Predicting Jets' Starting Lineup After the 1st Wave of Free-Agent Signings

Ryan AlfieriCorrespondent IIIMarch 18, 2014

Predicting Jets' Starting Lineup After the 1st Wave of Free-Agent Signings

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Whether they are ready or not, the New York Jets' pre-draft roster is starting to take shape. 

    Their activity in free agency has been far less than expected, which will result in a roster that far too much resembles that of last year's 8-8 roster. There is still time for the Jets to add a few players in free agency to shore up some needs, but given their cap flexibility this offseason, they have failed to deliver on the wholesale changes that were needed to turn this average roster into a contender. 

    Here is the current Jets' starting lineup as it stands one week into free agency. 

Quarterback

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Starter: Geno Smith

     

    He won't walk into the huddle on opening day without getting past some competition in training camp, but as of now, it would be an upset if Geno Smith was not the Week 1 starting quarterback for the Jets' upcoming season. 

    While the Jets are holding out hope that Smith can continue his late-season surge and develop into their franchise player, they are not quite comfortable with entering the season without a more threatening presence at the backup spot. The Jets have been linked to some of the top passers on the market, including Josh McCown and Michael Vick.

    With the free-agency well drying up, Smith has a good chance of entering a favorable training-camp battle this offseason. If a training-camp battle were to come to a draw, Smith would likely win out anyway because of his age and potential. After all, giving up on a talented second-round prospect after just one 8-8 season would be a bit premature. 

    Now armed with a more reliable receiving threat in Eric Decker, this will likely be Smith's last chance to prove he is worthy of being the long-term starter.

Running Back

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    Starter: Chris Ivory

     

    While the newly acquired Chris Ivory was busy nursing a hamstring injury, Bilal Powell ran away with the starting running back job in the first half of the 2013 season. However, as soon as Ivory began to get a healthy pair of legs under him, it was clear he was the far more effective inside runner and was the top runner by season's end. 

    While Powell offers more value in terms of his versatility in the passing game, Ivory is about as good as it gets when it comes to gaining yards after contact. 

    Chris Ivory was the only RB with 150+ carries to top 3.0 YPC AFTER contact. Adrian Peterson not far behind at 2.97

    — Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 7, 2014

    Powell was doing a more-than-serviceable job as the Jets' top back, but there was no way the Jets could keep this type of production off the field. Ivory seized the job roughly halfway through the season and never looked back.

    Both players will see plenty of time on the field, but Ivory will get the bulk of the starts simply because he is better-suited for early-down situations.

Wide Receiver

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Starters: Eric Decker, David Nelson, Jeremy Kerley (slot)

     

    One of the few positions the Jets were able to upgrade in free agency was the wide receiver position, inking Eric Decker to a $36.25 million contract.

    Although, considering how starved this group was for production last season, it would have been quite a feat to not find at least some type of upgrade in free agency.

    Decker will obviously occupy one of the starting outside positions, but the second perimeter-receiver spot remains up for grabs. Stephen Hill has yet to give coaches any reason to believe that he can seize the job this summer, yet the Jets have been reluctant to add a proven player opposite Decker to give them insurance headed into the draft.

    Jeremy Kerley is the second-best receiver on the roster, but his size and limited speed pegs him in the slot.

    As of now, the safest bet for the No. 2 receiver job is David Nelson, who surprised as a midseason addition with 423 yards. While not quite as naturally gifted as Hill, Nelson is far more reliable with his hands and willingness to be physical.

    If John Idzik does not add a proven starter within the next few days, look for the Jets to address this position early and often through the draft.

Tight End

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    Starter: Jeff Cumberland

     

    There is no way to sugarcoat this: The Jets are in a dire situation at the tight end position.

    Had they not been able to re-sign Jeff Cumberland, they would be relying on the likes of Konrad Reuland to get them through the season—essentially forcing them to use a first- or second-round pick on the position. 

    Cumberland fits as a serviceable No. 2 with better receiving than blocking skills, but the Jets are kidding themselves if they believe that he will magically take a big leap in his fifth professional season. Cumberland has yet to breach the 400-yard mark in his career and lost a considerable amount of playing time to Kellen Winslow last year. 

    With the tight end market all but dried up this late into free agency, the Jets will likely be forced to rely on a rookie to handle No. 2 duties—hardly a recipe for success for a team trying to improve on an average 8-8 season.

Offensive Line

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Starters: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (LT), Brian Winters (LG), Nick Mangold (C), Willie Colon (RG), Breno Giacomini (RT)

     

    While they did lose Austin Howard to the Oakland Raiders, the Jets were able to lock down the tackle position with the acquisition of Breno Giacomini from the Seattle Seahawks. Giacomini is a bit older than Howard and does not have as much upside, but he is a solid pass-protector who will at least "fill" the position for the foreseeable future.

    The focus now turns to the two guard positions. Brian Winters did improve down the stretch at left guard, but he was a huge liability in pass protection for most of the season, finishing as the 77th-best guard in football in Pro Football Focus' rankings

    Meanwhile, the Jets have yet to find a replacement for free agent Willie Colon. With the guard market evaporating, the Jets have been linked back to Colon in a desperate search for an immediate starter:

    As others have reported, Jets trying to re-sign Willie Colon, according to source. He has drawn interest from other teams, though. #nyj

    — Brian Costello (@BrianCoz) March 18, 2014

    Colon played well in all 16 of his starts, allowing just two sacks. However, the fact that he suffered a torn biceps in the season finale raises doubts about his readiness and effectiveness at the start of the 2014 season. 

