New York Jets Rookie, Free Agent Midseason Progress Report
With a new general manager in place set to bring in his own roster, the New York Jets are a much different team from a year ago. More so than ever, the Jets have been reliant on young rookies and overlooked veteran free agents to win games this year.
So far, they have had a surprising amount of success doing so. They have an unlikely 4-4 record halfway through the season.
However, that does not mean all of their rookies and free agents have panned out.
While some draft picks and signings have struck gold, other players are starting to make the Jets regret their decision to add them to their team.
Here are report cards for every Jets rookie and free agent through eight games.
Dee Milliner, CB (Rookie, 1st Round)
The Jets elected to use their most valuable roster-building resource, their ninth overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft, on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
So far, it has not panned out as well as the Jets hoped.
Having already been benched this season, Milliner finally returned to the starting lineup in Week 8 against the Bengals, only to give up a perfect passer rating to Andy Dalton in less than a half of football to earn his second benching.
Despite his struggles, Milliner has retained his starting job (via Darryl Slater of the Star-Ledger), but his play hardly justifies his position on the draft chart. Having missed the entire offseason program recovering from shoulder surgery, Milliner is simply too far behind in grasping his technique to play with the best receivers in the NFL.
As bad as Milliner has been, it would be foolish to give up on such a talented prospect. History shows that rookie cornerbacks struggle mightily out of the gate—even Darrelle Revis had a rough rookie season before he finally got the swing of things.
Milliner deserves another chance to prove himself worthy of his draft position, but right now, he does not deserve to be the starting outside cornerback opposite Antonio Cromartie.
Sheldon Richardson, DE (Rookie, 1st Round)
Luckily for the Jets, Dee Milliner's struggles have been offset by the play of their other first-round pick, Sheldon Richardson.
Coming out of Missouri, Richardson was viewed as a penetrating 3-technique who would specialize in getting after the quarterback at the price of some sloppy run defense.
Richardson has lived up to the billing, rushing the passer for a rookie (three sacks from an interior position), his spectacular performance against the run has been nothing short of remarkable.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Richardson is the third-best run defender in football among 3-4 defensive ends, ranked higher than linemate Muhammad Wilkerson.
Supremely athletic (he has lined up at linebacker at times) with a ton of upside, the future looks bright for one of the many stars along the Jets' stout defensive line.
Geno Smith, QB (Rookie, 2nd Round)
The Jets have been very careful not to anoint Geno Smith the unquestioned starter. But they have to be excited about what the West Virginia product has shown so far, both on and off the field.
Geno's arm strength and athletic ability have been impressive, but those were traits everyone knew he had as a college prospect. The questions surrounding Geno involved his footwork (which affected his accuracy), his ability to transition from a simplistic college system, and his ability to lead like a franchise quarterback should.
Outside of a few hiccups, Smith has surpassed expectations in all of those areas.
Smith has been accurate with completely revamped footwork, is making NFL-type reads that go far beyond the elementary requirements of his college system, and is acting like a even-keeled veteran off the field.
Based on their use of an aggressive, pass-first offense, the Jets have shown that they believe in their young quarterback, as Greg Cosell of Yahoo! Sports notes in his column: "A NFL team will let you know how they feel about their quarterback by what they ask him to do, and what the Jets are asking Smith to do tells you they feel good about him."
Smith is only halfway done with this season and a lot can change for the worse (or better), but John Idzik's use of his second-round pick may turn out to be his best move yet.
Brian Winters, G (Rookie, 3rd Round)
Brian Winters got off to a bit of a slow start in training camp, losing the starting left guard job to Vladimir Ducasse as he nursed injuries, but he is slowly starting to give the Jets a return on their investment by claiming the starting job in Week 5.
The good news is that yet another Jets rookie has earned the starting job; the bad news is, Winters has not been much of an upgrade over his replacement, which makes you wonder about the true motives of Winters' promotion.
Winters' performance has been inconsistent. While a mauler in the run game, Winters has struggled at times in protection, having already given up five sacks in four games.
The more Winters underperforms, the more it appears as if the Jets just want to see if they still need to invest in a guard this offseason. Which, in all honesty, makes sense for a rebuilding team like the Jets.
Still, like all rookies, he deserves a chance to develop into the player the Jets hoped they were getting when they drafted him in the third round.
Oday Aboushi, OT (Rookie, 5th Round)
The buzz around offensive lineman Oday Aboushi in training camp was so insignificant that it was a bit of a shock that he even made the team.
He has yet to be active for a single game in the regular season. When he saw time in the preseason, he was a bit underwhelming. His slow feet leave him vulnerable to faster pass-rushers.
The Jets may be better off moving Aboushi inside to guard next season, but for now, he is nothing more than extra tackle depth.
William Campbell, G (Rookie, 6th Round)
Like Oday Aboushi, William Campbell has been a complete non-factor so far, spending his Sundays on the Jets sideline in a green-and-white jumpsuit as a regular on the inactive list.
However, Campbell at least deserves the benefit of the doubt because he is making a radical position change (he played defensive tackle at Michigan). He may not have earned his roster spot outright, but the Jets would be foolish to part ways with him before finding out for sure whether he can play his new position.
