10 Things We Learned About the New York Jets During Preseason

Ryan Alfieri@Ryan_AlfieriCorrespondent IIISeptember 3, 2013

10 Things We Learned About the New York Jets During Preseason

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    After another long, drama-filled preseason, the New York Jets' roster is just about set and ready for the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    The Jets now have an idea as to where their rookies stand and how much their veteran additions will be able to contribute. However, injuries at key positions, most notably to Mark Sanchez, have limited the Jets' options as they set their depth chart for Week 1.

    Here are 10 things we learned about the Jets this preseason.

Geno Smith Isn't Ready, but He's Starting Anyway

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    It appears as if Jets fans are going to get their wish, as Manish Mehta of the New York daily News reports that the Jets have all but given up on Mark Sanchez.

    It is hard to fault the Jets for wanting to move on from the player who led the league in turnovers last year—but it doesn’t mean that Geno Smith is the better option, at least right now.

    Smith was given an opportunity to seize the job in the third preseason game, but his three-interception performance proved that he still had some work to do before starting a regular-season game.

    Smith did flash some ability with some impressive downfield throws, but his tendency to stare down receivers could lead to disaster when the games start to count.

    Smith can certainly develop into a quality starter in time, but if he starts the season opener, he will be thrust into a starting job far before he is ready—much like Mark Sanchez was as a rookie. The Jets can only hope that the results are much different.

Mark Sanchez Hasn't Changed

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    While Smith is set to start the opener by default as Sanchez nurses his injured shoulder, the Jets are already ready to move on from a player who was once dubbed "the Sanchize."

    According to Mehtathe Jets have all but given up on Sanchez, no matter how well he practiced this August: "Despite Sanchez's sharp practices, the brain trust simply doesn't fully trust the fifth-year veteran and have grown tired of his repeated red-zone mistakes, according to sources."

    The opening drive of the first preseason game was a microcosm of Sanchez's career. After throwing a mind-numbing interception to Ziggy Ansah just a few snaps into the game, Sanchez engineers a beautiful touchdown drive to invite the possibility that he may just be turning the corner after all. 

    A week later, Sanchez follows up a gorgeous touchdown drive with yet another red-zone interception.

    These types of mistakes are difficult to quantify, because there is no single shortcoming to point to. There is simply no explanation for plays like the "buttfumble" or the Ansah interception.

    Clearly, the Jets are fed up with the inconsistencies, and it is hard to blame them. Sanchez has continued to play with extreme errancy, there is no reason to believe that his turnover-happy ways are going to go away anytime soon.

Bilal Powell Is the Top Running Back

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    When the Jets traded for Chris Ivory in the middle of April’s draft, it was all but assumed that Bilal Powell would revert to his backup role as Ivory took the role of the “bell cow” back.

    So far, that has not come to fruition.

    While Chris Ivory got off to a slow start battling hamstring injuries during the first week of camp, Powell had another strong August to remain atop the Jets’ depth chart.

    While not as physical of a runner as Ivory, Powell has shown more burst and decisiveness than Ivory. He is also excellent in pass protection and can catch the ball out of the backfield, which gives the Jets more flexibility in their play-calling on earlier downs.

    Things could certainty change as the season progresses and Ivory adjusts to his new environment, but right now, his sub-4.0 yards-per-carry average in the preseason is not going to be enough to usurp Powell as the top runner on the roster.

Kellen Winslow Has Something Left in the Tank

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    With Jeff Cumberland, Konrad Reuland and Hayden Smith as the top tight ends on the roster coming out of the draft, calling the Jets "desperate" for bodies at the tight end position would have been an understatement.

    Kellen Winslow, who was last seen with the New England Patriots for one week of the 2012 season, was brought to Florham Park on a tryout basis and has since worked himself onto the 53-man roster. 

    Talent was never the question with the former first-round pick. Since his rookie season in 2004, Winslow has battled a slew of devastating knee and leg injuries that have put a soaking wet blanket on such a promising career.

    Winslow will never live up to the expectations that were set for him when he was selected sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns, but he has proved this preseason that he can still be a valuable contributor if he can stay healthy. ProFootballFocus rated Winslow as the sixth-best tight end of the preseason and he was targeted 11 times in just 62 snaps (subscription required).

    Keeping Winslow healthy over 16 games will be a challenge, but he will be a key component of the Jets offense if he can stay out of the trainer's room.

Receiver Depth Is Much Improved

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    While the Jets' much-beleagured receiving corps is far from being an elite unit, there is no question that the bottom of the roster that let the team down last year is much stronger with a new infusion of young talent.

