Jets Positional Analysis: Wide Receiver

First a few updates:

1. Visits to the site and comments on articles have been up recently, which is good news. I appreciate anybody who takes the time to read my stuff and love responding to comments on the articles, so keep ’em coming.

2. Big transaction for the Jets today, they claimed cornerback Rashad Barksdale off waivers. He was a sixth round pick of the Eagles two years ago and has bounced around a few different teams the past couple of years…hey nobody said, late June updates were going to be exciting.

3. A belated congrats to the U.S. Men’s Soccer team for upsetting Spain 2-0.

Jets Positional Analysis: Wide Receiver

Over the next 6 weeks, I am going to go through all of the Jets positions and assess each player, continuing today withthe wide receivers:

1. Jerricho Cotchery #89, Last Season: 71 Receptions, 858 yards, 5 TD’s

History: Cotchery has been a starter the past three seasons for the Jets. He had a breakout year in 2006, demonstrating a knack for making big plays and showing good run after the catch ability. In 2007, his receptions and yards went up but his touchdowns went way down. Last year, was a mildly disappointing one for Cotchery who couldn’t top the 1,000 yard mark. This year he will be the Jets unquestioned #1 receiver and needs his production level to match that title.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Cotchery develops in a reliable, consistent number one receiver. He is able to handle the double teams thrown his way and increases his reception, yardage, and touchdown total from the previous year.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He struggles with the pressure of being a #1 and can’t crack the 1,000 yard mark, and also reverts to his 2007 form of not being able to find the end-zone.

Prediction: Cotchery will have a good, not great season. He is able to handle the increased attention of being a #1 in most games but is quiet in a few. I feel comfortable predicting him for 80 catches, 1150 yards and 6 touchdowns.

2. Chansi Stuckey #83, Last Season: 32 Receptions, 359 yards, 3 TD’s

History: Stuckey was the Jets 7th round pick in 2007 but missed the entire year with a foot injury. He won the #3 position last year in training camp and played well in 2008, taking advantages of his opportunities when thrown the ball. For some reason, he was phased out of the offense down the stretch despite scoring a touchdown in the Jets first three games. However, he did put together two strong late season games against the 49ers and Dolphins.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Stuckey steps up and thrives in the #2 role, making people ask “Laveranues who?”

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: His durability issues flare up or he struggles immensely when asked to play as a split end, instead of his more natural slot position.

Prediction: Stuckey will be the week one starter opposite Cotchery and their second leading wide receiver in 2009. I could see him with 55-60 catches for 700 yards and 4 touchdowns.

3. Brad Smith #16, Last Season: 12 Receptions, 64 Yards, 0 TD’s

History: Smith was a record breaking college quarterback drafted by the Jets in the 4th round in 2006. He has been used primarily in gadget plays and bounced around between QB, WR, and RB despite never completing a NFL pass. He was given extended playing time in 2007 at receiver but struggled with drops. On the whole, Smith was very quiet last year. Every season he seems to get everybody excited in training camp with acrobatic catches but then never translates it over to real games.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: It finally clicks for Smith at wide receiver and he begins utilizing his rare combination of size and speed. He becomes a big play weapon for the Jets and bounces back and forth between their #2 and #3 receiver, depending on the situation.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He can’t make an impact on offense and is reduced to nothing more than a special teams player.

Prediction: I’m not sold on Smith as a receiver. I hope he proves me wrong but I think Stuckey and Clowney will have more of an impact on offense than he will this year. Outside of a few wildcat plays, reverses, and other gadget plays, I don’t think he’ll do much in 2009. Maybe 15 catches and 20 carries.

4. David Clowney #17, Last Season: 1 Reception, 26 yards, 0 TD’s

History: Clowney was a pre-season sensation for the Jets last year. He burst on the scene in their first pre-season game by catching two 70+ yard touchdowns and continued to excel until he broke his collar bone right before the regular season started. Clowney spent most of the season inactive but did make a one-handed grab against Buffalo in week 15 for 26 yards.

Chance of Making Roster: 95%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Clowney is able to stay healthy and become the deep threat the Jets have lacked since Santana Moss.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He continues to struggle with drops (as he did in mini-camp) and can’t get on the field or his durability issues turn up again.

Prediction: I think Clowney will be a big play guy for the Jets. Eventually, he will pass Brad Smith as the #3 receiver on the team and see some action in 2 WR sets when the Jets want to attack deep. This may be wishful thinking for a guy with 1 career NFL catch, but I am going to say 20-25 catches, 350 yards, and 3 touchdowns.

5. Wallace Wright #15, Last Season: Many special teams tackles

History: The Jets special teams ace who had a very good mini-camp at wide receiver. Wright saw some action at receiver in 2007 and did pretty good with it, catching 6 passes for 87 yards so there is some talk he will get on the field again this year with the position wide open after Jerricho Cotchery.

Chance of Making Roster: 95%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Wright keeps being a beast on special teams and finds a way to contribute on offense.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He suddenly forgets how to cover punts and kicks.

Prediction: Wright will continue doing what he does on special teams and fight his way into a few offensive packages.

The Rest of the Guys:

Marcus Henry, #14 – The Jets 2008 sixth round pick. He has good size but you never hear about him making plays in practice. He has an uphill battle against Clowney and Wright for a roster spot because I doubt the Jets will keep 6 active receivers.

Paul Raymond, #2 – The speedster from Brown always seems to be in camp but never sticks on the roster, doubt this year will be any different.

Huey Whittaker, #18 – He has good size and made a few plays in OTAs. He might be guy to keep an eye on.

Britt Davis, #17 – An undrafted rookie from Northern Illinois.

