Projecting New York Jets' Starting Lineup Before the 2014 NFL Draft
Almost as important as evaluating the players in the draft, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of one's own roster is vital to ensure that the most glaring holes are filled in the draft.
Because of their relative inactivity in free agency, the New York Jets have almost as many questions as they do answers as they did before the start of the league year. They will be heavily reliant on the draft to round out their roster, making self-scouting even more important to identify and rank weak points.
Here is the projected starting lineup for the New York Jets before the draft.
Projected Starter: Michael Vick
The Jets certainly upgraded their quarterback depth chart when they added Michael Vick, but they did put themselves in an unusual (and comfortable) situation by positioning themselves to bench their second-year quarterback after just one season.
Geno Smith may eventually turn out to be a good NFL starter, but make no mistake about it—if Vick is healthy, he is the better player by a significant margin. At 33, age may be working against him, but he still has above-average arm strength, accuracy and has retained most of his signature mobility.
Most importantly, Vick has a huge edge in experience over Smith with over 11 years of experience under his belt. He has seen every blitz and coverage scheme imaginable and knows how to go about beating it.
Essentially, Vick gives the Jets a better chance to win now—which is all Rex Ryan cares about in a win-or-else season.
This is not to say Smith's career is over—far from it. There is no reason to suggest he cannot return to the starting lineup next season, or even this season if Vick's injury issues come up again.
Projected Starter: Chris Ivory
As exciting as the addition of Chris Johnson was, make no mistake about it—Chris Ivory will be the workhorse back for the Jets in 2014.
When healthy, Ivory played as well as the Jets could have hoped, getting stronger as the season went on. He made up for some subpar run blocking, as he was as good as any runner in the league last year after first 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
The issue for Ivory has never been talent—finding a way to stay healthy and available should be Ivory's top priority. As strong as he was at the end of last season, he missed a good portion of training camp dealing with nagging hamstring injuries, and it was not until midseason when he was able to wrestle the starting job from Bilal Powell.
If he can stay healthy for 16 (or more) games, Ivory will be the centerpiece of the Jets offense in 2014.
Projected Starters: Eric Decker, David Nelson, Jeremy Kerley (slot)
There is little doubt that this position group will look vastly different at the conclusion of the draft. Not only do the Jets have a massive need for a more dangerous threat opposite Eric Decker, but this draft is loaded with talent in all seven rounds.
Not only is it likely that the Jets use their first-round pick on this position—there is an even better chance that they leave the draft with two, three or even four new receivers.
Looking at the current roster, the biggest battle will be between David Nelson and Stephen Hill for what is currently the No. 2 job—even though it is likely that the Jets bring in a high draft pick to assume this role anyway.
If Hill is unable to secure a viable role on the team by the start of the season, it is not out of the realm of possibility for the Jets to attempt to trade the disappointing second-round pick—or maybe even release him outright.
Projected Starter: Jeff Cumberland
After failing to make any significant moves in free agency, the Jets are putting all of their faith in fifth-year tight end Jeff Cumberland—a decision they may come to regret.
Cumberland has flashed ability, but the former undrafted free agent has yet to eclipse the 400-yard mark in a season. He lost significant playing time last season to Kellen Winslow—to suggest that he will suddenly develop into a dynamic playmaker makes little sense.
Throw in the fact that Cumberland is a suspect blocker at best, and the Jets would be foolish not to come away from this draft without using a high draft pick on the position.
Getting a top prospect like Jace Amaro or Eric Ebron would be ideal, but with so many other needs to address, settling for a second-round prospect like Troy Niklas will suffice. Adding a high draft pick to the position will at least give the Jets a tight end tandem that other teams must respect.
Plus, the relative youth at the position gives them room to improve over the long term.
Projected Starters: D'Brickashaw Ferguson (LT), Brian Winters (LG), Nick Mangold (C), Willie Colon (RG), Breno Giacomini (RT)
The Jets were able to tread water at the right tackle position by adding Breno Giacomini to replace the departed Austin Howard, but there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the two guard positions.
