Projecting the New York Jets' Final 53-Man Roster After Preseason Week 2
As we approach the third week of the NFL preseason, time is starting to run out for players to impress coaches and earn a roster spot.
Obviously, things can change with two preseason games left on the schedule, as a key injury or an impressive (or not-so-impressive) performance can shift the bottom of the depth chart.
Here is a prediction for the Jets' final 53-man roster halfway through the preseason.
Note: Player order is projected order for final depth chart.
Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Mark Sanchez
Backup(s): Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy
Left out: Matt Simms
The media can drum up a quarterback controversy all it wants, but the truth is that it is going to take a massive collapse on Mark Sanchez's part to lose his job as the starter.
Sanchez took a lot of heat for his pick-six in the Giants game, but he wound up going 9-of-11 despite being under constant pressure. If the Jets can get their protection issues sorted out, Sanchez can start to take deeper shots down the field.
While he is no real threat to Sanchez's job (yet), Tebow will be much more than your average backup quarterback. He has already been spotted as a personal protector on the punt team and will be the centerpiece of the highly anticipated Wildcat package, which the Jets have been careful to unveil so far.
McElroy appears to be entrenched as the third quarterback. A smart, savvy player, he does not have the physical tools to be a long-term starter; but in an emergency situation, he could potentially get the Jets out of jam if need be.
As for Simms, he has impressed coaches with his arm strength and had a strong performance in the Green and White scrimmage. He will probably not make the cut simply because of numbers, but I expect him to be a strong consideration for the practice squad.
Running Backs (5)
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Starter(s): Shonn Greene, John Conner (FB)
Backup(s): Bilal Powell, Joe McKnight, Terrance Ganaway
Left out: Jeremy Stewart
Bilal Powell's unexpected jump up the depth chart has been well-documented throughout training camp. Judging by what we have seen in preseason games, Joe McKnight has been supplanted as the third-down back, which likely stems from his ability as a pass-protector as much as his success carrying the ball.
Greene is still the unquestioned starter as the bell-cow back and should see a heavy workload under a run-first offense. While the Jets may have been horrific in a few short-yardage attempts, Greene was actually quite effective on the ground in "normal" running situations.
While he may have been surpassed by Powell on the depth chart, McKnight is still the most explosive runner on the roster and could easily regain his duties as the third-down back with a few strong performances in preseason games. In either case, he will also contribute on special teams as a kick returner.
Meanwhile, sixth-round pick Terrance Ganaway has been a bit of a forgotten man. Viewed by some as a quicker version of Shonn Greene, Ganaway may have to wait for an injury in order to get on the field now that Bilal Powell is set to see significant time.
The position that the Jets seem to want to change is at fullback. Inside linebacker Nick "Fredo" Bellore was seen working in an offensive jersey, working next to John Conner as a fullback.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Jets actually release Conner in favor of a linebacker, but the fact that they are willing to try out defensive players at the position is indicative of how they think Conner is playing.
Wide Receivers (6)
Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley (slot)
Backup(s): Patrick Turner, Chaz Schilens, Jordan White
Left out: Dexter Jackson, Royce Pollard, Wes Kemp, Stanley Arukwe, Eron Riley, Raymond Webber, Joseph Collins
This is, by far, the most competitive spot on the roster. Outside of Holmes, there is no definitive starter at either the outside position or in the slot.
Hill may have the most upside out of any of the Jets receivers, but he is extremely raw coming out of an offense at Georgia Tech in which he ran only a handful of routes. Hill, Schilens or Turner could all potentially be an opening-day starter, which is a bit of a frightening proposition.
Schilens, who is still dealing with a groin injury, will at least see the field in red-zone situations, as the Jets will want to take advantage of his 6'5" frame.
In the end, assuming everyone is healthy headed into Week 1, Kerley would likely resume his role as the slot receiver, with Hill taking most of the snaps opposite Holmes.
However, Jordan White has had an impressive camp and was the best receiver on the practice field on Tuesday by a rather significant margin. While he does not have any great physical attributes, he has a knack for getting open and finding holes in zone coverage to go with his reliable hands.
It is also hardly a coincidence that he led the Jets in receiving in the preseason game against the Giants. White is going to give Kerley a big-time push to start over him, at least out of the gate while Kerley gets his legs back under him.
While Royce Pollard and Dexter Jackson could provide some solid depth, they, along with the rest of the bubble players, face an uphill battle to get on the roster. The numbers simply do not seem to work in their favor; a team that plans on running the ball about 55 percent of the time does not need more than six receivers.
Tight Ends (3)
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Starter(s): Dustin Keller
Backup(s): Jeff Cumberland, Josh Baker
Left out: Hayden Smith, Dedrick Epps, Tarren Lloyd
Dustin Keller, who is headed into a contract year, is the clear-cut starter. It will certainly be interesting to see if/how his role changes in a new offense as he plans on putting up his best statistical season.
Meanwhile, Jeff Cumberland, who missed most of the 2011 season with an injury, figures to be a second receiving option at tight end.