Overall Position Analysis: I feel pretty confident that Cotchery, Stuckey, Smith, Clowney and Wright will be the Jets five active receivers. The real question is who is going to step up as the #2 guy? I think Stuckey will mostly be the guy, but receive a good amount of help from Clowney. I am not as confident in Brad Smith but again, I hope he proves me wrong.

Jets Positional Analysis: Running Back

First a few updates:

1. I’m already tired of hearing about Brett Favre and he hasn’t even officially signed with the Vikings yet.

2. There hasn’t been any news about Thomas Jones and Leon Washington’s ongoing contract negoitations and  I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing. All I know is that training camp starts in 5 weeks and they both better be there since they are the Jets two best skill position players. You have had a good off-season Mike Tannenbaum, don’t ruin it now by not working something out with your two pro-bowl running backs.

3. I am really getting a kick out of all the controversy Eric Mangini is causing in Cleveland. A 10 hour mandatory bus ride for rookies? Not allowing coaches to wear sun glasses? Painting over a mural of famous Cleveland players? It sounds like they hate him over there. Honestly, I supported Mangini through his time here and thought he took the fall for Brett Favre. I did hate his press conferences but I thought he had a good football mind, but Cleveland seems destined for a 5 win season this year so you have to wonder how long he will last out there. His approach is only tolerable when your team is winning games.

4. You will have to excuse the lack of pictures in this article, I am having some technical issues with storage space that should be sorted out soon.

Jets Positional Analysis: Running Back

Over the next 6 weeks, I am going to go through all of the Jets positions and assess each player, continuing today with the running backs:

1. Thomas Jones #20, Last Season: 290 carries, 1,312 yards, 13 rushing touchdowns. 36 receptions, 207 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.

History: After a disappointing 2007 season, Jones took advantage of a revamped offensive line to have a career year in 2008. He was a workhorse for the Jets last season and showed an ability to get tough yards in crucial situations, along with the versatility to be an important part of the passing game. He sat out of voluntary activities this off-season and is ignoring the media at mandatory practices in protest of his current contract. The dispute is still ongoing, although Jones is expected at training camp.

Chance of Making Roster: 100% (If Not Traded)

Best Case Scenario for 2009: The Jets work out some type of deal to keep Jones happy and he produces at a similar level to the 2008 season. If Rex Ryan wants to win his way, he needs a healthy and focused Thomas Jones pounding on opposing defenses.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: The contract dispute gets ugly and Jones is traded away for a late round draft pick.

Prediction: Something is worked out to keep Jones in New York for 2009. He has another good year, but not quite to the level of 2008 due to increased role for Leon Washington and the selection of Shonn Greene. He finishes with 1100-1200 yards with 7-10 touchdowns.

2. Leon Washington #29, Last Season: 76 carries for 448 yards, 6 rushing touchdowns. 47 receptions for 355 yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.

History: Washington remained the Jets top playmaker in 2008, building on a very good 2007 season. He made the pro-bowl as a kick returner on top of his offensive production. He ripped off long touchdowns against Buffalo, Kansas City, New England, and Tennessee last season displaying his ability to score at any time. He is also currently unhappy with his contract but did appear at voluntary workouts and is talking to the media. Hopefully, the Jets can work out a long term deal with him.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Washington receives a long term deal. He is given more touches on offense leading to more big plays for the Jets, while remaining a pro-bowl caliber kick returner.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: The contract dispute turns ugly, leading to Washington missing a large portion of training camp and potentially even a game or two, damaging the development of the Jets young offense.

Prediction: The Jets give Washington his long term extension, they’d be stupid not to. He receives more carries and receptions on offense, as the Jets run the ball even more than they did last season and he steps up to help fill the void left by Laveranues Coles and Chris Baker.

3. Shonn Greene #23, Rookie: Drafted in the Third Round

History: The Jets traded away multiple picks to move up to the top of third round to get Greene, showing how highly they think of him. Greene was the 2008 Doak Walker Award Winner at Iowa, given to the best running back in the nation.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He develops a role on the Jets offense as a short yardage/goal-line back and learns behind Thomas Jones. Greene finds a way to get 5-8 touches a game and helps wear defenses down in the fourth quarter. After Thomas Jones leaves next year, he is ready to step up and split carries with Leon Washington.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Greene either gets hurt or struggles so much in camp that he can’t stay on the active roster.

Prediction: Greene will be on the active roster and get a few touches a game on offense. Although I think it will be hard to get him ball after already dividing carries between Jones and Washington. It is going to be hard to take carries away from Jones in short yardage situations after the success he had last year.

4. Tony Richardson #49 (Starting Fullback), Last Season: 10 carries for 65 yards, 1 Reception for 4 yards. Many, Many Men blocked.

History: Richardson is a pro-bowl caliber fullback and made a big difference in the Jets short yardage game last season. It was a great move by the Jets bringing him back this season, anybody who watches them play knows how valuable he is to their offense.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He stays healthy and keeps blocking the way he always has.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets hurt and the Jets short yardage problems surface again.

Prediction: I got faith in T-Rich to do the job he always has throughout his career.

5. Danny Woodhead #22, Last Season: Injured

History: Woodhead was a dominant player in Division II during his college career. He received alot of work this off-season with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington skipping practices. Despite a lack of size, he has great speed and ran tough in OTA’s. He was having a good training camp last year before hurting his foot and going on IR.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Woodhead makes the roster by carving out a role on special teams and flashing enough big play ability on offense to merit some occasional touches. His biggest problem is that the Jets have a guy named Leon Washington who does what he does, except much better. Unless Washington or Jones gets hurt, he isn’t going to see many touches this season if he makes the team.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He struggles in training camp and is cut.

