New York Jets: Predicting the Complete Week 1 Starting Line-Up
New general manager John Idzik has made most of his plans relatively clear through the moves he has made and the spots he has chosen to ignore prior to the draft.
Of the 22 starting offensive and defensive spots, a few remain up in the air, most notably that of star cornerback Darrelle Revis. Other positions—like quarterback and running back—may be headed for heated offseason competitions.
The draft remains ahead, with the Jets potentially looking to fill two or three starting jobs right away with some of the seven picks they have this year.
Taking all of this into account, I predict the complete 2013 Week 1 starting lineup for the New York Jets.
Quarterback: David Garrard
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The Jets will be holding an open quarterback competition this offseason, with at least five or six competitors. However, you have to give the early edge to David Garrard, who is the most veteran and the most accomplished.
An 11-year veteran, Garrard has been an above-average starting quarterback for the bulk of his career. However, injuries have prevented the 2009 Pro Bowler from playing in the regular season these past two years. If healthy, he is a clear upgrade over Mark Sanchez. Other options like Brady Quinn, Tim Tebow, Greg McElroy and Jason Campbell do not have the skill set and experience of Garrard.
It is possible that the Jets could draft a quarterback as well. However, none of the quarterbacks available in this year's draft appear ready to out-compete Garrard by Week 1. Perhaps later in the season or by 2014, but not right away.
For all of these reasons, expect Garrard to be the starter for the Jets out of the gate.
Running Back: Mike Goodson
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The Jets recently signed Mike Goodson to a three-year contract, and that makes him the clear favorite to be the starting running back in Week 1. The job will be his to lose.
Originally a fourth-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2009, Goodson had 762 total yards in his most productive season in 2010. He was Darren McFadden's backup for the Oakland Raiders last year.
Goodson is somewhat of an unknown, believed by some to be a sleeper this offseason. He has the speed and agility that former Jets running back Shonn Greene lacked. This is perhaps the most important part of his skill set that attracted the Jets front office.
To quote Brian Bassett of TheJetsBlog.com:
I wouldn’t put anything past the Jets, but I do think that this move to sign Goodson will lessen the Jets likelihood of drafting a running back in the first few rounds of the draft — and that’s why I want to see the guarantees that were given to Goodson first. If they didn’t promise too much up front, then there’s no reason to pass over a player they like a lot in the second or third round as long as the Goodson deal doesn’t impact that. For now, the Jets have the power runner covered in Powell, and they’ve got the third down back covered in Goodson.
Wide Receivers: Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley
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All signs point to the Jets' starting wide receiving group being the one that was intended last season. Santonio Holmes should be back from injury. Despite his low popularity in New York, the details of his contract make him completely untradeable. His talents guarantee that if he is on the team he will start.
Stephen Hill also looks to be healthy and ready for his second season. He showed flashes of promise between injuries during his rookie season. He should have the second spot locked up.
Jeremy Kerley has continued to demonstrate that he is an above-average slot receiver. As such, his slot role seems secure. Given that new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is moving the Jets to a West Coast-style offense, there should be plenty of three-receiver sets, making Kerley a de facto starter (if not a literal starter).
Jets fans should hope these three guys stay healthy, because right now there is little to no depth behind them at the wide receiver position.
Tight End: Jeff Cumberland
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When the Jets chose to let former starting tight end Dustin Keller walk in free agency, they made an implicit commitment to Jeff Cumberland, who was the de facto starter for much of 2012.
In addition to having injury problems, Keller was a disappointment in 2012. Despite being the only viable target some weeks for quarterback Mark Sanchez, Keller only produced 317 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the eight games his health allowed him to play. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the 36th-ranked tight end in the NFL.
Cumberland demonstrated in 2012 that he is at least an adequate replacement for Keller in the short term. With no real competition behind him on the current roster, Cumberland is the clear favorite for the starting job in Week 1.
