Predicting Team Awards for the New York Jets' 2013-14 Season
There may not be an overwhelming amount of promise for the green and white this year, but this season does play an important role in the development of young players to build for the future.
From Geno Smith's development into a potential franchise quarterback the great potential of the young players on the defensive line, how quickly these young players develop will be the true measure of success for this rebuilding club.
Here are the favorites of each end-of-season award for the Jets.
Most Valuable Player
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The Jets may lack some of the elite talent they have had in years past, but they have at least one budding superstar on their roster in Muhammad Wilkerson.
Overshadowed by J.J. Watt's historic season in 2012, Wilkerson was more dominant than any other defensive lineman not named Watt last year, grading out with the second highest grade ever given out to a 3-4 defensive end by ProFootballFocus and recorded 54 defensive stops.
What makes Wilkerson so dominant is his blend of athleticism, strength and length. He can control and shed blockers with ease and has enough movement ability to make plays out in space when needed.
The strength of the Jets defense used to lie in the secondary, but after using three first-round picks on defensive lineman in consecutive years, this area has become a cornerstone led by Muhammad Wilkerson.
The scary part about Wilkerson is that he has only begun to tap into his potential, particularly as a pass-rusher. With great length and athleticism, Wilkerson has plenty of room to grow into a more complete and dominant player if he improves as a pass-rusher.
Antonio Cromartie does have a chance to be the team's MVP as he assumes Darrelle Revis' former role as the team's lockdown cornerback, but Wilkerson still has room to grow into an even more dominant force than he was a year ago.
WINNER: Muhammad Wilkerson
Rookie of the Year
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With two first-round picks and a potential franchise quarterback, this year’s Rookie of the Year award is as wide open as could possibly be.
If Geno Smith secures the starting job early in the season and has shows promise as a franchise quarterback, he will be a shoo-in to win the job. However, based on the fact that he has yet to beat out the incumbent Mark Sanchez is hardly indicative that he will enjoy a Russell Wilson-like season as a rookie.
Cornerback Dee Milliner, the Jets’ first selection, has a chance to become a future star in the NFL, but Alabama players—particularly cornerbacks—have generally not fared well in the NFL since Nick Saban took over the program.
Saban is known for running a physical program all the way down to the last week of the season, which wears out his players by the time they get to the NFL. Milliner, who has already undergone five surgeries, was also never taught how to backpedal at Alabama and it may time him extra time to adjust to NFL coverage techniques.
This leaves Missouri product Sheldon Richardson as the favorite to win the award. With the ability to move like a linebacker at the size of a defensive tackle, Richardson should be able to provide a pass rush from a multitude of alignments right off the bat.
Given Rex Ryan's track record with defensive lineman shown by his development of Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson (Ryan was the defensive line coach with the 2000 Ravens), Sheldon is going to put but in the right position to succeed rather than be forced to learn a system that does not suit his skill set.
Richardson will certainly have a lot of pressure on him as the player chosen with the “Darrelle Revis pick,” but he has enough athletic ability to make an immediate impact in the NFL.
WINNER: Sheldon Richardson
Most Improved Player
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As a rookie, wide receiver Stephen Hill because an unfair target of blame for the Jets’ offensive struggles.
Despite dropping just six passes in 2012, he earned his reputation for not coming through in clutch situations when he failed to haul in a critical third down against the Patriots early in the season. Combined with the fact that he missed a lot of time dealing with injuries, Hill was an easy target for criticism.
In Hill’s defense, he was hardly put in a position to succeed last year.
Not only was he working in an inept offensive system with Mark Sanchez as his quarterback, but he was too raw of a prospect to be thrust into a starting role so early. There was even more pressure put on him after Santonio Holmes suffered a season-ending injury in Week 4.
Inexperienced as a route-runner coming out of Georgia Tech’s triple option offense, Hill needed time to develop and ease his way into a larger role, not become the team's top target within a month.
Now over a year removed from being drafted, Hill has a chance to make the most out of his athleticism and learn from his rookie mistakes.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, Hill has already begun to turn the corner in his development, calling him “the most improved player on the team.”
It is still only halfway through the preseason, but as long as Hill avoids costly drops and stays healthy, the sky is the limit for him.
WINNER: Stephen Hill
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When you have a team with a roster as thin as the Jets, there are going to be a handful of players that grow into expanded roles much faster than anyone could have expected.
While former first-round pick Kyle Wilson has struggled with his consistency playing in the slot, undrafted Notre Dame product Darrin Walls as emerged as one of the best defensive backs on the roster.