Prediction: I think he ends up on the practice squad. His best chance of making the active roster is by finding a role on special teams, which could be hard with guys like Wallace Wright and Brad Smith taking spots he would probably excel at.

6. Jehuu Caulcrick #39, Last Season: Practice Squad

History: The Jets picked him up as a UDFA last year. He stayed on the practice squad all season. Caulcrick has good size and has been used as combo FB/RB. A few people have compared him to Le’Ron McClain when talking about him. I’m sure if Rex Ryan sees that, he will find a way to keep Caulcrick around until T-Rich retires or Jones moves on.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He makes the roster as a special teams player and finds a way to contribute in short yardage situations. He proves he could be an adequate replacement for Tony Richardson when he retires.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets cut.

Prediction: I think he has a better chance of making the roster than Woodhead. If the Jets keep 5 running backs, I think he’ll be the 5th.

Overall Position Analysis: Jones, Washington, Richardson, and Greene are all locks to make the roster with Woodhead and Caulcrick battling for a potential fifth spot, that may or may not be there. I know I may sound a little too optimistic about Jones and Washington’s contract negoiations but I just don’t see the Jets being dumb enough not to have both those guys back and happy this year after the seasons they had in 2008.

Jets Positional Analysis: Quarterback

First a few updates:

1. According to Rich Cimini of the Daily News, the Jets interest in Plaxico Burress is “cooling off” despite the increased likelihood of him being able to play in 2009. The Burress argument is an interesting one, with fans split on whether the risk outweighs the reward of bringing him in. I still think it is a long shot he ends up in green and white, but crazier things have happened.

2. The Jets signed third round draft pick running back Shonn Greene to a four year deal, meaning all three of their draft picks are locked up. Good work by the Jets front office in getting all their rookies signed well before training camp. Now they can hopefully shift their focus towards pleasing their two pro-bowl running backs…Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.

3. The Jets signed free agent linebacker Brock Christopher, who was a UDFA signed by the Falcons after this year’s draft.

Jets Positional Analysis: Quarterback:

Over the next 6 weeks, I am going to go through all of the Jets positions and assess each player, starting today with the quarterback position:

1. Kellen Clemens #11, 4 years in NFL, Career Stats: 1,555 yards passing, 5 TD’s, 11 INT’s

History: Last year, he didn’t play a meaningful snap as Brett Favre’s backup. In training camp he was competing for the starting quarterback position but was being handily outplayed by Chad Pennington before the Jets traded for Favre. The year before he flashed some potential despite playing behind a terrible offensive line and having a weak, injured receiving core.

Chance of Making Roster: 100%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: For Clemens? It is shocking the world and beating out prized rookie Mark Sanchez for the Jets starting quarterback job and giving the Jets a Drew Brees/Philip Rivers scenario. The Jets organization would like to see Sanchez start but if Clemens can get the job done, they will take who can get them wins. The best thing for the Jets would be for Clemens to push Sanchez to the limit all summer, and eventually lose a close battle before becoming a capable number two for them in 2009.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Clemens struggles heavily in training camp, failing to push Sanchez and inspire confidence as even a #2 quarterback.

Prediction: He gives Sanchez a run for his money, but is eventually named the backup before the third pre-season game. Clemens spends the year as the #2 again and leaves in free agency after the season.

2. Mark Sanchez #6, Rookie, No Career Stats

History: The Jets showed their faith in Sanchez by trading up to select him with the number 5 pick in the NFL Draft and signing him to a 60 million dollar contract. Sanchez is coming off a brilliant year at USC but questions remain about his lack of experience as a starting quarterback. After some initial struggles in OTAs, Sanchez progressed nicely and finished on a high note.

Chance of Making Roster: 110%…C’mon Now.

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Joe Flacco/Matt Ryan…Sanchez leads the Jets into the playoffs as a rookie by protecting the football, learning on the job and occasionally hitting the big play down the field. He makes the front office look great for trading up for him and looks the part of a franchise quarterback from the time he steps on the field in week one.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: Matt Leinart…Sanchez can’t even come close to beating out Clemens this year or even next year for that matter. He becomes a 60 million dollar insurance policy and eventually is photographed holding beer bongs for 20 year old girls in Morristown, New Jersey.

Prediction: Sanchez wins the starting job and takes the expected rookie lumps in year one. The Jets are able to win because of their running game and defense but Sanchez progresses as the year goes on. He leads them into playing meaningful games in late December.

3. Erik Ainge, #10, 2nd year, No Career Stats

History: Yikes…was the Jets 5throunnd pick last year but was inactive all season. He was also suspended four games for a substance abuse violation. Ainge also missed most of the off-season workouts for personal reasons and went from being mentioned as a contender for the starting job to battling for the #3 spot.

Chance of Making Roster: 50%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: Ainge shows growth in the pre-season and locks down the number three job. He has such a strong pre-season and overall year as the look squad quarterback, the Jets feel comfortable making him their number two behind Sanchez in 2010.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He is cut during the pre-season and the Jets look elsewhere for their #3 quarterback.

Prediction: He shows some measure of progress, at least enough to be the Jets number three quarterback for another year but not enough to be their number two next year.

4. Chris Pizzotti, #19, Rookie, No Career Stats

History: The Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent. He was a very successful college quarterback at Harvard. Pizzotti has good size (6’5, 225 lbs) and apparently a strong arm.

Chance of Making Roster: 25%

Best Case Scenario for 2009: He beats out Erik Ainge for the #3 spot and becomes Brett Ratliff 2.0.

Worst Case Scenario for 2009: He gets cut, sooner rather than later.

Prediction: He makes the practice squad.

