleasantly well executed). Maccagnan’s drafts have been ugly, particularly 2015, the first two rounds of 2016 and likely 2017 (sorry to the remaining ArDarius Stewart fans but rounds 3-6 look like a bloodbath). Fortunately for him, if Darnold is what everybody expects him to be, most of all that will be forgotten (rightly or wrongly). Maccagnan isn’t going anywhere unless the Jets tank in 2019 after an anticipated massive offseason. Hopefully, Heimerdinger continues to be empowered and doesn’t bolt the Jets any time soon.
It is the quarterback, stupid. The 2018 season is about Sam Darnold showing positive development and showing himself on a trajectory to be this team’s franchise quarterback. The Jets have more overall talent than they did on last year’s 5-11 team and should be able to flirt with .500 into December this year. 7-9 is where I have them pegged this season, with a ceiling of the 2017 Buffalo Bills, sneaking in as a wild card in a dilapidated AFC with a floor of 5-11 and the coaching staff being cleaned out. The baseline expectation should be that both the GM and coach will be here next year, barring a complete disaster this season. Outside of Darnold, the Jets success and offseason approach will be determined by the performance of the other assumed “rising stars” on the team: Enunwa, Anderson, Adams, Williams, Lee, Maye, Shell and Shepherd. Are these guys legitimate plus starters, competent starters or in Lee’s case, not usable long term?
In terms of style, the Jets should have an entertaining and productive offense that exceeds expectations and despite a potential slight uptick in big plays, a generally frustrating and disappointing defense. The schedule lends itself to a fast start and by fast, I mean this team should be right at .500 entering their week 11 bye and endure a tough finish that will probably knock them just under .500.