Originally added to the roster for depth after Darrelle Revis’ injury, Walls earned a role on the regular defense by season’s end, notching an interception and three passes defensed in sub-packages.
Rex Ryan made a point to emphasize impressive Walls has been in Monday’s press conference, via the team’s official website:
...a guy that maybe doesn’t get a whole lot of attention but certainly is getting our attention as coaches. Exactly, Darrin Walls. He’s a guy that did a great job in the game but he constantly does a good job.
The biggest obstacle Walls faces for an increased role in the regular defense is that he has three former first-round picks in starting roles (Antonio Cromartie, Wilson and Dee Milliner) that will get more opportunities to prove themselves than Walls.
WINNER: Darrin Walls
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As the first player selected by a team with two first-round picks, expectations are sky-high for Dee Milliner as he tries to fill the enormous shoes left behind by Darrelle Revis.
Unfortunately for Milliner, the odds are stacked against him to live up to such lofty expectations.
As stated in a previous slide, Alabama cornerbacks do not fare well early in their NFL careers, as they are not taught some of the most basic coverage techniques and tend to be worn out by the time training camp starts.
The last Alabama corner to be taken in the first round, Dre Kirkpatrick of the Cincinnati Bengals, played in just five games last year and failed to record any stats.
Milliner has already gotten off to a slow start, as he struggled in the second preseason game.
Rex Ryan called out Milliner in his press conference (h/t Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News) cited his aggressiveness as the line of scrimmage as an area Milliner needs to improve. Milliner was likely giving such a large cushion because he was not confident in his ability to backpedal just yet.
There is still plenty of time for Milliner to turn his game around before the games count, but the early returns are not good for those expecting a strong rookie season from the ninth-overall pick.
Best Free Agent Addition
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John Idzik was not allotted much cap room in his first offseason as general manager, so he was forced to roll the dice on players with a spotty history of injuries of character issues and hope for the best.
Idzik appears to have already rolled snake eyes on Mike Goodson, who has yet to report to training camp, but he may have found a gem in guard Willie Colon.
Colon was a productive player for the Pittsburgh Steelers as both a right tackle and a guard, but nagging injuries left him on the free agent market as damaged goods. When healthy, Colon can be a mauler in the run game with just enough athleticism to make blocks on the second level.
So far, Colon has avoided the trainers' room and appears to have the right guard job locked up.
Colon brings more to the table than his ability to block defensive tackles. With Brandon Moore now in retirement, there is a void of leadership in the position that sits between All-Pro Nick Mangold and second-year starter Austin Howard.
Had the Jets decided to go younger at right guard, the lack of leadership could stunt the development of Howard as well.
WINNER: Willie Colon
Offensive Player of the Year
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"Consistency" is hardly an accurate term to describe the Jets offense over the last few years, but D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been a "brick" protecting the blindside.
Coming off a sub-par 2011 season for his standards, Ferguson returned to Pro Bowl form as a pass protector, grading out better than any other Jet offensive lineman in Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) rankings. He gave up just two sacks all season.
It is no secret that the athletic Ferguson is much better moving backwards in pass protection than he is creating holes in the run game. However, with Marty Mornhinweg hinting at a greater emphasis on passing the ball this year (h/t Brian Costello of the New York Post), Ferguson will have more of a chance to prove his value as a pass protector than ever before.
In reality, there are only two players that can compete with Ferguson for the award: Nick Mangold and Santonio Holmes.
There is no telling whether or not Holmes will be the same player whenever he returns from his Lisfranc injury. Meanwhile, Mangold is about equal to Ferguson in his position as a center, but Ferguson's spot at left tackle is more vital to offensive success than interior positions.
WINNER: D'Brickashaw Ferguson
Defensive Player of the Year
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With Muhammad Wilkerson taking the MVP trophy, Antonio Cromartie deserves his own place in the spotlight as the Defensive Player of the Year.
Ever since Darrelle Revis tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2012 season, Cromartie has emerged as one of the game’s true shutdown cornerbacks.
While he does not have quite the incredible consistency as Revis and he is prone to struggle against smaller slot receivers, Cromartie’s rare size for the position allow him to match up with players like Mike Wallace and Larry Fitzgerald. He held quarterbacks to just a 47 percent completion percentage in 2012.
Now that Revis is permanently out of the Jets’ future plans on defense, Rex Ryan will undoubtedly build his defense with the idea that Cromartie will act as the “new” version of Revis, following around a team’s primary receiver with minimal help in coverage.
Cromartie proved that he is capable of playing at an elite level—now he must prove that last year was not a fluke and that he is worth of being considered one of the best cover men in the game.
WINNER: Antonio Cromartie