The stage is set for the New York Jets to make a big jump in 2014, but not just through free-agent acquisitions and draft picks. Given the youth of their roster, the Jets should improve as much internally as they will through external channels.
Despite not making the postseason, the Jets have to be pleased with the progression of several of their young players through the course of the season. Now, the next step will be for their young nucleus to convert potential into production.
Here are some Jets who are primed to enjoy a breakout season in 2014.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus.
Now two years into his NFL career, 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples has always appeared to be straddling the line between "good" and "great."
Coples turned a lot of heads with his production as a rookie, notching 5.5 sacks in a limited role. Heading into his sophomore campaign, the Jets were ready to let Coples loose by handing him a starting job at outside linebacker, but a preseason ankle injury poured a bucket of cold water on the hopes of Coples having a breakout 2013 season.
While it took Coples some time to (literally) regain his footing and be a productive player on the heels of a relatively serious injury, he still managed to notch 4.5 sacks in 14 games. He was also much improved against the run, as his efforts were a significant part of the Jets' third-ranked run defense.
When considering that he was still able to be somewhat productive on a bum ankle while learning a new position, the sky is the limit for Coples when he returns to the field in 2014 with a clean bill of health and a year of experience at outside linebacker under his belt.
They will never admit it, but the first three months of Dee Milliner's NFL career had to make the Jets brass uneasy about their decision to use their most valuable asset in the draft to add him to the roster.
The former ninth overall selection from the 2013 draft was benched on three separate occasions. Had it not have been for his status as a first-round pick, Milliner would have been cut in training camp.
However, Milliner was able to turn his turbulent rookie season around with a stellar stretch of games in December to close the season. He notched three interceptions in three games and stopped giving up big plays at an alarming rate.
After shutting down Mike Wallace in Week 17, Milliner appeared to be finally giving the Jets a return on their first-round investment.
Milliner's initial struggles were expected, as he was not taught proper NFL techniques, such as backpedaling, at Alabama. His struggles were exacerbated by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a chunk of training camp.
Now, Milliner has finally begun to be more comfortable using his new techniques in a live game situation. With a full offseason of development ahead, Milliner can only get better from this point onward.
Despite the poor performance from the secondary as a whole, second-year safety Antonio Allen has emerged as one of the key cogs in the secondary that the Jets can build around.
What makes Allen such a unique player is how much he changed his game since his days at South Carolina. As a Gamecock, Allen was as much of a linebacker as he was a safety, spending most of his time in the box defending the run. Since then, Allen has morphed into more of a coverage safety, specializing in taking on tight ends on his own, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski without much help.
Allen was also an asset on special teams and as a blitzer, as he blocked a punt against the Oakland Raiders.
Allen was an unfortunate casualty in the Ed Reed acquisition, losing his starting role at free safety to make room for the eventual Hall of Famer. Now that Reed is a free agent (and assuming the Jets are smart enough to not bring him back), Allen will have a stranglehold on the starting free safety job.
The more playing time Allen gets, the more time he will have to develop into a well-rounded safety who can cover as well as play up against the run.
When Chris Ivory spent most of the first quarter of the season on the bench, his reputation as a one-dimensional player who could not get off the trainer's table was becoming more and more cemented by the day.
However, once he was able to get over his hamstring injury, Ivory stole the starting job from Bilal Powell and never looked back. In the second half of the season, he racked up over 600 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Ivory may not be the multidimensional back Powell is, but Ivory has established himself as one of the best interior runners in the league. By mid-December, Ivory was the most effective runner in the league at gaining yards after contact, beating out the likes of Marshawn Lynch in the category.
More importantly, he seemed to get stronger with every passing week, showing no signs of being hampered by lingering hamstring injuries.
Now that the Jets trust Ivory with a full year of experience in Marty Mornhinweg's offense under his belt, he won't have to do as much convincing in training camp to earn playing time. All he has to do is stay available for 16 games to establish himself as one of the best workhorse backs in the league.
The scariest aspect of Sheldon Richardson winning the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year award is that Richardson is only scratching the surface of his enormous potential.
Richardson is an athletic freak of nature with the movement skills of a linebacker within the frame of a defensive lineman. He lined up at just about every position imaginable for the Jets this year—including fullback and running back, recording two rushing touchdowns.
Richardson is already an elite run defender, ranking as the second-best player in the category in Pro Football Focus' rankings (behind only J.J. Watt). The next step for Richardson is to become equally as dominant as a pass-rusher. He was slightly disappointing in this area last season, notching just four sacks—but his numbers are bound to see a dramatic increase.
Once Richardson develops a full repertoire of moves and gains the experience he needs to beat older, more savvy veteran offensive linemen, there is no telling how dominant of a player he will be.
Given his incredible athletic ability and quickness, it is only a matter of time before he develops into a complete player.