Sheldon Richardson and the Biggest Surprises of the New York Jets 2013 Season

Aidan MackieSenior Analyst IDecember 11, 2013

Sheldon Richardson and the Biggest Surprises of the New York Jets 2013 Season

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Jets 2013 season has had twists and turns no one would have dared to predict four months ago. 

    At 6-7, the team has been a pleasant surprise after historically low preseason expectations. 

    The Jets' up-and-down season is largely due to a slew of shocking individual performances, ranging from terrific to downright horrible. 

    Click through to see the six biggest surprises of Gang Green's season through 13 games. 

Sheldon Richardson's Immediate Impact

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    Selected with the 13th overall pick in this offseason's draft, Sheldon Richardson came into the league with high expectations. 

    However, no one predicted him to be as excellent as he has been through 13 games. 

    Richardson has recorded a gaudy 66 tackles from the defensive end position, along with 3.5 sacks, 12 stuffs, and a forced fumble. 

    The Missouri product's string of superb performances has placed him firmly in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. In fact, B/R Featured Columnist Dan Hope would have Richardson taking home the trophy if the season ended today. 

    Richardson is a key reason why New York's defensive line has emerged as one of the most dominant units in the NFL, and he should be critical to Gang Green's success for years to come. 

Muhammad Wilkerson's Domination

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    As good as Richardson has been, he's been average compared to Muhammad Wilkerson. 

    Wilkerson has put together one of the finest defensive seasons in Jets history this season. 

    The third-year pro has made a major impact in both pass rushing and run stuffing, and he has recorded a terrific 52 tackles, 10 sacks, five stuffs, two forced fumbles, and an interception through 13 games. 

    Wilkerson's 10 sacks are the most for a Jets defender since John Abraham had 10.5 in 2005. 

    The Temple product's fantastic season has made him one of the favorites for the Defensive Player of the Year award. If New York can sneak into the postseason, Wilkerson will receive even more consideration. 

    Entering the season, everyone knew Wilkerson was a fine player. But his play has shown that he has more potential than perhaps anyone could've guessed. 

Antonio Cromartie's Struggles

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    Antonio Cromartie has seemingly gone from a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback to one of the worst starting defensive players in the league in a span of one year. 

    Cromartie was recently rated as one of the worst cornerbacks in the league according to Pro Football Focus, as the Florida State alum has allowed an absurd amount of big plays this season. 

    Cromartie is one of the main reasons for the drop in production by New York's secondary. Last season, with Cromartie playing well, the Jets pass defense ranked second in the league. This year, they rank an abysmal 24th against the pass. 

    If the eight-year pro was playing up to his usual level, the Jets defense may be one of the best units in football. 

    Cromartie's struggles have been both shocking and costly. 

Performances at MetLife Stadium

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    In 2012, playing at home didn't help the Jets at all. They finished just 3-5 at MetLife Stadium. 

    However, MetLife has been the location for the majority of Gang Green's success this year. 

    New York is currently 5-2 at home, compared to a disappointing 1-5 away. 

    Among the Jets' home victories is an impressive overtime thriller against the Patriots and a solid defensive struggle against Drew Brees and the Super Bowl contending Saints

    The main reason for the Jets' home success has been the difference in production for Geno Smith in Jersey compared to in other locations. 

    Either way, New York's MetLife domination is refreshing to a fan base that witnessed embarrassing home blowouts to the 49ers, Bills and Patriots last year. 

The Amazing Run Defense

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    In 2012, the Jets dropped from one of the league's most dominant run defenses to one of the worst. 

    However, the run defense has rounded back into form this year and become one of the best units in the entire NFL. 

    New York ranks second in the league behind just the Carolina Panthers in rushing yards allowed per game at just 82.6, and the team allows an NFL-best 3.1 yards per carry. 

    Gang Green's defense also only allows a first down on 14.6 percent of running plays, and only four of 352 rushing attempts against the Jets have gone for 20 or more yards. 

    To put it simply, the Jets front is superb. With the "Son of Anarchy" in Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison on the defensive line and a solid linebacker corps, New York's run defense is nearly impossible to move the ball on. 

Stephen Hill's Disappearance

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    Stephen Hill had an up-and-down rookie season, but the 6'4" wide receiver with lightning speed and monster size was supposed to finally live up to his potential in his sophomore season. 

    Instead of emerging as a trusted deep threat, though, Hill has completely vanished from New York's offense. 

    In twelve games, the Georgia Tech product has caught just 24 of 59 targets for 342 yards and one touchdown. Six of those receptions, 108 of those yards and the single touchdown came in one game back in Week 3 against a porous Buffalo secondary. 

    Hill has an embarrassing one catch on four targets in the last month and a half. Castoff receivers such as Greg Salas and David Nelson have surpassed him on the depth chart. 

    Hill is inching closer and closer to being a bust, and considering the Jets selected the big wideout two picks ahead of Alshon Jeffery, that would be tough to swallow. 

    New York's season has been full of positive surprises, but Hill's struggles are certainly not one of them.