This is the last of three articles that will break down my predictions for the Jets' 53-man roster.
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Quarterback: Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Erik Ainge
The two obvious ones here are going to be Mark Sanchez and Kellen Clemens. Both will compete for the starting job, and the loser will be the backup. Sanchez has reportedly had some very good days and some average days, but he will quickly adjust to the offense.
He has impressed the team, media, and fans with his professional attitude and the way he conducts himself despite being under such pressure of being the franchise quarterback of a team that hasn't seen the Super Bowl in over 40 years.
It is up in the air on who is actually going to win the starting job, though head coach Rex Ryan has gone on record saying that he was one of the only coaches on the Baltimore Ravens in support of Joe Flacco as the starter in his rookie season last year. It shows that he would not be afraid to throw Sanchez right into the fire in week one.
On the other hand, you also have another quarterback battle going on behind those two. 2008 fifth-round pick Erik Ainge is competing with 2009 undrafted rookie free agent Chris Pizzotti. At this point, I would say Ainge has the upper hand, but Pizzotti is not far behind. Ainge will and should win this battle.
Running back: Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Shonn Greene
The talk of the offseason beyond Mark Sanchez has been the contract holdouts of running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. It has been stated by agent Drew Rosenhaus that Jones will report to mandatory camp this week.
The Jets reportedly won't budge on the contract. He is due to make $900,000 this year after receiving $13 million of the $20 million, four-year deal he signed back in 2007 during the first two seasons.
Washington seems to be the hardest one to overcome at this point. His contractual stance keeps him from putting on a practice jersey, and he is hell-bent on getting a new contract. The Jets are wary because of the uncertainty with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Players Association and Owners.
This one could last well into the summer, but in the end, the Jets will reach an agreement with arguably their best player on the field.
2009 third-round pick Shonn Greene will fill the role as the Jets' third running back this year. The coaching staff reportedly loved him so much that they chose to hand over the bulk of their second day draft picks to move up to grab him in the top of the third round.
Greene will be there for the Jets in the tail end of games when they need him. His fresh legs in the fourth quarter could tear apart an opposing defense. This coincides with Rex Ryan's willingness to pound the ball on the ground this year.
Fullback: Tony Richardson
Tony Richardson is the ultimate professional and is just as much responsible for Thomas Jones' career season and Pro Bowl appearance last year as the offensive line was.
Richardson has played the blocking fullback role for many running backs who have surpassed 1,000 or more yards in a season on the ground, including Priest Holmes three times (2001, 2002, 2003), Larry Johnson (2005), Chester Taylor (2006), Adrian Peterson (2007), and Thomas Jones (2008).
Wide Receiver: Jerricho Cotchery, David Clowney, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith, Wallace Wright
Perhaps the weakest of all positions. The Jets have been lacking a proven wide receiver to start opposite Jerricho Cotchery since Laveranues Coles left to sign with the Cincinnati Bengals, but with that opens up a new opportunity for a variety of young wide receivers with talent to prove themselves worthy of the void.
David Clowney and Brad Smith appear likely to compete with each other this summer to start outside opposite Cotchery. Clowney brings a 4.37 40-time to the table and gives the Jets a nice deep threat, while Brad Smith gives the Jets the experience that none of the other competitors carries.
In the end, I see the Jets going forward with Clowney, who the new coaching staff has seemed very high on since their arrival.
The Jets spent their seventh-round pick in 2007 on a Clemson wide receiver named Chansi Stuckey. A foot injury in his senior season would drop his draft stock from a mid-round pick to almost out of the draft completely. Nevertheless, the Jets took the risk and grabbed him with the 235th overall pick.
He put up promising numbers in his first preseason, only to be hampered by a broken foot that would put him out for the season. He returned in 2008 and started at three games for the Jets.
In each of the first three games of last season, Stuckey caught a touchdown pass from Brett Favre. He finished out the season with 32 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns.
Stuckey has all the makings to be the great third down slot receiver that the Jets haven't truly had since Wayne Chrebet. If he can pull off that role, he will be a huge security blanket for the quarterback in crucial parts of games during the 2009 season.
Wallace Wright rounds out the wide receiver list. Reason? He is a special teams ace. When you watch a Jets game every week, it's hard to go a game without hearing Wright's name called as making a special teams tackle or two. For that reason alone, he will return.