Offensive Tackles: D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard
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All signs point to the New York Jets offensive tackles remaining the same, at least until Week 1. On the left side, 2006 first-round pick D'Brickashaw Ferguson is one of the best and most consistent tackles in the league.
Ferguson made the Pro Bowl three straight times from 2009 to 2011. He remains a staple of the Jets offense and is under contract through 2017.
On the right side, Austin Howard did a mediocre but passable job in replacing former Jet Wayne Hunter in 2012. Given the state of the offensive tackle market and the Jets' salary cap situation, it is relatively unlikely that a high-priced replacement for Howard will be brought in. There is no one else on the roster who threatens his spot currently, so Howard is the favorite to start in Week 1.
Interior Offensive Line: Nick Mangold, Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse
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Perennial Pro Bowler and center Nick Mangold will not be going anywhere anytime soon. The 2006 first-round pick of the Jets is under contract through 2017. On his left will most likely be Matt Slauson again. With the Jets reportedly not interested in bringing back right guard Brandon Moore, it is reasonable to expect Slauson to be re-signed as the left guard. It was generally believed the Jets would sign one or the other of their two free-agent guards this offseason.
On the right side, Vladimir Ducasse is the most likely replacement for Brandon Moore. A second-round pick in 2010, Ducasse has yet to earn a starting role. However, with Moore out of the picture, he is the logical replacement.
Ducasse is a powerful and skilled run blocker, but he has struggled in pass protection in the past. He may have to improve that part of his game in order to keep the starting job in the long term. However, the job should be his to lose in Week 1.
Defensive Nose Tackle: Kenrick Ellis
At nose tackle, Kenrick Ellis—the Jets' 2011 third-round pick—will make 2013 his year to finally step into the starting role.
Ellis was originally drafted as a raw but exceedingly talented prospect. In his rookie year (the 2011 lockout year) he had little on-field impact. In 2012, he began to see more action, playing in 12 games and starting twice.
With former star and Jets nose tackle Sione Pouha being released and Mike DeVito (a part-time nose-tackle hybrid) being allowed to leave, the Jets have removed all of the roadblocks to Ellis starting. It appears all but official that the starting job in Week 1 will belong to Ellis.
Defensive Ends: Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson
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The defensive ends for the Jets' primarily 3-4 defense are easy to predict. With first-round draft picks in back-to-back drafts, the Jets selected Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson. These guys are not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
Wilkerson had a breakout second season in 2012, establishing himself as a dominant defensive force. While Wilkerson is arguably the best run-stopping end in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus Muhammad Wilkerson also recorded 22 quarterback pressures, one of the highest totals in the NFL.
On the other side, Coples had an impressive rookie year, especially in the second half of the season. Jets fans should hope that he can achieve the same sort of second-year improvement that Wilkerson did. If he manages that, then the Jets will have one of the fiercer pairs of defensive ends out of the gate in Week 1.
Inside Linebackers: David Harris and Demario Davis
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The two inside linebacker positions in Week 1 will go to David Harris and Demario Davis. Despite having a down year in 2012, Harris (a 2009 Pro Bowler) has been one of the best in the NFL in the past and doubtless will retain his starting job.
Demario Davis—a third-round pick in last year's draft—will most likely complete his transition into the full-time starting role and fill out the second spot. He played in all 16 games as a rookie and started three of them. In 2012, he was being groomed for the starting job. Now he is ready for it.
Harris and Davis should be the anchors of an otherwise in-flux linebacking group for the Jets. While the Jets should be thinking about linebackers in the draft, they would be more likely to bring in one or two outside linebackers than another inside linebacker.
Outside Linebackers: Antwan Barnes and a Rookie Draft Pick
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The New York Jets recently signed veteran outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, filling one of the two holes at the position. Like running back Mike Goodson, the idea was to grab a cheap starter, someone the Jets front office views as a sleeper.
