Examining New York Jets' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIOctober 9, 2016

Examining New York Jets' Offseason and Key Preseason Positional Battles

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    For better or worse, the 2012 season is in the past. It’s time to look forward.

    For the New York Jets, there’s probably no better feeling. After a 6-10 campaign that saw all the drama, distraction and poor play fans could handle, it couldn’t get much worse.

    But things are starting to look up in New York. The Tim Tebow show hit the road this offseason, Mark Sanchez finally has some competition to push him at the position and Darrelle Revis won’t be holding out for a new contract.

    At least not in New York.

    In trading Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets added another 2013 first-round pick to their arsenal, with which they selected Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. It was New York’s second pick of the round, the first of which they used to add Revis’ replacement in Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.

    Losing their best player wasn’t exactly an ideal situation for the Jets, but it was a necessary price to pay in order to quell the drama of his discontent. With Revis no longer in the picture, New York effectively eliminated another big distraction—though it remains to be seen how his departure will affect the team this season.

    Hopefully for the Jets, the trade was addition by subtraction.

    But general manager John Idzik wasn’t done making additions. With a few solid free-agent acquisitions and a draft class that could prove to be one of the best of 2013 when all is said and done, Idzik did his job to put the Jets in better position to win in 2013.

    Along with player personnel changes, the Jets also shuffled around their coaching staff with the firing of offensive coordinator Tony Sparano and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh. In their places, New York hired former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and former Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee.

    And of course, both changes were necessary. The Jets finished 30th in the league in total offense last season, due in large part to putrid quarterback play from Sanchez. He may not get too many opportunities for redemption in 2013, however.

    With the 39th pick in the draft, Idzik pulled the trigger on West Virginia signal-caller Geno Smith—a quarterback many believed would be in play for the Jets in the top half of the first round. Arguably the best quarterback in the draft class, New York was fortunate to find him available in the second round to potentially replace Sanchez going forward.

    Opinions vary greatly on how Smith’s skill set translates to the NFL game, but it’s likely we find out for sure in 2013. If Sanchez doesn’t turn the corner in a hurry, like Tebow, he could find himself looking for a job on the free-agent market in the very near future.

    There’s plenty of uncertainty facing the Jets in 2013, but there’s no denying the progress the team made toward righting the ship this offseason. We’ll take a closer look at that progress and break down some position battles to keep an eye on as the season draws near. Read on.

2013 NFL Draft

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    Round 1 (Pick 9): CB Dee Milliner, Alabama

    Round 1 (Pick 13): DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

    Round 2 (Pick 39): QB Geno Smith, West Virginia

    Round 3 (Pick 72): OG Brian Winters, Kent State

    Round 5 (Pick 141): OT Oday Aboushi, Virginia

    Round 6 (Pick 178): DT William Campbell, Michigan

    Round 7 (Pick 215): FB Tommy Bohanon, Wake Forest


    Grade: A


    Adding the draft’s top corner to replace Darrelle Revis was necessary for sustaining a New York pass defense that ranked second in the league in 2012. While Milliner entered the draft facing some question marks (namely his surgically repaired shoulder and lack of elite ball skills), his talent is undeniable.

    At No. 9, Milliner was both a smart value pick and a necessary needs-based selection. The same didn’t hold true for New York’s No. 13 pick, however.

    With his next pick, John Idzik added Missouri defensive tackle Richardson, ahead of both Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd. While Floyd projected better as a one-gap under tackle, Lotulelei would have been a tremendous fit at nose tackle in the Jets’ 3-4 front, prompting questions as to why New York chose Richardson over the Utah product.

    But given Lotulelei’s medical red flag during the combine and Richardson’s soaring draft stock, it wasn’t a bad pick on the part of Idzik. Richardson has the frame and anchor to hold up in a two-gap scheme, but also provides enough first-step explosiveness and pass-rushing ability to slide inside on passing downs to give the Jets another interior pass-rushing presence.

    For all the talk of schematic fit, one thing generally holds true: If a player has talent, coaches find a way to best utilize him. The Jets won’t have a problem finding a good fit for Richardson.

    As well as Idzik did in the first round, it was his second-round selection that will define the GM’s efforts in the 2013 draft, however.

    After fielding the league’s third-worst passing offense in 2012, it was painfully obvious Idzik needed to find a future replacement for Mark Sanchez. He found that player in the second round with the selection of Smith.

