A common narrative around the New York Jets is that they have built a strong nucleus, foundation or collection of cornerstones in the previous four years. Once a stronger supporting cast is added around them and the coaching is improved, everything will succinctly click into a masterful demonstration of Mike Maccagnan’s 5-7 year plan in a league where teams regularly turn things around in 1-3 years. Whatever comforting sounding adjective you use to excuse the team’s 23-36 record over the previous four years, it is an exaggeration. The Jets still need to build a foundation. The Jets still need to build a nucleus. The Jets still need cornerstones at premium positions. There is no a foundation currently in place.
Generally the biggest impact positions in the NFL are offensive tackle or more broadly the offensive line, pass rusher, cornerback and quarterback. This is another, wider way to look at what you need to compete:
Checklist for building a roster in today’s NFL
Role/Number of players
Pass rusher (2)
Off Playmaker (3)
Def Playmaker (3)
Quality OL (3)
That’s where I’d start. Once you fill those 12 spots, you’ll have an outstanding foundation.
We’ll discuss on today’s MTS Podcast
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 20, 2018
During this regime, the Jets have made three selections in the top six of the NFL Draft (four top twenty picks overall) and had excessive cap space during multiple free agency periods. As it stands today, they have a quarterback with the tools to prospectively be a franchise signal caller if his development pans out right. They have zero impact pass rushers. They have zero All-Pro or Pro Bow caliber offensive linemen. They currently start three cornerbacks 28 years or older, one of whom is the second highest paid player in the league at his position and yet none of them are anything better than average.
Taking a step back to look at Jeremiah’s list from the Tweet above. They have their QB. They have o of the 2 needed pass rushers. If we are being generous, they have about 1.5 offensive playmakers of the needed 3 if you count Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson (and this is from a writer who is a fan of both player’s skill sets). They have 1 of the 3 needed defensive playmakers in Jamal Adams and you can make a case that is a generous categorization for him. Adams is a very good player trending towards great but when you hear playmaker you think turnovers and sacks. Adams has 1 carer interception, 3.5 carer sacks and 3 career forced fumbles. For further context, Bears second year safety Eddie Jackson has 6 career interceptions, 3 career forced fumbles and 5 career defensive touchdowns. Rookie Derwin James already has 3.5 sacks in his career and 2 interceptions.
As for offensive line, “quality” is a loose term but to say they have the box checked in this context of having three “quality” offensive linemen is probably inaccurate. They certainly have no stars. You could say Brandon Shell is one since he is a solid starter and somebody who will be here in the next few years, every other spot is somewhat in flux.
Taking a step back from everything, when you watch the Jets there is one player who regularly jumps off the screen: Adams. You can say he is a cornerstone, although he plays a position that can be low impact week to week. There is no other defensive cornerstones. Not Leonard Williams and his 10-13 games per year where he makes no tangible impact. Not Darron Lee, who struggles to stop the run and hasn’t made more than a handful of impact plays since week 1. Not Avery Williamson, who is a capable starter at a highly replaceable position. Not Marcus Maye, who is a capable starter (when healthy) at a highly replaceable position. Not every other JAG they have rotating through playing major reps.
On offense, Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson have their moments but have not been consistent or healthy enough to be considered cornerstones. Those two, Chris Herndon and maybe Elijah McGuire are useful offensive pieces but need a top tier playmaker to be the focal point for Darnold and to help set up better matchups for each of them. There is no player who is regularly jumping off the screen. Players like Jermaine Kearse, Jordan Leggett, Eric Tomlinson and Isaiah Crowell who are consuming major reps right now are easily replaceable spare parts.
As it stands now, the Jets may have their franchise quarterback. They have a very good safety and a few useful supporting pieces on offense, if they can stay healthy. This is not a nucleus or a foundation. It is a bad football team who is tied for the 28th worst record in the NFL since 2015. Nobody associated with that much prolonged losing deserves the benefit of the doubt.