As summarized by Brian Bassett of TheJetsBlog.com:
Barnes would be a clever addition to the Jets roster that is very needy at the [outside linebacker] spot at present. Depending on how the rest of the offseason shakes out, Barnes should be in the mix for one of the vacant [outside linebacker] jobs and at an absolute minimum would be a great pressure package player. As we’ve written about before, Barnes is known to be a better player at attacking the pocket and ballcarrier than he is at dropping into coverage, which is fine by Rex Ryan and might mean that he’d play the weakside more for the Jets than the strongside.
Depending on his coverage skills, Barnes might or might not be a three-down linebacker in 2013. Either way, he is the favorite for the first outside linebacker starting job for Week 1.
With the second spot wide open, expect that to be filled with a rookie draft pick. Several mock drafts have the Jets picking an outside linebacker in the first round this year, and for good reason. The draft is full of outside linebacker prospects, some of whom are viable for the No. 9 overall pick. Expect whomever the Jets pick first to be lined up as a starter in Week 1.
Safeties: Dawan Landry and a Rookie Draft Pick
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With both safety spots currently vacant, the Jets need two fresh faces. The favorite for the first spot is Dawan Landry, the brother of former Jets safety LaRon Landry. The Jets have already expressed interest in signing Dawan.
As reported by Manish Mehta of NYDailyNews.com:
Dawan Landry, who was cut by the Jaguars last week, played for [Rex Ryan] and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman in Baltimore... Known as a heady player, Landry’s familiarity with Ryan’s defense would be a welcomed addition for a defense that will undergo a makeover this offseason.
Unlike his brother LaRon, Dawan does not have major injury concerns. He has started every game in the past four seasons. A fifth-round pick in 2006, he has played for the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars.
The best bet for the second spot is that it will go to a rookie draft pick. With several viable safeties available in the draft, even outside of the projected first round, expect safety to be one of the two positions in Week 1 where the Jets put a rookie on the field.
Cornerbacks: Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie
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There has been trade speculation surrounding star cornerback (and the Jets' best player) Darrelle Revis since even before general manager John Idzik was hired. Plenty of teams have been mentioned in the rumors, including the San Francisco 49ers, the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots and most recently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers appear to have no problem signing Revis to a rich extension as long as the Jets are willing to trade him. As reported by Manish Mehta of NYDailyNews.com:
Sources told the News that Revis would come to the parameters of a long-term deal with the Buccaneers without much trouble if the teams come to an agreement on the draft choice compensation element of the trade.
According to Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano (also via Manish Mehta of NYDailyNews.com):
Any coach will tell you if you can take away the No. 1 receiver on the football team, it’s going to make your job easier as a defense. Sure, they’ll go to [the two, three and four receivers], but he’s No. 1 for a reason.
Without any doubt, these trade rumors will continue throughout the offseason. However, right now there is no clear evidence that the Jets will ultimately choose to send Revis away. For the moment, Revis remains the favorite to be the Week 1 starter. Assuming he is still with the team, all signs point to his knee being healthy enough by the start of the regular season.
In either case, the other cornerback spot will continue to be occupied by Antonio Cromartie, who reached his second Pro Bowl this past season.
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Here is a quick run-down of what the offensive and defensive line-ups will look like in Week 1 based on current information and evidence.
The offense should be largely the same, although the highly noticeable spots at quarterback and running back will most likely feature new faces.
On the other hand, the defense will be experiencing significant turnover. Notably, three players are probable to be stepping into full time starting roles off of last year's bench rotation: namely Quinton Coples, Kenrick Ellis and Demario Davis. The defensive side of the ball is also the most likely destination for high-impact draft picks this season.
Here are the complete breakdowns.
Returning Starters: 7
Promoted Backups: 2
Acquired Veteran Starters: 2
Rookie Starters: 0
Returning Starters: 4
Promoted Backups: 3
Acquired Veteran Starters: 2
Rookie Starters: 2
These are the 22 starting spots as they stand right now. More news is sure to come as the offseason progresses.