Tight End: Dustin Keller, Bubba Franks, Jack Simmons
Did I say wide receiver was the weakest part of the Jets roster? Check that. It could be tight end. The only difference is that the Jets have a superstar in the making at tight end, and he's really the only one on the roster of any significance. The Jets really lack depth at this position at this point.
Keller came on strong and had an excellent rookie campaign in 2008, recording 48 receptions for 535 yards with three touchdowns. He has really brought a pass-catching credibility back to the Jets, and it made Chris Baker expendable in that part.
However, Keller is not a great blocker, and in addition to depth, that is what the Jets lack at the position. The Jets brought back veteran tight end Bubba Franks to possibly assume the role as a blocking tight, end and Rex Ryan is also very high on Jack Simmons, who may make the team as a third tight end.
Offensive Tackle: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Damien Woody, Wayne Hunter, Mike Kracalik
The Jets head into the 2009 season with good depth on the offensive line for the first time in a while. I can't ever really say the Jets had great depth up front on offense during Eric Mangini's tenure as head coach.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson heads into his fourth season as the Jets' starting left tackle. While he has hit a few bumps in the road, he has truly come into his own, and with the guidance of a future Hall of Fame guard to his right in Alan Faneca, Ferguson is making life easy when it comes to protecting the Jets quarterbacks on their blind side.
Damien Woody begins the second-year of a five-year, $25 million deal that the Jets gave him last offseason. The Jets haven't really had a good player at right tackle since Kareem McKenzie left to join the Giants. Woody never played the tackle position on a regular basis until this past season and made the switch very well.
Wayne Hunter has reportedly caught the eye of the coaching staff, and they expect good things from him as a backup tackle.
The former third-round pick by the Seahawks in 2003 spent three seasons in Seattle and one in Jacksonville before joining the Gang Green for the 2008 campaign.
The best news of all is that Hunter saw no action as a starter in 2008.
Mike Kracalik was originally signed by the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2005. However, he found no place on the team's 53-man roster and joined the Baltimore Ravens.
He spent four seasons with the Ravens before returning to the Jets this offseason and is joining ex-Raven personnel Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard, and Marques Douglas in New York. Standing 6'8" and weighing in at 337 pounds, Kracalik is a load and gives the Jets a nice big body up front behind the starters.
Offensive Guard: Alan Faneca, Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson
Alan Faneca became the richest offensive lineman in NFL history for two months until Jake Long came along and took that distinction away from him. Faneca did nothing but great things for the Jets in his first year.
Whether it was continuing to do what he does best in run blocking or mentoring third-year players D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold to his left and right on the offensive line, Faneca's addition made the Jets offense just that much better.
Brandon Moore has leaped all the hurdles it took, but after signing with the Jets as an undrafted free agent defensive tackle in 2002, he has made the switch to offense to become one of the league's better and most underrated run-blocking guards.
Moore was due a $7 million roster bonus earlier this offseason, so the Jets decided to cut him rather than pay him the bonus. However, a mere one day later, Moore re-signed with the Jets at four years, $16 million with $10 million guaranteed.
It worked out for both sides. The Jets didn't have a huge cap number with Moore's old contract, and under his new contract, Moore would make more money per year on average.
Matt Slauson joined the Jets this past April when it was announced that the team had taken him in the sixth round of the NFL draft.
A huge factor and perhaps one of the main reasons why the Jets selected Slauson was because current offensive line coach Bill Callahan was Slauson's head coach at Nebraska for three of his four years at college. The rookie was named first team All-Big 12 by the San Antonio Express-News and second team All-Big 12 by the Associated Press.
Slauson will be a key depth player and will work closely with his former head coach as he makes the transition from college to pro.
Center: Nick Mangold, Robert Turner
When asked by a Patriots fan who the league's toughest center he ever faced was, nose tackle Vince Wilfork replied, "Nick Mangold."
Not only does Mangold's name fit that billing, but in a recent list ranking the top centers in the NFL, a group of former NFL scouts also named Nick Mangold the No. 1 center in the NFL.
This guy is simply, hands down, one of the premier players the Jets have drafted in recent years, perhaps the best, though he will be the most unnoticed. Mangold, like his first round counterpart Ferguson, has started every single game since his arrival in the NFL.
There is not much else you can say about him. He is clearly one of the best players this team has.
Robert Turner joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent in May of 2007. He has since been a member of the Jets and provided key depth on the offensive line.
While he started out at guard earlier in his career, he has the versatility to play center as well in the unfortunate event that Nick Mangold were to ever come down with an injury. For that, the Jets value him as a crucial player on their depth chart.