    He was one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2013 class, and as a result, he plummeted into the second round as only one quarterback (E.J. Manuel) was selected on Day 1. Despite tremendous numbers at West Virginia, projecting his NFL prospects is no easy task.

    We probably won’t have to wait very long to find out how Smith fares at the NFL level. Given Sanchez’s putrid 2012 performance and the absence of any real competition for Smith, he’ll likely be in line for the starting role early in the 2013 campaign.

    But in order to help ease the transition, Idzik also needed to add to an offensive line that finished 30th in the league in pass protection last season, according to Football Outsiders rankings.

    With their third- and fifth-round picks, the Jets selected a pair of talented offensive linemen who could see some playing time in a rotational role in 2013 in Winters and Aboushi, respectively. Neither pick was particularly flashy, but the Jets needed to bolster their offensive line, and Idzik did well to find some value with both selections.

    In all, New York made the most of its picks and acquired several players who can make an immediate impact in 2013. For as volatile an offseason as it was for the Jets, Idzik did well to infuse some good young talent.

Public Enemy No. 6

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    Modern NFL offenses begin and end at the quarterback position. For the Jets, fixing their under-center issues is a top priority.

    Mark Sanchez took a huge step backward in 2012, passing for just 2,883 yards and 13 touchdowns. Paired with 18 interceptions in 15 games, Sanchez found himself in Rex Ryan’s doghouse and in line for potential replacement this season.

    With the Tim Tebow experiment having run its course, the Jets had no choice but to look for another option in the draft.

    The question now is this: Who starts under center for the Jets in Week 1?

    According to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, we may know relatively soon. As quoted by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, he hopes to have it all ironed out in June, but isn’t worried about public opinion on the matter:

    “We don't care what the prevailing thought is. We only care about our competition here.”

    The “prevailing thought,” of course, is that Sanchez should find himself holding a clipboard by Week 1 as Smith works his way into the starting role. After all, the USC product didn’t exactly do himself any favors at the helm in 2012.

    But even with Smith in the fold, Sanchez doesn’t seem too concerned with the prospect of losing his job. As quoted by Will Brinson of CBS Sports, the 26-year-old is happy with his situation:

    I'm having a great time. I'm in an awesome situation. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. That's how I always feel. I just have a positive attitude. I'm trying to bring those guys along, get guys working hard, study my butt off and prepare each day. Whether it's a competition or whatever you call it, I'm going to be ready. I'm going to give it my best, feel good about it and move on.

    With all due respect to Sanchez, he’s lucky to even be in the running for the job after a 2012 campaign to forget.

    With no clear indication of the end result of the situation, it’s hard to predict which signal-caller starts under center when the regular season begins. But given the fact that Sanchez is still part of the discussion, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the incumbent to get one last chance before being permanently replaced.

Helping Hands?

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    If either Sanchez or Smith are to be successful in 2013, New York’s receiving corps and tight ends are going to have to step up in a big, big way.

    In 2012, that particular group was among the worst of any unit—offensive or defensive. And as poorly as Sanchez’s targets performed, John Idzik did little to help the cause this offseason.

    As it stands, the Jets enter camp with most of their 2012 group intact, though No. 1 target Santonio Holmes is coming off a foot injury that required surgery and shortened his 2012 season. If Holmes can make a full recovery, New York will at least have a legitimate threat atop its receiver depth chart.

    Along with Holmes, second-year wideout Stephen Hill will have to make big strides this season after a 2012 campaign marred with inconsistency and injuries. Hill is a big, physical target with enough speed to open things up for Sanchez or Smith, but the Jets can’t afford for him to miss five games in 2013, as he did a season ago.

    If Holmes and Hill remain healthy, New York will be in position to field two solid receivers with plenty of upside. It remains to be seen if that will be the case.

    Beyond Holmes and Hill, the depth chart is a little thinner, though Jeremy Kerley is a solid No. 3 option who is likely to see plenty of action working out of the slot this season—especially if Mornhinweg employs a similar West-Coast offense that he ran in Philadelphia.

    In late May, the Jets inked former Seattle Seahawks wideout Ben Obomanu to a deal that will likely slot him No. 4 on the depth chart behind Kerley. The 6’1” receiver only caught four passes a season ago, but put up respectable numbers the previous two years in Seattle, tallying 67 receptions for 930 yards and six touchdowns combined.