Still, the Jets have yet to find themselves a reliable blocking tight end after not re-signing the human penalty machine Matthew Mulligan. Josh Baker could potentially fill that role, but he also doubles as a fullback and a receiving option and is not the ideal full-time blocker they are looking for.
I anticipate the Jets stashing Hayden Smith, the Australian Rugby player, on the practice squad and letting him develop before inserting him in games right away. I did see Smith working a bit with the first team in team drills during Tuesday's practice, so perhaps he may be further along than the Jets are letting on.
Dedrick Epps and Tarren Lloyd are both young players with some promise, but there is simply no way the Jets are going to keep more than four tight ends on their roster this season.
Lloyd does have rare size at 6'7", which could entice the Jets to either keep him over Hayden Smith or stash him on the practice squad.
Offensive Tackles (3)
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Starter(s): D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Wayne Hunter
Backup(s): Austin Howard
Left out: Dennis Landolt, Paul Cornick
Since last Saturday's debacle, Jets fans are all over Mike Tannenbaum for not attacking the right tackle position in the offseason (and rightfully so).
Despite Hunter's historically poor performance in the preseason, Rex Ryan said Tuesday that the Jets were not actively pursuing a new starting right tackle.
Rex probably said this to instill confidence in Hunter in case he is the starter headed into the season, and Mike Tannenbaum will be patiently watching the waiver wire to see what he can find over the next few weeks. Until Mr. T can somehow find a starting-caliber right tackle to compete with Hunter, Hunter is the starter.
The Jets are excited about the progress of Austin Howard, who took all of the first-team reps in Tuesday's practice. He held his ground starting in the preseason game against the Bengals as well, and figures to make a push for the starting job if Hunter's game does not drastically improve.
After Howard, the picture gets much blurrier as to who stays on the team. Ultimately, I expect the Jets to pick up a new body from another team's squad that replaces both Landolt and Cornick.
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson
Backup(s): Vladimir Ducasse
Left out: Robert Griffin, Fred Koloto, Terrance Campbell
Matt Slauson won the "competition" between him and Vladimir Ducasse to retain his starting job, which turned out to be a ploy to get Slauson to take a pay cut all along.
Meanwhile, Ducasse is back to his old guard position, where the Jets planned to use him when they drafted him in the second round back in 2010—except they thought he would have made himself a starter by now.
A player to keep an eye on is sixth-round pick Robert Griffin, who is starting to gain some momentum as the preseason wears on. He worked at right tackle with the second team, showing off his versatility.
Fortunately for the Jets, they have some other versatile players at the center position who could also play guard, which became a priority for the team after they were forced to start Colin Baxter for two games last year with disastrous results.
In turn, that also decreases the need to add more than a few backup players, making guys like Koloto and Campbell expendable.
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Nick Mangold
Backup(s): Caleb Schlauderaff
Left out: Matt Kroul
When Nick Mangold is healthy (and his siblings are not competing in the Olympics), he is far-and-ahead the best center in football. He is, without a doubt, the Jets' best offensive player.
Schlauderaff, who the Jets traded for prior to the 2011 season, is a versatile player who has experience at both guard and center.
Meanwhile, Kroul, a converted defensive lineman, has managed to stick around long enough to figure that the Jets like his continued progress. After what happened last year, I expect the Jets to go the safe route in terms of offensive line depth and keep as many veteran players around as they can in case of injury.
Defensive Ends (4)
Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Muhammad Wilkerson, Mike DeVito
Backup(s): Quinton Coples, Marcus Dixon
Left out: Matt Hardison, Jay Richardson
The Jets have suddenly accumulated a lot of young, talented players along their defensive line, which is a far cry from where this unit was a few years ago.
While first-round pick Quinton Coples may have been demoted from his starting job, he will still see plenty of action in pass-rushing situations. In fact, his "demotion" may be more of a result of Mike DeVito's terrific play than so much an indication of his poor performance this summer (Coples has four sacks in two games).
Marcus Dixon has been a productive player for the Jets in a rotational role and figures to return in 2012 with the same role.
Meanwhile, Jay Richardson has enjoyed a productive summer. The former Raider seems to finally have found some luck in the health department, as he has been getting consistent pressure in preseason action coming off the edge.
The Jets are trying him out along several spots on the line, which only bodes well for his chances of making the team.
Defensive Tackles (3)
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Starter(s): Sione Pou’ha
Backup(s): Kenrick Ellis, Damon Harrison
Left out: Martin Tevaseu
The Jets have decided to play it safe with Sione Pouha, who has still not returned to practice from a head injury. Even if he does not play a snap at all this preseason, Pouha will return for Week 1 as his usual, dominant self.
One of the hardest decisions the Jets have to make is who they will keep behind Kenrick Ellis.
On one hand they have Martin Tevaseu, who played decently in spot duty last year and went back and forth between the practice squad and 53-man roster.
On the other hand is rookie Damon Harrison, who is a small-school prospect with all of the physical tools to compete in the NFL. Harrison has made a nice impression on the coaches, who have promptly nicknamed him the "The Wrecking Ball" because of his abnormally large head.
