The New York Jets take the field later this week for their 2019 training camp in Florham Park, New Jersey. This has been a dark “era” of Jets football as the post Random Rex AFC Championship Game years have faded into the second longest playoff drought in franchise history and the third longest playoff drought currently in the NFL.
After being the only team in the NFL to not meet or exceed six wins once in the past three years, the Jets finally took a sledgehammer to the stagnant, ineffective Mike Maccagnan/Todd Bowles regime by canning both of them, hiring Adam Gase as the Head Coach and rebuilding the front office around recently hired GM Joe Douglas. Their roster had a splashy makeover in some areas with the headline additions of Le’Veon Bell, CJ Mosley, Kelechi Osemele and Jamison Crowder while was surprisingly stagnant in other areas like center, cornerback and edge rusher.
Is 2019 the beginning of the end of this generally miserable era of football or was too much damage done in the past 4 (6? 8?) years to expect a corner to truly be turned this season? Here is what to watch for this August while we all try to figure out the answer…
Whether Jets fans want to hear it or not, they have a potentially combustible coaching staff. Gase is coming off back to back losing seasons and has carved out a reputation that seems split between offensive genius hindered by the Dolphins organization and megalomaniac who will inevitably always be done in by his own stubbornness. He will get a chance to defy the odds working against a NFL Head Coach who was fired and immediately began as a Head Coach for another team with no years in between.
His designated “Head Coach of the Defense” will be Gregg Williams, who had an impressive run as Interim Head Coach for the Cleveland Browns last year but has a resume at Defensive Coordinator that points to a little more bark than bite. Williams’ former Bountygate Rival Joe Vitt is also here along with his seat snatching son, Blake. Dowell Loggains was also inexplicably brought along by Gase to hopefully stay far away from Sam Darnold and provide Twitter with King of Queens memes.
The Jets made a savvy addition by poaching Offensive Line coach Frank Pollack from the Cincinnati Bengals and were smart to hold on to Special Teams Coordinator Brant Boyer to round out what will inevitably be an interesting collection of coaches to watch.
The good news for this staff is the roster they inherited has notably improved from the 4 win team who finished the season 1-9 in 2018.
Score. Some. Damn. Points.
This is an offense dominated league and the Jets have hope at the game’s most critical position with Sam Darnold returning for his sophomore season. There were enough flashes in a horrid situation in 2018 for fans to believe Darnold can be “The Guy,” as he has the most raw talent of any quarterback they’ve had under center this century, outside of Brett Favre’s one year visit. All eyes will rightly be on him this summer and there is no reason to expect him not to shine with more experience under his belt, what should be a more passer friendly system and a superior supporting cast of skill position weapons.
Those weapons are headlined by Le’Veon Bell, who at his best is the top running back in the NFL and one of the best overall offensive players in the league. Are the Jets getting 2017 Bell or are they getting a guy who very noticeably missed an entire year of football? We will probably only get a few glimpses in August as the team likely saves his ramp up for early September but Bell has the ability to help carry Darnold from “intriguing” to “very good starting quarterback” in 2019. He is backed up by hybrid receiver/running back Ty Montgomery and the ageless Bilal Powell, providing the Jets their best running back depth chart since their last playoff runs.
At receiver, Robby Anderson won the offseason with the fanbase but now needs to prove he can be a lead receiver capable of more consistency and eclipsing 1,000 yards. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder will make life easier for everybody and is a radical upgrade over cement shoes Jermaine Kearse. In Gase’s offense, Crowder is a dark horse favorite to lead the team in receptions. Quincy Enunwa has shown tantalizing playmaking ability when healthy but staying healthy has been a major problem. The Jets need three competent receivers week in and week out to execute Gase’s offense and the depth behind these three is wide open to a mix of question marks (Deontay Burnett, Greg Dortch), journeymen (Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson) and long shots (Jeff Smith, Charone Peake). It would be far from surprising if the Jets made a veteran addition here at some point this summer.
Chris Herndon’s suspension sucks and will be a big blow to the Jets offense in the first quarter of the season. Veteran Ryan Griffin should be a capable placeholder but is nowhere near as dynamic while rookie Trevon Wesco will be looking to carve out a role as a reliable blocker. Veteran journeymen Daniel Brown and Eric Tomlinson are bubble roster players who are going to struggle with anything more than bit roles. We are likely to see plenty of Enunwa at H-Back in passing situations to help soften the blow of Herndon being unavailable.
Steak To Go With The Sizzle?