    Obomanu wasn’t the big signing the Jets needed to solidify their receiving corps, but there’s still time for Idzik to consider other options—among them, Braylon Edwards.

    Edwards appeared in three games with the Jets last season, catching 10 balls for 125 yards. He remains on the free-agent market, and while there has been no indication New York plans to re-sign him, he would be a solid option to add some veteran depth to a thin receiving corps.

    With tight end Dustin Keller now in Miami after inking a free-agent deal with the Dolphins, New York has to find a way to get consistent production from its wide receivers and hope one of its young tight ends can fill the void—though injuries and inconsistency also plagued Keller in his five years with the team.

    The Jets opted to not address the tight end position via the draft, and now enter camp with a bevy of untested names to fill the void left by Keller.

    Jeff Cumberland appears to be in line for the starting role at the moment, though according to Brian Kotloff of SI.com, the Jets invited tight end Kellen Winslow to minicamp for a tryout.

    Winslow is no longer a top-tier player at the position, but it’s no surprise the Jets want to find out what he has left in the tank. With little proven talent to speak of, New York needs a veteran presence and some added depth at tight end, especially with Mornhinweg (who featured his tight ends heavily in Philadelphia) running the offense.   

    Things could certainly be worse for the Jets at receiver and tight end, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. As long as the injury bug doesn’t strike in 2013, Sanchez and Smith will at least have a couple solid targets to work with in Holmes and Hill, with a couple serviceable targets to complement them.

Replacing Revis

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    With Darrelle Revis’ departure, the Jets are in need of a No. 1 corner who can fill the massive shoes of the league’s top pass defender. Even with Dee Milliner in the fold, expect New York’s pass defense to suffer a bit in 2013.

    That’s not to suggest the Jets can’t field a top-five unit again this season, but Revis’ impact can’t be overstated. He added a completely different element to the team’s pass defense in virtually locking down half the field.

    As long as Milliner is healthy, he’ll be in line to fill that void. Along with veteran cornerback Antonio Cromartie (who is coming off a Pro-Bowl season), New York will have a solid pair of starting cornerbacks in place to start the 2013 campaign.

    But in the modern NFL, it takes more than two good cornerbacks to shut down opposing passing offenses.

    2010 first-round pick Kyle Wilson has never lived up to lofty expectations in New York, but with a healthy Milliner and Cromartie manning the outside, the Boise State product will have an opportunity to settle in to the slot corner role he should have been in all along.

    After being shuffled from slot to the outside and back on multiple occasions, Wilson hasn’t been in a great position to succeed in the Jets’ secondary.

    Granted, Wilson deserves some of the heat he has taken for his poor play in his short NFL career, but he’s still young. Given a defined role this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make a big leap forward in 2013.

    Beyond Wilson, Ellis Lankster, Aaron Berry and Isaiah Trufant round out a cornerback unit that defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman considers the best he’s coached, as quoted by Eric Allen of NewYorkJets.com:

    This is probably the most talented group we’ve had at cornerback since I’ve been here. It is from top to bottom. There are probably six to seven guys that can play cornerback in the National Football League right now.

    While that snippet may contain a bit of hyperbole considering Thurman coached Revis, there’s some truth to his claims. The Jets have both depth and talent at the position and a very high ceiling for the 2013 season.

    At safety, however, things get a little murkier.

    With LaRon Landry now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, the Jets signed his brother, Dawan Landry, to fill the void. With eight years of NFL experience (including time under Rex Ryan), Landry should have the inside track to starting at strong safety. And as is the case at cornerback, New York shouldn’t see a huge decline in production as a result.

    The free safety position is still up for grabs, though. With little proven NFL talent to speak of at the position, Antonio Allen and Josh Bush should be at the top of the list to assume the starting role this season.

    Both players were late-round selections in the 2012 draft and saw little action last season, but with a year of NFL experience under their respective belts (and limited options), one of the two could be lined up next to Landry to start the 2013 season.

    As quoted by Conor Orr of NJ.com, Allen feels the competition is between he and Bush, and both are up to the challenge:

    I can see it out there on the field, you know? [Thurman] takes me out, puts Josh in. He takes Josh out, puts me in. So, it's a healthy competition at the end of the day. I'm all up for it. We're all close in the DB room but obviously someone needs to get the start. I'm just trying to come here and compete. I just try and do what I do best, and that's make plays. Hopefully, me doing that will lock down that position.

