Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
No. 85 Ryan Spadola goes horizontal against Jacksonville.
Talent or the lack thereof is the word most often associated with the 2013 New York Jets.
But the real question isn't if the Jets have talent. It's whether they have talent that has performed at an NFL-level standard. Young teams, or teams living off the discards of other teams, often labor under the perception that they are lacking in NFL-caliber talent.
Let's examine the optimist's and pessimist's point of view:
With the exception of Santonio Holmes, the Jets don't have a single established game-breaking threat on offense.
They lost 2012's only 1,000-yard performer, running back Shonn Greene, to free agency. At tight end they have the injury-prone Kellen Winslow Jr. being backed up by career reserves Jeff Cumberland and Konrad Reuland, neither of whom are strong blockers. Jeremy Kerley is an emerging slot receiver, but their No. 2 wideout, Stephen Hill, is better known for dropping passes than for catching them.
At quarterback, they can choose between the turnover-prone Mark Sanchez and the rookie Geno Smith.
The offensive line includes two new starting guards, the much-maligned Vladimir Ducasse and the oft-injured Willie Colon.
As for defense, cornerback Antonio Cromartie is the only returning member of last year's secondary. The linebacking corps has yet to prove it can pressure the quarterback from outside. However, the defensive line, with Muhammad Wilkerson and promising rookie Sheldon Richardson, may show some life.
Still, it looks like a rough year for the Jets, as they prepare to get a high draft pick in 2014.
Many things must go right for the Jets to succeed this year. However, it's a young, enthusiastic team, one that has emerged from a spirited preseason with some positive signs.
For one thing, Marty Mornhinwheg's offense significantly outscored the preseason counterparts of his predecessor Tony Sparano. What's more, while the Jets might not have a 1,000-yard rusher, Chris Ivory has yet to play a full game, Bilal Powell had a great camp and Tommy Bohanon can line up as a fullback, halfback or tight end.
Speaking of tight end, Kellen Winslow Jr. got some unexpected grades from profootballfocus.com (subscription required). His preseason pass-blocking grade of 0.3 is only slightly above average, but it's an unexpected benefit that should help the wide receivers and the vertical passing game. Backup tight ends also had moments in the preseason: Jeff Cumberland caught a couple of 20-plus-yard touchdown passes and Konrad Reuland contributed to punt coverage.
As for that No. 2 wideout, Stephen Hill has been much better at holding on to the ball, he might emerge this year. Even without Holmes, the unit of Hill, Kerley, Gates and Spadola moved the ball on several possessions this preseason.
Quarterback is a concern, but Mark Sanchez can move the team when he's focused, and Geno Smith is learning.
The first-team offensive line combines established stalwarts with new blood. Veteran center Nick Mangold and tackles D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Austin Howard will provide leadership and continuity; newcomer Willie Colon (a former All-Pro tackle) and the improved Vladimir Ducasse hope to improve upon last year's models at the guard positions. Rookie guard Brian Winters should see significant playing time and perhaps become a starter.
The defense has experienced tremendous change. Yet, the defensive line will continue to be a strength, enhanced by the addition of rookie tackle Sheldon Richardson. The linebackers will boast more speed with Demario Davis joining the starters. Antwan Barnes enhances the outside pass rush as will Quinton Coples, who is expected to return to the lineup from injury early in the season.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie anchors a revitalized secondary that introduces LaRon Landry's brother, Dawan, at one safety position opposite second-year pro Antonio Allen, whose pick-six against Philadelphia closed out the Jets' preseason scoring. At the other corner will be the Jets' first draft pick of 2013, Dee Milliner.
Kicker Nick Folk, punter Robert Malone and long snapper Tanner Purdum return to anchor the special teams.
By the end of the year, the Jets will have surprised a few people and may even make the playoffs.
Undoubtedly, the truth lies somewhere in between. The Jets will neither be as bad as some fear nor as good as others hope. That's the recipe for an interesting but ultimately mediocre year.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.