The New York Jets have struggled in recent NFL Drafts, to put it politely. We don’t need to rehash the abnormally high volume of players selected from 2015-2018 who are no longer here (we can save that until after the final 53 is confirmed) but it creates a burden for the roster to overcome as they deal with the normal perils of NFL training camp. Injuries (Avery Williamson) happen. Suspensions (Chris Herndon) happen. When they do, it is critical for the “middle class” of your roster to rise to the occasion to properly support the top talent.
This Jets roster is more “top heavy” than it has been since 2015. Jamal Adams, CJ Mosley and Le’Veon Bell are legitimate All-Pro candidates. Sam Darnold is expected to take a major leap in year two. Quinnen Williams was the third pick in the NFL Draft. Kelechi Osemele has been an All-Pro when healthy and former top six pick Leonard Williams is entering the season with high expectations in a contract year. Yet, it may be the lesser known names who make or break the Jets ending their eight year playoff drought…
Chris Herndon was one of the biggest positives from the 2018 season. In a disaster of an offense, he still managed to surpass 500 yards and grab 4 touchdowns despite not receiving regular playing immediately. Depending on who you ask, Herndon could/should be the team’s third or fourth most targeted pass catcher and is one of their most challenging players to match up with. With his four game suspension, the Jets are delegating his role to the newly acquired veteran Ryan Griffin and rookie Trevon Wesco. The suspension will also have a trickle down effect to give more opportunities to reserve receiver Josh Bellamy and backup running back Ty Montgomery.
Griffin is the frontrunner to take the lion’s share of the reps at the Y tight end spot and is more likely to be integrated into the passing game than Wesco. The Jets don’t need Griffin to be anything more than a competent secondary option in the passing game and to more importantly hold up as a blocker. Quincy Enunwa is capable of sliding inside for some of the routes Herndon usually runs but if he’s playing H-Back or tight end, it moves another receiver on the field, like Bellamy or Deontay Burnett. As for Montgomery, he will be heavily involved in the offense with or without Herndon around but his share of targets in the passing game only increases with his absence.
Despite the Jets ability to get creative with their positional flexibility, the drop off from Herndon to Griffin is significant. If Herndon was playing sixteen games this year, he would widely be projected as a top 7-10 fantasy football tight end (or should be) while Griffin was a free agent as of July. Wesco hasn’t shown anything yet to believe he is anywhere near ready to make a similar impact his rookie year that Herndon did.
Defensively, the Jets need to replace one of their better starters in Williamson for sixteen games due to a season ending ACL injury. When they are in a 3-4, the job will fall to journeyman veteran Neville Hewitt and rookie fifth rounder Blake Cashman. Hewitt has a similar game to Williamson but is not as consistent and will be an even bigger liability in the passing game. Cashman has quickly become a fan favorite but struggled in the preseason opener and would have been better suited to spend his rookie season as a situational sub package player. The Jets are likely to utilize more 4-3 more and nickel looks that leave CJ Mosley as their only inside linebacker on the field….something that may have made sense anyway considering their defensive line depth chart.
Offenses will be able to pick on the Jets with their running backs and tight ends in the passing game when they have two inside linebackers out there. Cashman is a high motor player who brings good athleticism to the second level of the defense but to expect no drop off from Williamson to him, especially in the first half of the season is naive.
As it stands now at cornerback, Trumaine Johnson is expected back week one but has missed most of the summer. The backup positions are all currently wide open with UDFA Kayvon Brown and journeymen Marcus Cooper potential favorites to be one injury away from major reps. There is no good answer here expect to add more veteran talent or hope that you can catch lightning in a bottle with a player like Cooper (who was solid in 2016) or with Brown playing above his head.
On the offensive line, the Jets are counting on recently un-retired veteran Ryan Kalil to be an effective bridge at center until they find a long term answer. He should provide more stability than Jonotthan Harrison would have but he just started practicing with the first offense yesterday so there is going to be an adjustment period early in the year.
New GM Joe Douglas deserves credit for not sitting on his hands at tight end or center but considering how late he started this offseason, players like Griffin and Kalil should not be looked at as perfect solutions. Cornerback is going to be a multi season rebuild process, no matter what happens the next few weeks and the Williamson situation will put immediate strain on a late round draft pick from the last regime.
The Jets are going to need their top of the roster talent to play like elite players at their position to tread water in the harsh early part of their schedule, buying the middle class further time to develop and get comfortable.