    Neither player appears to have an edge at this point in the offseason, but regardless of who earns the starting role next to Landry, safety will remain a big question mark entering the 2013 campaign.

2013 Schedule

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    2013 New York Jets Schedule
    WeekDateOpponentTime (ET)TV
    1Sept. 8
     vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers1:00 p.m.FOX
    2Sept. 12
     @ New England Patriots8:25 p.m.NFL
    3Sept. 22
     vs. Buffalo Bills4:25 p.m.CBS
    4Sept. 29 @ Tennessee Titans4:05 p.m.CBS
    5Oct. 7 @ Atlanta Falcons8:40 p.m.ESPN
    6Oct. 13 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers1:00 p.m.CBS
    7Oct. 20 vs. New England Patriots4:05 p.m.CBS
    8Oct. 27 @ Cincinnati Bengals1:00 p.m.CBS
    9Nov. 3 vs. New Orleans Saints1:00 p.m.FOX
    10Nov. 10 BYEN/AN/A
    11Nov. 17 @ Buffalo Bills1:00 p.m.CBS
    12Nov. 24 @ Baltimore Ravens1:00 p.m.CBS
    13Dec. 1 vs. Miami Dolphins1:00 p.m.CBS
    14Dec. 8 vs. Oakland Raiders1:00 p.m.CBS
    15Dec. 15 @ Carolina Panthers4:05 p.m.CBS
    16Dec. 22
     vs. Cleveland Browns1:00 p.m.CBS
    17Dec. 29
     @ Miami Dolphins1:00 p.m.CBS


    *For a complete look at New York's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.

Season Outlook

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    As bad as the 2012 season turned out, things almost have to get better in 2013.

    Between drama involving Tim Tebow and Darrelle Revis, ineptitude at the quarterback position and underperformance in several additional areas, last season was one to forget.

    But the Jets have the potential to be much better this season, due in part to some smart coaching changes and a solid draft class. In addition, New York’s offense should receive a healthy boost from its running game after finishing 12th in that category a year ago.

    Despite losing Shonn Greene to the Tennessee Titans, the Jets added former Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders running back Mike Goodson in free agency—a player many considered worthy of a starting role in Carolina if not for the team’s crowded backfield situation.

    Along with Goodson, New York swung a deal with the New Orleans Saints for Chris Ivory. Ivory was also buried on a crowded running back depth chart, but he showed flashes of tremendous talent in New Orleans and could be a new staple for New York’s rushing attack this season.

    But like the running back situation, New York’s entire offense is shrouded in uncertainty. Things could go either very well or very poorly this season, depending on how its new talent performs.

    Defense wasn’t a major issue for the Jets last season after rounding out the schedule ranked eighth in the league in total defense. Provided there aren’t many major setbacks to speak of, New York’s rookie additions and veteran talent should put the Jets in line for another strong campaign in the AFC East.

    About that.

    This isn’t a particularly good year to be attempting a climb back atop the division. The Jets are certainly capable of making waves in the division, but like New York, its AFC East foes made significant improvements this offseason.

    The Miami Dolphins went on a free-agent spending spree and the Buffalo Bills cleaned house in favor of a rookie quarterback of their own. Along with a revamped receiving corps and some new direction at the top, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bills put together a surprisingly solid campaign in 2013.

    But as has been the case for several years, New England is the team with a target on its collective back. For New York to claim an AFC East title this season, it will have to go through Tom Brady and his Patriots.


    Prediction: 9-7, second in AFC East

    New York’s 2013 schedule is a gauntlet of playoff-caliber squads, but there are some very winnable games on the slate as well.

    Outside the AFC East, contests with Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Carolina, Oakland and Cleveland will give New York several opportunities to gain ground in the division race. None should be considered easy wins at this point, but there’s reason to believe the Jets can traverse the regular-season schedule with at least three wins from those matchups.

    But two games against the Patriots and non-divisional pairings with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta and New Orleans won’t be easy games to win. If the Jets hope to reach the playoffs this season, they’ll have to at least split the schedule with those teams—a difficult task for any team in the league.

    Realistically, New York could win anywhere from seven to 10 games this season given its schedule and uncertainty at several key positions. When all is said and done, expect them to finish on the upper-end of that spectrum with nine wins and an outside chance at making the playoffs as the second wildcard representative.