Overall Position Analysis: There is almost no experience to speak of in this group. All eyes will be on the Sanchez/Clemens battle in training camp. Hopefully, they will bring the best out of each other and one of them can step up to be playoff caliber quarterback this year.

Jets Need Improved Secondary to Step Up

First a few updates:

1. I am starting to get concerned about these new wedge rules on kickoff returns. Leon Washington has been a beast in Mike Westoff’s scheme, which now has to be altered because of the NFL’s decision.

2. Thomas Jones is supposed to show up at OTAs tomorrow and then will have his chance to discuss his contract with the media on Thursday. The real question now is when is Leon Washington going to show up?

3. The Cavs are winning tonight…both of these conference finals are going to 7 games.

Jets Need Improved Secondary to Step Up

Despite having a pro-bowl cornerback in Darrelle Revis and a very good safety in Kerry Rhodes, the Jets secondary struggled heavily last season. Teams routinely beat them by throwing the ball all over the field on their defense, part of the problem was a weak pass rush that fell off late in the year but more of the problem was the coverage.

In an effort to improve their secondary, the Jets traded for corner Lito Sheppard, who is a former pro-bowler that is coming off a difficult season where he was knocked out of the starting line-up in Philadelphia by a high priced acquisition in Asante Samuel. Jim Leonhard was also signed from Baltimore to start alongside Kerry Rhodes at safety, and finally veteran Donald Strickland was added to play nickel-back.

The newly constructed secondary will face a difficult schedule in 2009. They will have to match up against Randy Moss and Wes Welker twice, Terrell Owens and Lee Evans twice, and Ted Ginn Jr and Devon Bess twice (just kidding). Beyond that, the Jets face superstars like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Steve Smith, and Andre Johnson this season. Teams are going to test the Jets secondary early and often to see whether the new acquisitions have made a difference.

Darrelle Revis is as good as it gets at one cornerback spot. He is a top five player in the league at his position (regardless of what Sporting News says, Cortland Finnegan and Nate Clements? I don’t think so) and has the ability to lock down his side of the field. The real pressure at corner is on Lito Sheppard to handle the increased number of balls that will be thrown his way. Sheppard was a pro-bowl player in both 2004 and 2006, but has struggled recently with injuries. If Sheppard can return to his 2006 form when he had 19 passes defensed and 6 interceptions, the Jets will be good in shape.

Donald Strickland has looked good so far in mini-camp and will compete for reps with second year player Dwight Lowery, who began 2008 very strongly but tailed off as the year went on. Strickland has been a good nickel back throughout his career and is a reliable player if Lowery can’t return to his early 2008 form. Hopefully, Lowery can continue to develop into a quality NFL corner and provide good reps in both the nickel and dime package. Another corner to keep an eye on is Ahmad Carroll. A former first round pick, Carroll was re-signed because of his special teams ability but has great natural talent and has played well on defense so far in OTAs. Maybe Rex Ryan can find a role for him on the Jets defense in 2009.

At safety, Jim Leonhard is coming off a breakout year in Baltimore. He is comfortable in Rex Ryan’s system and the Jets are hoping he will provide Kerry Rhodes with the freedom to roam around and make plays. Leonhard worked well with pro-bowl safety Ed Reed on the Ravens, so there is a hope he will help return Rhodes to his 2006 form. He will provide better range in pass coverage than Abram Elam, which should make it harder for teams to throw on the Jets. Eric Smith provides decent depth at safety because he has a good amount of playing experience. Beyond him, the Jets don’t have anybody else with experience as a backup.

Teams will be attacking Sheppard and Leonhard often. Both players have plenty to prove. Sheppard needs to show he can bounce back from 2 sub par seasons on the Eagles and Leonhard needs to show he can handle being a full time starter for an entire season. In terms of the incumbents, Revis just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing and Rhodes need to find a way to play at his 2006 level. Hopefully, a 2008 weakness can turn into a 2009 strength for the Jets defense.

Jets Need Big Season From #25

First a few updates:

1. A shorter Saturday post today since news is a little slow until practices pick up again this week and the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington watch can begin. Mark Sanchez should also be feeling a little pressure this week to improve on his first week struggles, and by a little, i mean only a little…it’s just OTAs.

2. How about LeBron last night?

3. A few things to think about when you are wondering why the Jets have issues with depth and may have struggled in recent years, since 2004 they have: traded a first round pick for Doug Jolley, traded a second round pick for Justin McCariens, spent a second round pick on Mike Nugent, and spent a second round pick on Justin Miller…owch.

Jets Need Big Season From #25

Arguably the most important part of Rex Ryan’s defense the past few years in Baltimore has been the Hall of Fame level play of safety Ed Reed. Reed is a one of a kind player and it isn’t fair to expect anybody on the Jets to match his level of play, but the Jets do have one of the highest paid safeties in the league who Ryan has expressed a desire to turn into “a New York version of #20 (Reed).” Kerry Rhodes had a monster year in 2006, followed by another strong season in 2007, prompting the Jets to give him a huge contract since he appeared to be on the path of being a perennial pro-bowler. Yet, last season was a disappointing one for Rhodes, who struggled to make an impact in Eric Mangini’s increasingly conservative system.

It is hard to assign too much blame to Mangini because he was in charge of the team in 2006, which was Rhodes’ break out year. Bob Sutton was also the defensive coordinator for the past three years, so if you want to blame those two coaches for Rhodes struggles in 2008, they deserve at least some credit for his success in 2006-2007.