In the end, whether or not Harrison makes the team depends entirely on how many defensive tackles the Jets are comfortable carrying.
Inside Linebackers (3)
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Starter(s): David Harris, Bart Scott
Backup(s): Demario Davis
Left out: Marcus Dowtin, Nick Bellore, Josh Mauga
While Bart Scott and David Harris are penciled in to go into their fourth season as the Jets' inside linebackers, Scott's role on the team in 2012 is far from set in stone.
Last year, he struggled in passing situations and was taken out of most sub-packages. However, he has looked faster this year in all phases, particularly in the game against the Giants.
However, as Demario Davis, this year's third-round pick, continues to impress coaches this summer, Scott will have to stay consistent all season if he wants to avoid another demotion.
While Davis, Scott and Harris are locks to make the team, Josh Mauga, Nick Bellore and rookie Marcus Dowtin as all vying for one, maybe two remaining roster spots.
Since Bellore may wind up making the team as an offensive player, the odds increase for Mauga and Dowtin to stick around. Mauga saw limited action in place of Bart Scott in certain packages, but the fact that they spent a high draft pick on an inside linebacker speaks to how the Jets wanted to get more dynamic at the position.
Meanwhile, Marcus Dowtin is an interesting player because while he had the talent to be drafted, character concerns (he transferred from Georgia to Northern Alabama after a bar fight) caused him to slip through the cracks on draft day.
There is a slim chance the Jets decide to keep all of their inside linebackers, but they will likely have to decide whether to pick between the experienced player in Mauga or the more talented man in Dowtin.
Outside Linebackers (4)
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Starter(s): Calvin Pace, Bryan Thomas
Backup(s): Aaron Maybin, Garrett McIntyre
Left out: Brett Roy, Damario Ambrose, Ricky Sapp
In essence, the Jets have two sets of outside linebackers. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas are listed as the starters and will see most of the time in base packages, while Aaron Maybin and Ricky Sapp are pass-rush specialists who will almost exclusively see the field on third downs.
Garrett McIntyre has also had himself a nice camp, nabbing a half-sack in the first preseason game and being a force in the run game.
Since the Jets may wind up carrying more inside linebackers than usual because of their new-founded depth at the position, it is going to make it nearly impossible for guys like Brett Roy and Damario Ambrose to find a spot on the team.
The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson (slot)
Backup(s): Ellis Lankster, Isiah Trufant
Left out: Ryan Steed, Donnie Fletcher, LeQuan Lewis, Julian Posey
The Jets' nine corners are almost perfectly divided into three groups.
The starters, Revis, Cromartie and Wilson, are set in stone. There may be a slim possibility of Kyle Wilson getting outplayed by Ellis Lankster to the point where he is benched, but it would take a drastic drop-off in performance from Wilson in order for that to happen.
Of the backups, Lankster is the only one who will see significant time on the regular defense this year, with Posey and Trufant doing most of their work on special teams.
Ryan Steed's physical tools are enticing, but he has yet to see much time in preseason games to prove his worth. Donnie Fletcher is in the opposite mold of Steed as a technically sound player with less athletic upside, but he has also struggled to see meaningful snaps in preseason games.
LeQuan Lewis, who was a late addition to the roster, is more likely to be seen as a camp body than as a contender to make the team.
While I would expect at least one of these three players to nab a spot on the practice squad, none of them have had the opportunity in game situations to show that they could steal a roster spot from Trufant or Posey.
Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell
Backup(s): Eric Smith, Josh Bush, Antonio Allen
Left out: D’Anton Lynn, Marcus Lott
Outside of Eric Smith, who will miss the rest of the preseason with a knee injury, this unit is a completely different group than the 2011 version.
Landry and Bell seemed to have made the transition to New York rather nicely; not only have both of them been lucky in terms of health so far, but they are already making plays in preseason games, as Landry intercepted Eli Manning in the second preseason game.
With Smith out, Josh Bush and Antonio Allen are getting plenty of much-needed experience in game situations. Allen has been particularly impressive, nabbing two tackles for loss against the Giants in just a half of football.
Allen appears to be making the transition from the hybrid safety/linebacker he played at South Carolina into a more traditional role as a strong safety in the NFL. The Jets may have found a steal in the seventh round.
While the odds are against D'Anton Lynn to earn a spot as the seventh safety on the team, being the son of running backs coach Anthony Lynn, he could be a front-runner to nab a practice squad spot (as long as he promises not to start any more 20-man fights).
Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE
Starter(s): Nick Folk (Kicker), T.J. Conley (Punter), Tanner Purdum (Long Snapper)
Left out: Josh Brown
The Folk vs. Brown competition has been close all summer (for good reasons), but Folk may have gained a slight edge after Josh Brown barely made a measly 30-yard kick.
If this competition stays this close (as in both players are kicking well), I expect the Jets to stick to the known commodity in Folk. Brown will likely be picked up by another team.
T.J. Conley had a horrific outing on Saturday, shaking two punts in a row late in the game against the Giants to make everyone forget about the outstanding pin he had earlier in the game.
Sooner or later, I expect the Jets to bring in some added competition with a few open roster spots still available.