    A betting man would be wise to stake their fortunes on Colon being the starting right guard for the Jets in 2014, but how effective he can be remains in doubt.

Defensive Line

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Starters: Muhammad Wilkerson (DE), Sheldon Richardson (DE), Damon Harrison (NT)

     

    This is a no-brainer. This position group is far and away the best on the team in terms of talent, youth and potential.

    Already the best 3-4 defensive line in football, the eldest member of the starting lineup is Damon Harrison, who is just 25 years old. If they can continue to live up to their athletic potential, the Jets' defensive line has a chance to be truly special. 

    The player to watch this year will be Sheldon Richardson. The reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year oozes potential as a defensive lineman with the movement skills of a linebacker. Where Richardson should focus his development is in his pass rush, as he recorded a modest 3.5 sacks last year in spite of his otherwise tremendous production.

Linebackers

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Starters: Quinton Coples (OLB), Calvin Pace (OLB), David Harris (ILB), Demario Davis (ILB)

     

    The only position that was in question prior to free agency was Calvin Pace's spot at outside linebacker. Now that Pace is back in the fold, the linebackers are all but set going into the 2014 season.

    The development of Quinton Coples will be key. Coples was put in a tough position last year, being forced to change positions while dealing with a surgically repaired ankle to start the season. With a full offseason to heal, Rex Ryan must be anxious to see how much Coples' development will accelerate without dealing with so many outside factors in his second season in his new position. 

    Third-year linebacker Demario Davis should continue to assert himself next to David Harris at inside linebacker. Specializing in coverage and end-to-end defending against the run, look for Davis to take on more of a leadership role will a full season of starting experience under his belt.

Cornerbacks

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    Starters: Dee Milliner, Darrin Walls, Kyle Wilson (slot)

     

    This position has been under a lot of scrutiny lately following several whiffs from the front office in its efforts to improve the position. 

    Based on his performance in the waning weeks of last season (three interceptions in as many games), 2013 first-round pick Dee Milliner gives the Jets a solution at one of the outside cornerback spots—but the player who lines up opposite him remains very much in question. 

    After failing to reel in Vontae Davis, Captain Munnerlyn or Alterraun Verner near the start of free agency, the cornerback situation officially became a crisis once John Idzik allowed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie slip away to the New York Giants

    There are still some players available who can save the Jets from complete disaster, with Antonio Cromartie sticking out as the best option available. However, for a defense that is so reliant on quality cornerback play, anything less than stellar play from the position will result in disaster. 

    If the season started tomorrow, Darrin Walls would likely get the nod to start on the perimeter. Walls impressed in the preseason last year and deserved to start over Milliner, but he has not been tested in regular-season action for extended periods of time.

    As of now, the cornerback position is as grim as any position on the team, which is a scary proposition for a team with so many other needs this late into free agency.

Safeties

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    Mel Evans/Associated Press

    Starters: Antonio Allen (FS), Dawan Landry (SS)

     

    The only change in this position from last year will be the absence of Ed Reed. While Rex Ryan may miss having his buddy around the facility, it will allow the younger, more promising Antonio Allen to seize the starting free-safety job without having to look over his shoulder. 

    Allen showed a ton of promise last year as a coverage specialist, containing the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski with limited assistance. The fact that Allen was so good in coverage comes as a bit of a shock, as Allen played more like a run-stuffing linebacker than a coverage safety in his college days at South Carolina

    Meanwhile, Dawan Landry figures to hold down the fort for one more year at strong safety. While he does not make nearly as many "splash" plays as his brother, LaRon Landry of the Indianapolis Colts (just one interception last season), he is a sure tackler and does not let many plays get behind him when in deep coverage. 

    Given their other needs, it is unlikely that the Jets make an effort to make a significant upgrade to this position in free agency. However, it would hardly come as a surprise if Idzik uses a mid-round pick on a young replacement for Landry in preparation for next season when Landry's contract expires.

Special Teams

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    Starters: Nick Folk (K), Ryan Quigley, (P), Tanner Purdum (LS)

     

    After finally landing his well-deserved long-term contract, Nick Folk will finally be able to enter a season as the unquestioned starting kicker. 

    Having spent season after season dealing with training-camp competition and improving on an annual basis, Nick Folk earned some job security. After all, he was a huge part of the Jets' surprising 8-8 season with several game-winning kicks in the waning seconds of the game. 

    The punter position is much less secure. Quigley was serviceable for most of the season, but he was prone to a bit too many shanks and mishits for the Jets to feel comfortable with him being the unquestioned starter headed into 2014. If Quigley wants to continue on as the Jets' punter, he will have to get through some camp competition first. 

    Meanwhile, Tanner Purdum remains as the least known starter on the team, which is good thing for long snappers. The Jets have yet to miss a kick because of a bad snap, giving them no reason to part ways with their incumbent long snapper.

     

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