During the 2006 season, Rhodes was robbed of pro-bowl and all-pro recognition. He finished the season with 98 tackles, 13 passes defensed, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions for the 10-6 playoff-bound Jets. Rhodes was constantly making game changing plays, especially in the opposing team’s backfield. In 2007, Rhodes dropped off slightly but still had a productive season. He finished with 67 tackles, 10 passes defensed, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 touchdown, and 5 interceptions. The decline in his production didn’t really get noticed since the Jets tanked to a 4-12 record, thanks mostly to a weak offensive line and inconsistent quarterback play.

In 2008, Rhodes level of play decreased even further. He did jump up to 84 tackles but only had 5 passes defensed, 1 sack, 0 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. Many people believed Eric Mangini/Bob Sutton weren’t being aggressive enough with him, but regardless some of the blame must still fall on Rhodes for having a such a major drop off in production the past two years from his 2006 season.

The Jets signed Jim Leonhard from Baltimore to give Rhodes a partner at safety who is comfortable with Rex Ryan’s system and who excelled at playing alongside Ed Reed last year. Ryan is going to let Rhodes be aggressive and be in a position to make plays, similar to Reed. Nobody expects Rhodes to match Reed’s overall production but if he can get somewhat near his 2006 numbers, the Jets defense is going to be that much better.

Can Jerricho Cotchery Be a #1 Receiver?

First a few updates:

1. Kerry Rhodes made the media rounds today, appearing on ESPN Radio and First Take. He spent most of the time talking about the hard time everybody is giving Mark Sanchez over his GQ photo shoot. Rhodes also said the Jets “will go as far as their defense takes them” and that their defense is currently ahead of their offense (I’m sure Brian Schottenheimer was thrilled to hear that).

2. There are no updates on the Thomas Jones/Leon Washington contract disputes. You would hope that both players will be at practice by next Thursday, which is the next time the media has availibility for an OTA practice.

3. Some more numbers out of yesterday’s practice: Sanchez was 1-9 during 11 on 11 drills…yikes. Kellen Clemens was 5-13 but victimized by a few drops.

4. Pro Football Talk recently did an over/under for Jets wins this season and set their line at 7…fair enough without a proven quarterback. Tim Graham of ESPN.com also ranked the Jets wide receivers, as the worst group in the AFC East, which is hard to argue with although I may put them in front of Miami.

Can Jerricho Cotchery Be a #1 Receiver?

For the first time in his career, Jerricho Cotchery will be asked to be the Jets unquestioned go-to wide receiver. Since 2006, he has been in a 1-A/1-B type role with Laveranues Coles but with Coles now in Cincinnati and no replacement brought in via the draft or free agency, Cotchery is the Jets #1. Can he handle the increased responsibility and attention that comes with being a #1? The Jets are counting on Cotchery to take the next step as a player, and move beyond his production from the previous three years.

In 2006, Cotchery had a breakout year with 82 catches for 961 yards and 6 touchdowns. He displayed an impressive ability to run after the catch and made numerous clutch receptions, especially in the red-zone. In 2007, most people believed he would surpass Coles as the Jets clear number one receiver and potentially jump up to a pro-bowl level. He moved up from 961 yards to 1130, despite having the same amount of receptions but had a disappointing 2 touchdowns (including a garbage time hail mary against Cincinnati).

Coles spent large parts of the 2007 injured (Cotchery also missed one game), giving Cotchery the opportunity to be the Jets unquestioned #1 guy. Here is Cotchery’s production in games without Coles during 2007:

Week 9 vs. Washington: 5 Receptions, 90 Yards, 1 Lost Fumble.

Week 11 vs. Pittsburgh (Coles only played the opening series): 1 Reception, 5 Yards.

Week 12 at Dallas: 2 Receptions, 43 Yards.

Week 15 at New England: 6 Receptions, 53 Yards.

Week 16 at Tennessee: 8 Receptions, 152 Yards, 1 Touchdown.

Week 17 vs. Kansas City: 8 Receptions, 76 Yards.

In 2008, Cotchery was a mild disappointment. Most people expected a huge year from him with Brett Favre behind center, but Cotchery never could string together a few big games. He finished with 71 catches for 858 yards and 5 touchdowns, regressing to below his 2006 production. Some of the blame belongs on Brett Favre for being innaccurate and turning the ball over, and some goes on Brian Schottenheimer for being so consevative, but regardless Cotchery should have produced more last year.

There are defintley encouraging trends from 2007 for Cotchery being a number one receiver. In those games without Coles, he was paired with Brad Smith and Justin McCariens. For 2009, Smith is somewhat improved since then and I’d take Chansi Stuckey over McCariens in a heartbeat, and David Clowney is also now in the mix. Cotchery struggled initially with the increased attention, especially against Dallas and Pittsburgh but finished the year strong as a #1 receiver. He had a monster game in Tennessee, and had good overall efforts against New England and Kansas City.

The Jets are going to need Cotchery to be a 90 catch/1200 yard/6-8 touchdown guy for them this season. He has shown flashes of being that type of receiver, most notably in 2006 in all three games against the Patriots, in 2007 against Baltimore (7 rec/165 yds) and Tennessee, and last year against New England (5 Rec/87 yds/1TD) and Kansas City (9 rec/102 yds). Somebody does need to step up to take some pressure off him, but defenses will have to pay attention to Dustin Keller and Leon Washington, which should give Cotchery enough 1 on 1 match-ups to make big plays.

Ten Reasons the Jets Will Make the Playoffs

First some updates from OTA’s today, which were open to the media:

1. Mark Sanchez had a rough day. Rex Ryan characterized his first week as being good (Tuesday), bad (Monday), and ugly (today). He struggled in the two minute drill, only going 1-4 and getting sacked once. Despite looking sharp in individual drills, his 7 on 7’s and team drills were filled with mostly incompletions and interceptions. The defense was all over him, often taunting him about holding the ball too long and hanging his receivers out to dry. He also apparently has been hearing plenty about his GQ photo spread. I wouldn’t panic too much about a rough practice in May, Sanchez is a rookie going against a very talented defense that is running a complex scheme, the guy will be fine.