The Jets defense has regularly been hyped up the past few years but regularly failed to deliver in big spots and consistently produce game changing plays. There is plenty of sizzle on paper with this unit headlined by the volume of Gregg Williams and Jamal Adams and with the money invested in CJ Mosley but will they make good on being one of the league’s top units despite a reasonably long list of question marks?
The good news is that Adams is every bit the player the Jets drafted him to be in 2018. There is no reason to expect him not to be a perennial Pro Bowler and to continue improving year over year. The rest of the secondary around him is what remains the largest concern on the defense. Adams’ running mate Marcus Maye has seen his last three seasons end with an injury and he will begin training camp on the PUP list. The depth behind Adams and Maye is shaky at best with special teamer Rontez Miles and perpetually banged up journeyman Doug Middleton. It would be a wise move to add veteran insurance here. At cornerback, Trumaine Johnson will be asked to bounce back from a rough 2018 to be the team’s lead cornerback and be paired with career backup Daryl Roberts on the outside, while newly signed Brian Poole will man the slot. After those three the depth chart is wide open to a range of young players with limited game experience led by third year corner Derrick Jones. Similar to safety, the Jets would be wise to aggressively attack any available veterans at corner.
At linebacker, Mosley was likely overpaid as a non-pass rushing linebacker but will be the best player the Jets have had in the middle since David Harris in his prime. Avery Williamson and Jordan Jenkins are competent running mates at the second level while rookies Jachai Polite and Blake Cashman will be counted on to provide depth and speed off the bench. Brandon Copeland and Frankie Luvu should also be in the mix as situational pass rushers. The Jets lack of aggressiveness in the edge free agency market remains one of the biggest fails of the offseason.
On the defensive line, there is no shortage of names and investments. First round pick Quinnen Williams is still negotiating his contract and will hopefully not miss enough of camp to impact his role early in the season. Leonard Williams is playing for a second contract for the Jets and looking to improve he is not a disappointment for being the 6th overall pick. Henry Anderson was the team’s best defensive lineman last season and was paid accordingly for it this offseason but needs to improve 2018 was not an outlier, particularly from a health perspective. Steve McLendon is the senior member of the defense and remains a steady two down nose tackle. Old regime holdovers Nathan Shepherd and Foley Fatukasi will be fighting for roster spots in year two after invisible rookie seasons.
The Position Battles
Cornerback – Daryl Roberts will start out with the ones but could potentially be pushed by Derrick Jones or a TBD veteran addition if he doesn’t look up to the task this summer.
Tight End – Newly signed Ryan Griffin immediately becomes the favorite to be the temporary Chris Herndon replacement, while rookie Trevon Wesco will be pushing for a large role out of the gate and Daniel Brown/Eric Tomlinson battle for a roster spot.
Center – If Jonotthan Harrison struggles this preseason, the Jets may push for a veteran addition as security or give Jon Toth a longer look.
Wide Receiver – The depth chart is wide open after the starting three. Veteran Josh Bellamy is likely to stick for special teams purposes while veteran Deonte Thompson will be battling second year receiver Deontay Burnett, old regime holdover Charone Peake and UDFA Greg Dortch to round out the unit.
Third safety – A key role with Marcus Maye’s health questions. Right now, Rontez Miles is the most experienced but he is more of a special teamer and hasn’t played a meaningful role on defense in a few seasons.
Backup quarterback – Trevor Siemian is the favorite to hang on behind Darnold but will be pushed by holdover/once upon time hope for the Giants, Davis Webb.
The Fan Favorites
Greg Dortch, WR – Diminutive receiver with head turning speed who has a chance to stick because of return ability. Odds of making roster are probably less than most are assuming.
Derrick Jones, CB – The body type of Antonio Cromartie has fans dreaming of a late round steal that can cure cornerback woes.
Deontay Burnett, WR – Chemistry and history with Sam Darnold makes everybody happy. Is he Patrick Turner 2.0 or a player with long term starting potential?
Trenton Cannon, RB – All of a sudden a roster long shot. Fans love his speed but are overrating his special teams value.
Kayvon Brown, CB – Another long shot hope to help fix the cornerback problems…
The Bottom Line
This summer is about Sam Darnold progressing in a new offensive system and showing comfort with his new skill position players. Outside of that, all eyes will be on the offensive line and cornerback position to see if players like Jonotthan Harrison and Daryl Roberts can hold up or if a veteran addition will be needed. The roster is more fluid than usual with a new regime in the front office and coaching staff, meaning roster sports 40-53 are likely to contain more surprises than usual. Nothing is really settled at receiver, corner, safety or outside linebacker once you get past the presumed starters.