Tommy Bohanon, FB (Rookie, 7th Round)
For a seventh-round pick, Tommy Bohanon has been a valuable pick as the team's starting fullback.
Bohanon's versatility is what sets him apart; he can block, run and catch the ball out of the backfield (six receptions for 44 yards). He certainly isn't the most dynamic player on the field, but his reliability in all three areas makes defenses play him honestly.
For a seventh-round pick in his first season, the Jets have to be content with the value they have gotten from the Wake Forest product.
Willie Colon, G (Free Agent)
A former tackle and guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Willie Colon was the first of many low-risk, high-reward transactions the Jets made in the offseason.
So far, Colon has been everything the Jets hoped he would be as a their starting right guard, particularly as a pass-protector. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), only five guards in the NFL have been better than Colon in this area.
Colon's ability to play was never the question; rather, it has been his ability to stay healthy after suffering season-ending injuries in both 2010 and 2011 in Pittsburgh.
The Jets took a gamble on Colon's health, and it is paying off in a big way. After all, if Colon was hurt, the Jets would be forced to look to Vladimir Ducasse to be their starting guard opposite Winters.
While there are still eight more games for him to get through, the Jets seemed to have bagged one of the best free-agent bargains of the offseason in Colon.
Dawan Landry, SS (Free Agent)
Dawan Landry may not be the big hitter that his brother LaRon was last year for the Jets, but he has still been a solid signing for the Jets in every sense for the word.
More than anything else, Landry provides a veteran presence at a position that is filled with youth.
On the field, Landry has been at his best against the run. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks him as the 11th-best safety in the NFL against the run, having amassed 32 tackles on the season.
While he will be remembered for his crucial missed tackle on Vincent Jackson in Week 1 that almost cost the Jets the game, he is typically a solid tackler and is rarely caught being too aggressive or out of position.
Pass coverage may not be his strong suit, but he has held his own while being used primarily as a deep, single-high safety. He is responsible for a few big plays against the Jets, but they don't happen very often—he has only allowed nine completions in 15 targets.
While the Jets may be looking for a more dynamic player than Landry at the position for next season, he has filled his role perfectly as a stopgap veteran.
David Nelson, WR (Free Agent)
Some of John Idzik's best moves of the offseason occurred after the season started, starting with former Bills receiver David Nelson.
Nelson was initially brought in to take pressure off of the younger receivers as injuries got the best of Santonio Holmes, but he has far exceeded expectations in just a few weeks.
He was the lone bright spot in last week's game against the Bengals, leading the team in receptions (eight) and yards (80). The week prior, he made a handful of contested catches against the Patriots that helped the Jets extend what were once-hopeless drives.
How the Jets handle Nelson's role when Holmes returns will be interesting. He has outplayed Stephen Hill in his three weeks as a Jet, but the Jets need to find a balance between getting the best players on the field without hindering the development of their youngsters.
Either way, it has been an impressive three-week stretch for a player who has just been handed a new playbook.
Josh Cribbs, KR/PR/WR (Free Agent)
The second player added to the roster in the middle of the season has not been quite as productive as Nelson as a wide receiver, but he has been a nice addition nonetheless.
Cribbs' explosiveness was on display against the Patriots in both the return game and as a Wildcat quarterback. He averaged 4.7 yards on three carries and had a 21-yard punt return that was reminiscent of his Cleveland days.
Cribbs has not been able to develop into a full-time receiver in his nine years in the NFL, and he won't suddenly become one at 30 years old. As long as he stays in his role as a returner, gadget player and emergency receiver, Cribbs will be a useful asset to the Jets in the second half of the season.
Mike Goodson, RB (Free Agent)
After running into some off-field trouble in the summer, it started to appear as if Goodson's career as a Jet would be over before it even started.
When he was finally able to return to the field in Week 5 following a suspension, Goodson showed why the Jets held on to him in spite of his legal troubles.
In just seven carries he gained 61 yards, showing off his burst and ability to break tackles. He also added a pair of receptions for 19 more yards.
Unfortunately, Goodson's resurgence was cut short after he suffered a torn ACL in just his second game while trying to make a tackle on an interception.
While no one could have predicted that Goodson would have suffered a season-ending injury, Goodson's stint in New York has to be considered as a massive disappointment, even if there is some hope that he can return as a dynamic weapon as the start of next year.
Chris Ivory, RB (Trade)
Technically, Chris Ivory was not a free agent (he was acquired during the draft from the Saints for a fourth-round pick), but as one of the bigger additions of the offseason, his performance is worth discussing.
The start of Ivory's tenure as a Jet was disappointing to say the least—prior to Week 7, he was given just 34 carries and missed a game while dealing with a hamstring injury. His counterpart, Bilal Powell, was running away with the starting job.
When Ivory was finally given a chance to carry the load in Week 7, he answered the call. He doubled his carries on the season in one game and went over 104 yards. His performance helped keep Tom Brady off the field and gave the Jets a chance to win the game.
What we have learned about Ivory is that he is the type of player who needs to get the majority of the carries to be effective. Keeping him in a rotational role limits his effectiveness as a physical runner that wears down a defense.
While Mike Goodson being out for the season is certainly a disappointment for the team, it will allow for Ivory to get more carries and ease into the "bell cow" role he envisioned when he arrived in New York.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).