2. Kellen Clemens had a decent day and a good overall week. He dropped in a 25 yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith during redzone drills and led the first offense to a field goal during their two minute drill. Clemens isn’t going down without a fight and to his credit has remained helpful and supportive towards Sanchez despite their competition.

3. Rex Ryan was angered by the high amount of dropped passes by his receivers today. Somebody needs to step up and fill Laveranues Coles’ shoes. Jerricho Cotchery has been good, as expected but another receiver is going to need to step up, so far Chansi Stuckey appears to be leading the pack as the #2 receiver. The defensive backs were the most impressive position group today, with Darrelle Revis standing out as usual and Ahmad Carroll having a strong day.

4. The ongoing theme of these OTAs has been how the defense has been ahead of the offense. You have to expect this with a young quarterback and Thomas Jones/Leon Washington MIA. Danny Woodhead ran with the first team again, since Shonn Greene sat out today with a minor hamstring injury.

5. Ryan praised the progress of Vernon Gholston, Jamaal Westerman, and Kareem Brown. Gholston is taking advantage of participating in these OTAs, which he missed last year. Westerman was a college defensive end who has already worked at both inside and outside linebacker for the Jets and Brown is apparently making strong progress at tight end, despite a drop today.

Ten Reasons the Jets Will Make the Playoffs

After yesterday’s negative article, let’s take a more positive look at next season:

1. Defense Wins – Everybody knows you need a good defense to play into January. The Jets already had a very good defense last season and only got better with the addition of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, and Lito Sheppard. Rex Ryan will put a more aggressive scheme in place that will take advantage of the Jets personnel, notably Calvin Pace, Kerry Rhodes, and Vernon Gholston who excel attacking the quarterback.

2. Running Wins – Let’s assume everything gets settled with Thomas Jones and Leon Washington in the next few weeks. The Jets have the potential to have the best rushing attack in the AFC, with two pro-bowl RBs, and rookie Shonn Greene. Beyond that, they have a very good fullback in Tony Richardson and one of the better offensive lines in the league. The Jets should be able to hand the ball off 35 times a game and be able to wear out opposing defenses.

3. Winning Attitude – Rex Ryan has changed the culture around this team. They are no longer a passive, reactive team with no notable emotions or personality. Ryan is encouraging a confident, talkative team that will play with some swagger on the field. The Jets won’t be a team that sits back and lets the other team dictate to them anymore.

4. Match-Up Problems – Despite how thin they are wide receiver and tight end, the Jets have two match-up nightmares on offense with Dustin Keller and Leon Washington. Keller shredded up the Patriots and Titans last year because they simply had nobody who could cover him, and Washington is a threat to score a touchdown anytime he touches the ball. He has the ability to play running back, fullback, split end, and in the slot.

5. No More Brett – The Jets will be better off without Brett Favre’s 22 INT’s and the constant side-show that he brought to the team. Yes, Sanchez and Clemens are inexperienced but they won’t throw 20+ interceptions this season, which will improve the Jets overall turnover ratio.

6. Mad Backers – Bart Scott leads a deep and talented group of linebackers who should anchor the Jets defense. He should also help the learning curve for David Harris, Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas, and Vernon Gholston because of how familiar he is with the system. Scott and Harris should feed off of each other and Kris Jenkins in front of them, making it difficult for teams to run the ball.

7. Schedule Is Manageable – The Jets schedule isn’t as easy as last season but it isn’t as hard as everyone is making it out to be. Houston, New Orleans, Oakland, Jacksonville, and Tampa Bay all missed the playoffs last season. The Jets should be able to manage a 4-2 record in their division, because I believe Miami will be down from last year and that the Jets match-up well against New England and Buffalo.

8. Big Man – Rex Ryan’s defense should be easier on Kris Jenkins, allowing him to two-gap less and showing more 4-3 looks. If Jenkins could be healthy down the stretch, it will make a huge difference for the Jets run defense.

9. Opportunities – David Clowney never got a chance last season to build on a monster pre-season, but with Laveranues Coles now in Cincy he should receive plenty of reps to flash his deep speed and big play ability. Dustin Keller should also get more chances with Chris Baker in New England. Hopefully, Brian Schottenheimer will exercise some common sense and give Leon Washington more touches this year.

10. C’mon Now – We have to be due for finding the right coach and right quarterback, don’t we?

Who Will Be the Jets #2 Receiver?

First a few other updates:

1. Leon Washington’s agent, Alvin Keels, is currently in New York meeting with Jets management. Most people seem to believe that a deal is going to get done within the next few days. The sooner Washington is back at practice, the better.

2. Mark Sanchez will likely be receiving some comments from his new teammates about a recently published spread in GQ Magazine. They took the pictures long before he was drafted, but that doesn’t mean Bart Scott and co. won’t be giving him an earful for some of the pictures.

3. NFL.com currently has a few videos of Brian Baldinger touring the Jets new facility. The place looks unbelievable. Tony Richardson led him through the locker room and made a few funny comments about the size of Bart Scott’s new contract, Brett Favre having two lockers last year, and Mark Sanchez being “new money” for the team. Baldinger also watched some film with Brian Schottenheimer on Kellen Clemens and Sanchez. Back in 2007, you forget the potential Clemens showed in certain games, especially Baltimore and Washington. However, Sanchez looks lights out running that pro-style USC offense.

