New York Jets: 6 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
One of the most underrated ways in which a team can improve is through the development of what is already on their roster. As rosters continue to evolve, younger players are expected to step into larger roles as they continue their development.
The Jets' relative silence in free agency signals that they are willing to rely on the players currently on their roster to take on more responsibility. While this may not be the flashiest way to go about improving a team, it can be the most cost-efficient if executed correctly.
Here are some Jets who will see their roles expend in 2014.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
After a slow start to his first season in New York that stemmed from a nagging hamstring injury, Chris Ivory appears to be set to take the role of the lead running back without looking back.
Despite dealing with a hamstring injury, Ivory appeared to get stronger as the season went on last year. He managed to finish with an impressive 4.6 yards per carry as his workload continued to increase.
In particular, no one was better than Ivory after first contact. His ability to generate yards in spite of substandard run blocking was exceptional, to say the least:
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
Ivory will likely seize the early-down duties, but his role will fall short of being a three-down runner because of his ineffectiveness as a receiver, creating third-down opportunities for Bilal Powell. Still, the Jets' combination of Ivory and Powell is more or less the norm in today's NFL—few runners are able to sustain an offense on their own on all three downs.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between this year and 2013 is that Ivory will enter training camp as the assumed starter—and there is no reason to suggest that he will not continue to thrive in his role.
Posting over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns, Eric Decker's role with the Denver Broncos in 2013 was hardly small. However, he will be asked to do even more with his new team, even if he sees a dip in statistical production.
Surrounded by other elite wide receivers in an environment nurtured by Peyton Manning, Decker was just a piece of the Broncos' juggernaut offense. He was asked to make plays, but by no means was he the driving force of the offense.
With the New York Jets, Decker will be asked to be the primary target for a quarterback that is still figuring his way around the NFL in Geno Smith.
More specifically, Decker spent most of his time as a "Z" receiver with the Broncos, taking advantage of the attention that was steered in the direction of Demaryius Thomas. With the Jets, he will spend more time as an "X" receiver, seeing much more press coverage and double-teams.
Barring a late acquisition of a No. 1 receiver or a draftee emerging as a star right off the bat, there is not much else on the Jets' roster to give opponents a reason to give Decker extra room to work with.
Decker has been seeking a chance to prove that he is not a product of the Manning machine, and he will certainly get a chance to prove his worth in his new role with the Jets.
After missing out on several cornerbacks in free agency, Dee Milliner is set to enter the 2014 season as the Jets' top cornerback.
The Jets would expect their top selection from last year's draft to eventually emerge as a No. 1 cornerback, but asking Milliner to be a shutdown player on the heels of a rough rookie season in which he was benched on three separate occasions is playing with fire—especially without another proven commodity opposite him.
The good news is Milliner began to show significant improvement last December, notching three interceptions in as many games. He appears to have finally started to adapt NFL techniques and a full offseason to develop (which he was stripped of last year after having shoulder surgery) should only accelerate his improvement.
While they may be a bit nervous about putting so much faith in a player that struggled as much last year, the Jets drafted Milliner with the hopes that he could fill the role as the team's No. 1 cornerback. Now if the time for him to give the Jets a return on their investment.
Despite never eclipsing the 400-yard mark in a season in his career, the Jets continue to put faith in Jeff Cumberland becoming the No. 1 tight end they have been missing since Dustin Keller left in free agency last year.
The former undrafted product out of Illinois does not offer much as a blocker, but he does have promise as a receiver. With a big frame and some natural athleticism and hands, Cumberland has flashed the ability to become an above-average receiving tight end.
His year-end numbers are not impressive, but much of that can be due to the fact that he has either had to split time with another veteran (either Dustin Keller or Kellen Winslow) or missed some time, never playing in 16 games in a season. He has also dealt with less-than-stellar quarterback play throughout his career as well.
With Winslow out of the picture and no proven veteran coming in to help, the Jets are going to lean on the recently extended Cumberland to carry the load at tight end. Even if the Jets do use a draft pick or add another veteran body to round out the roster, the Jets gave Cumberland a sizable extension in hopes that he could become their go-to guy at the position.
If Cumberland does not develop into the capable starter the Jets are banking on him becoming in these favorable circumstances, he may never live up to their expectations.
A guard's role will always be somewhat limited, but this will be a different year for Brian Winters as he enters the season as the assumed starter for the first time.
Last season was not a smooth transition to the pros for Winters. He finished as the fifth-worst guard in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, allowing 10 sacks playing in just 13 games.
The silver lining for Winters is that like Milliner, he finished the season strong. He gave up one pressure in the final two games. In particular, he excelled in the finale against Miami, grading out as the second-best offensive lineman on the team (second to only Nick Mangold).
The Jets are certainly hoping that this is a sign of more good things to come from Winters, and they have good reason to believe this to be the case. A tackle at Kent State, Winters needed some time to transition to a new position in a faster game.
With another offseason of development, Winters will be counted on to develop into the upper-tier starter the Jets hoped he would become as a former third-round pick.
However, the midseason acquisition of Ed Reed stunted Allen's growth, who was forced out of the starting lineup in favor of Reed (as counterproductive as the move was).
Nonetheless, now that Reed is out of the picture, the stage is set for Allen to assume the free safety role without having to look over his shoulder. His combination of cover and tackling skills make him a rare commodity in the NFL, and his teammates have taken notice:
Cromartie says S Antonio Allen has "freakish" talent, could be the next Ed Reed. Whoa, come back to us, Cro. #Jets— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) March 10, 2014
Comparing Allen to the best safety of all time is a bit of a stretch, but the Jets have every reason to expect big things out of their seventh-round pick from 2012 and for him to take a big stride in his development in 2014.