    Despite not spending big money in free agency or using any draft picks on the position, the Jets have been able to find a handful of young players that could become key contributors this year. In fact, the Jets were so impressed with their young group of undrafted receivers that they deemed their only free-agent acquisition, Braylon Edwards, expendable.

    Ryan Spadola was the brightest star of this young group and was the only undrafted rookie receiver to make the final 53-man roster. Former Miami castoff Clyde Gates has shown tremendous improvement in his route running from a year ago and has explosiveness in the return game. Several other players who did not make the team, including Zach Rogers and Ben Obamanu, showed that they could be solid contributors if called upon.

    With a stronger supporting cast on the bottom end of the roster, the Jets will be much better-equipped to deal with injuries at this position than they were last year.

Oday Aboushi Cannot Be Trusted

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    You can always tell how a team feels about its players by the actions rather than the words. 

    On Sunday, the Jets showed how little they thought of Oday Aboushi when they put in a waiver claim for Ben Ijalana, the team announced.

    The Jets have good reason to not feel good about Aboushi being one snap away from game action. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), only nine out of 157 tackles were worse than Aboushi in the preseason.

    In fairness to Aboushi, he is a bit miscast as a tackle. While he played left tackle at Virginia, his slow feet make him a prime candidate to make the conversion to guard, where his lack of foot speed is minimized. Perhaps the Jets have realized their mistake and will work him into an interior position in the future.

Darrin Walls Is Worthy of a Starting Job

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    When Darrin Walls was brought on to the roster last year following Darrelle Revis' injury, he was meant to provide emergency depth. 

    A year later, and Walls, an undrafted free agent, is outplaying the assumed starters taken in the first round.

    According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), Darrin Walls was the best cornerback of the preseason—in the entire NFL.

    While it may be "just" the preseason, Walls' production is hard to ignore. With three passes defended and just a 35.7 percent completion rate against him, it is difficult to justify starting someone else ahead of Walls simply because they were drafted higher. 

    While Walls has been turning heads, first-round pick Dee Milliner has caused them to shake. His preseason debut against the Jacksonville Jaguars was shaky at best, as he gave up too big of a cushion and allowed a 90 percent completion rate. His performance was bad enough to draw public criticism from his head coach and positional mentor, Antonio Cromartie.

    If the Jets truly are committed to "fair and open" competition, Walls should be in the mix for the starting job opposite Cromartie.

Antonio Allen vs. Jaiquawn Jarrett Is a Wash

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    The battle for the starting free safety spot between Antonio Allen and Jaiquawn Jarrett was one of the hottest battles headed into training camp.

    A month later, and Rex Ryan is as certain about his starting free safety as he was at the end of July.

    After all there is a chance that neither player is starting material. Rex could still be undecided on a starter simply because neither have convinced their coach that they are capable of playing in a full-time role.

    Even worse is the fact that both Allen and Jarrett are much better suited as downhill, in-the-box safeties on the strong side, a position currently occupied by veteran Dawan Landry.

    Ultimately, both players will likely receive a near-equal amount of playing time while Rex uses the first few regular-season games to sort out a winner.

Sheldon Richardson Is the Real Deal

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    While one first-round rookie has gotten off to a rocky start, the other has shined in his first preseason.

    Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was drafted to be Rex Ryan's shiny new toy as an interior pass-rusher, and so far, Richardson has delivered. Having recorded a sack, hit and a hurry in limited action from an interior position, Richardson is advertised as a pass-rusher. 

    What has been even more impressive is how stout he has been against the run. According to ProFootballFocus, Richardson was the eighth-best run defender among all 3-4 defensive ends, recording seven solo stops (subscription required). 

    Blessed with otherworldly athleticism, Richardson should only continue to improve and develop as he gains experience and adjusts to the NFL level.

Matt Simms Has Improved His Accuracy

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    Last year, the noodle-armed Greg McElroy was able to easily beat out Matt Simms for the third-string quarterback job because Simms' accuracy was beyond erratic. 

    A year later, and Simms is throwing the ball more like his dad used to than a fourth-string quarterback. 

    Simms was able to separate himself from McElroy with his 33-of-44 performance in the preseason finale. After the game, Rex Ryan proclaimed that the improvement Simms has made in one year is as remarkable as any he has seen in his career, via Brian Costello of the New York Post:

    Oh my goodness. He always had that big arm. Clearly he has the arm talent to play in the league. Quite honestly, I don’t know if I’ve seen somebody make the improvements he’s made.

    While Simms may not quite be ready to be considered a starter just yet—he has yet to take a single rep with the first team—he has certainly proved that he is an intriguing talent worth developing.

    Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).