4. NBA Conference Finals Predictions: Nuggets in 7 – The Lakers aren’t hungry enough to get past Denver. Cavs in 6 – Cleveland will finally lose a game but not a series.

Who Will Be the Jets #2 Receiver?

One of the Jets biggest questions heading into this season is, who will start opposite Jerricho Cotchery at the wide receiver position? Most of us are assuming it will be more of a committee approach, with the reps being divided up between a few different players. Also, Dustin Keller and Leon Washington could very well end up becoming more frequent targets than any of those players competing at the receiver spot. Outside of Cotchery, here is a closer look at who will be battling it out for reps at wide-out:

Brad Smith

Pros: Size (6’2), Speed, Versatility, Experience

Cons: Hands, Route Running, Lack of Production

Smith was the Jets fourth round pick in 2006. A college quarterback, Smith transitioned to receiver while also getting reps at both quarterback and running back. In his rookie year, Smith had 9 catches for 81 yards and 18 carries for 103 yards, with zero touchdowns. He developed a niche on special teams, as one of the best players on the Jets punt and kickoff units. In 2007, Smith saw extended time because of injuries to Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery but struggled with dropped passes and inconsistency. He finished 2007, with 32 catches for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2008, he was quiet outside of the Oakland game, where he made a few key catches and had a big run on a reverse. His final stats last year was 12 catches for 64 yards and 12 carries for 113 yards. Rex Ryan has raved about his potential, which he usually flashes in practice but admitted it’s time “for him to step up.”

Chansi Stuckey

Pros: Hands, Quickness, Production

Cons: Size, Durability

Stuckey was the Jets sixth round pick in 2007 but missed the entire season with a foot injury. Last year, he had a strong training camp and grabbed the #3 receiver spot. Stuckey started off the year strong, catching a touchdown in the Jets first three games, but for some reason saw his reps decline as the season went on. However, he was productive for the reps he had and finished with 32 catches for 359 yards, including numerous clutch third down receptions. Personally, I feel Stuckey is an ideal slot/#3 receiver, but he may end up taking over the as the other starter if Smith or David Clowney don’t step up.

David Clowney

Pros: Speed, Potential

Cons: Experience, Durability

David Clowney came out of nowhere to have a monster pre-season last year, but unfortunately broke his collar bone before the regular season started. People within the organization are excited by his big play potential (he had two 60+ yard touchdown receptions in one pre-season game last year) and are anxious to see what he can do with more reps this year. For some reason, Eric Mangini barely played Clowney when he was healthy last year. On the only ball thrown to him, he made a spectacular one-handed catch for a 26 yard gain. Clowney has had injury problems in his short career and it remains to be seen, whether he can handle being a full time player. He reminds me a little bit of Dedric Ward, who was a home run hitter for the Jets in 1998, catching 4 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Hopefully, Clowney can make a similar impact this year.

Running Backs Absence Cause For Concern

First as usual, a few other updates:

1. The Jets re-signed Bubba Franks to a one year deal. They desperately needed to add more depth to the tight end position, and while Franks didn’t show all that much last year, at least he has some experience at the position and is a better blocker than Dustin Keller. The Jets could still use another player here, because they are crazy if they think they have enough depthwith just Keller, Franks and a bunch of UDFA’s on the roster.

2. Peter King of Sports Illustrated recently did power rankings, and the Jets fell right in the middle at number 16. Overall, it is hard to find a consensus opinion about the Jets this season, as they seem to be a hard team to get a read on. There are obviously alot of variables with a first time head coach and a probable rookie starting quarterback.

3. The Jets are currently taking part in their first set of OTA’s (Organized Team Activities), these non-contact practices are non-mandatory. They will be Monday-Thursday for the next four weeks, with media availbilty on occuring on Thursdays. This phase of the off-season concludes with a mandatory three day mini-camp with full media availbility from June 9th-June 11th.

Running Backs Absence Cause For Concern

We all already know about Thomas Jones and his unhappiness with this current contract. Jones has been skipping all the team’s off-season activities so far in protest, potentially prompting the Jets to draft Shonn Greene in the third round of the NFL Draft. The Jets clearly have the upper hand on Jones, since they gave him a fat new contract just a couple of seasons ago. In his first year with the team, Jones didn’t perform up to that contract and now insanely thinks the Jets are going to re-negotiate with a 31 year old running back after one very good season.

Most observers of the situation believes Jones won’t have a choice but to show up to mandatory practices, and then the team will cut ties with him next year. The Jets aren’t going to give him a new deal, and there isn’t a strong trade market for 31 year old running backs who want brand new contracts. Unless the Jets found some way to creatively re-structure his contract, this will probably be Jones last season in New York, so he needs to get on the field at some point to create a market for himself next year.

More alarming is the recent news that Leon Washington has begun skipping OTA’s. Washington is probably the Jets most underpaid player, since he is still in his rookie contract (he was a fourth round pick) and has been looking for an improved long term deal. The Jets had similar situations with both Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes and took care of both of them before their deals expired, and are expected to do the same with Washington. However, Washington and his agent were apparently “insulted” by the Jets first offer which didn’t come close to paying him the type of money guys like Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew recently received. Washington is only a restriced free agent after this year, which hurts his leverage to skip mandatory workouts and create an extended holdout.

Obviously this isn’t a good situation for the Jets, who are trying to become a smashmouth football team and are currently running practices without their two pro-bowl running backs. Yet, It doesn’t become a major problem until they start skipping mandatory practices, which begin June 9th.

My take on the situation is that the Jets need to do whatever is neccessary to take care of Leon Washington. He is too dynamic of a playmaker on both offense and special teams to carry on without. The Jets would lose what little explosive aspect they had to their offense if Washington wasn’t around. Thomas Jones is defintley a much needed part of the Jets offense but Shonn Greene could do a better job replicating him than anybody could do of replicating what Leon Washington does for the Jets. Beyond that, I think Jones is smart enough to realize his age and current contract situation, and will eventually show up. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jets re-structured in a similar way to what they did with Chris Baker last year to appease him for one season.

What are Reasonable Expectations for the Jets?

First a few updates:

1. The TOJ Hall of Fame and TOJ Hall of Shame are now fully up and running. Take the time to check out the pages, which are linked across the top of the web-site.

2. For some reason, NFL Films is running a replay of the Jets/Bills regular season game in Buffalo from this past season. A few observations after re-watching the game today: Drew Coleman is awful, Kris Jenkins is unstoppable when he is at his best, Brian Schottenheimer is way too conservative, Calvin Pace doesn’t get enough for credit for how good he is, Jerricho Cotchery has great hands but has a tough time getting separation, Dustin Keller needs to increase his football IQ, and Thomas Jones is quicker than he gets credit for.

3. Pacman Jones to the Jets? I don’t buy this rumor for a second. The Jets have no need for him, as they have good depth at corner and obviously don’t need a guy like that in the locker room.

What are Reasonable Expectations for the Jets?

The Jets were a 9 win team last season who just missed making the playoffs. After this off-season, I believe it is fair to expect them to be a 10+ win team and strongly contend not just for a playoff spot but also for a deep run into January. It may sound like a bold statement, but let me argue why that isn’t necessarily the case.

I look at their defense and see a unit that was very good last season. They have improved at inside linebacker by upgrading from Eric Barton to Bart Scott. Vernon Gholston has nowhere to go but up from last year, and if Rex Ryan can get anything out of him this year, the Jets will be upgraded at outside linebacker also. The Jets other returning outside linebackers, Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are both former 4-3 defensive ends, which means they have strong pass rushing skills. Rex Ryan’s new defensive scheme is more conducive to their talents, than Eric Mangini’s defense which often asked them to drop into pass coverage. 

In the secondary, the Jets have upgraded at both cornerback and safety. Lito Sheppard is a better starter than Dwight Lowery, and Donald Strickland will provide a veteran nickel-back who will also push Lowery to become better. Basically, last year’s #2 corner (Lowery) is now bumped down to being their #4 corner. Abram Elam wasn’t an awful starter at safety last year but Jim Leonhard’s skill set is a better fit for the defense, and he provides better pass coverage skills along with a similar presence inside the box against the run. 

They are thinner on the defensive line this season. However, Kris Jenkins has recently went on record to say that Rex Ryan’s defense won’t be as physically demanding on his body. If Jenkins can remain fully healthy all season, the Jets will be getting a major improvement at defensive tackle over the last 5 games of the regular season compared to 2008. There is pressure on Marques Douglas and Mike DeVito to match Kenyon Coleman’s production on defense, although the only production he really had was against the run. He only managed 0.5 sacks last year, so it shouldn’t be hard for the two of them to match his pass rushing skills. 

On offense, the Jets improved their depth at running back and added another short yardage/goal-line threat by drafting Shonn Greene. They are returning their entire starting offensive line, and added more depth by drafting Matt Slauson in the 6th round. Their top two backups from last year (Robert Turner and Wayne Hunter) are also returning with more experience under their belt. At quarterback, Mark Sanchez/Kellen Clemens can’t play any worse than Brett Favre did in the last 5 games of the regular season last year. When the Jets were winning last season, Favre was managing the game in a similar way that the Jets quarterback will be asked to this year. Look at Favre’s numbers in the Jets key wins last year:

Week 1 vs Miami: 15/22, 194 yards, 2 TD’s.

Week 6 vs. Cincinnati: 25/33, 189 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s

Week 8 vs. Kansas City: 28/40, 290 yards, 2 TD’s, 3 INT’s

Week 9 vs. Buffalo: 19/28, 201 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Week 10 vs. St. Louis: 14/19, 167 yards, 1 TD

Week 12 vs. Tennessee: 25/32, 224 yards, 2 TD’s, 1 INT

Week 15 vs. Buffalo: 17/30, 207 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT’s

The point is outside of two Jets wins (Arizona and New England) Favre never really put up great numbers when the Jets won games. I think Mark Sanchez or Kellen Clemens can handle going 15/21 for 190 yards and that they are going to throw less interceptions. If whomever the Jets quarterback is next year can throw 12 INT’s instead of 22, it is going to make a big difference in a positive way for the team. 

The Jets are weaker at tight end and wide receiver than they were in 2008. They haven’t replaced Chris Baker (a strong blocker and 21 catches) or Laveranues Coles (70 catches, 850 yards, 7 TD’s). However, at tight end Dustin Keller should be improved in his second year and at wide receiver, a guy like David Clowney (pictured to the left) could turn into a big time playmaker now that he is being given an opportunity. Regardless, the Jets still need to add depth at both positions. 

 

The 2009 schedule isn’t a friendly one but it certainly is manageable. Outside of their division, 6 of their 10 games are against teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year. Within the division, New England is always tough, the Bills added TO but beyond that had a weak overall off-season and have major questions at the offensive line and running back. The Dolphins are going to struggle this year. They were the 2006 Jets last year, and are going to be the 2007 Jets this year. I love Chad Pennington but teams are going to be all over their gimmick based offense and their lack of talent on that side of the ball will hurt them this year. 

Right now I’d say the Jets are a 10 win team and if they add another tight end and receiver, they could be a 11-12 win team. Right out of the gate we will find out where they stand since in their first 6 games they play all three divisional opponents and 2 other quality teams (Tennessee and New Orleans).