Second-year left guard Brian Winters showed promise with a strong season finale, but he struggled for the vast majority of the season since he took over the starting job in Week 5. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he allowed 10 sacks in 771 snaps—an incredibly high rate for an interior offensive lineman.
The Jets got much better play from the re-signed Willie Colon last year, who only allowed one sack all season in 16 games. However, his health is back under the microscope as he recovers from a torn bicep injury he suffered in the season finale.
John Idzik did invest in some depth in last year's draft in Oday Aboushi and William Campbell, but the fact that both players spent the entire season on the inactive list does not exactly exude confidence from the Jets that either player is capable of starting at this point.
It would be a surprise if neither of these players were the opening-day starters, but don't be surprised if they add some depth at this position in the draft for added insurance.
Projected Starters: Sheldon Richardson (DE), Muhammad Wilkerson (DE), Damon Harrison (NT)
By far the strongest and deepest position on the team, the Jets should not waste a calorie of energy worrying about this position in the draft.
The Jets have one established star in Muhammad Wilkerson to go with their two young horses, Sheldon Richardson (the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year) and Damon Harrison, to combine for what is arguably the best 3-4 defensive front in the NFL.
Not only are the Jets as dynamic as any three-man front in football—they are one of the youngest as well. At age 24, Wilkerson is the eldest member of this group, giving this unit endless potential with the supreme athleticism of Richardson and Harrison.
Given their issues in the secondary and unanswered questions on offense, these three players will be the heart and soul of the team and will have to go above and beyond for the Jets to have a successful season—which they are more than capable of doing.
Projected Starters: Quinton Coples (ROLB), Demario Davis (Will), David Harris (Mike), Calvin Pace (LOLB)
For now, the Jets linebacking corps is set for next season. Quinton Coples will finally have a full offseason to adjust to his position change (he had ankle surgery in training camp last year), so bringing back Pace gives them insurance at the opposite position.
There are, however, questions as to how this position will evolve in the coming years. Now 33 years old, Pace cannot be seen as a long-term option. Longtime veteran David Harris is set to be a free agent in 2015.
While not pressing needs, the Jets could afford to use one of their dozen picks on developmental linebackers—particularly pass-rushers—who can be used situationally as rookies while being groomed to take over their veteran counterparts in the near future.
Projected Starters: Dee Milliner, Dimitri Patterson, Kyle Wilson (slot)
The Jets avoided disaster after adding Dimitri Patterson at the tail end of free agency, but the cornerback position needs as much help as any other unit on the team.
Patterson has played well when healthy, but he has missed a considerable amount of time in his career—he played just 15 games in the past three seasons. Plus, he is much better-suited to play the slot, but the Jets will be forced to play him on the outside.
Meanwhile, Dee Milliner showed promise in his final month as a rookie with three interceptions in as many games, but he was still benched on three separate occasions prior. He should continue to improve with time, but to not expect at least some hiccups along the way would be naive.
Even if the combination of Milliner and Patterson gives the Jets a respectable tandem to work with, Rex Ryan's system demands more than a "respectable" level of play. Ryan leans on his cornerbacks to hold up on their own for longer than most coaches would expect. Neither Milliner nor Patterson has proved that they can play up to Ryan's standards with consistency.
To complicate matters, Kyle Wilson is set to hit free agency in 2015, opening up another hole that the Jets must anticipate. Look for the Jets to spend at least one pick, if not two—including their first-round pick—to rebuild the cornerback position from the ground up.
Projected Starters: Antonio Allen, Dawan Landry
Like the linebacker position, the Jets are set at safety for the immediate future. Antonio Allen showed plenty of promise as a man-to-man specialist who could also help in the run game, while Landry was serviceable as a run-stuffer who could be trusted in deep zone situations.
Still, the Jets could stand to get younger and more dynamic at the position, especially with Dawan Landry set to hit free agency in 2015.
Using a first-round pick on a safety is possible, but unlikely given the enormity of their other needs. Instead, look for the Jets to add a mid-round prospect, such as USC's Dion Bailey or Baylor's Ahmad Dixon, to give them a player to groom behind Landry.
By adding a depth player now, the Jets will have one less position to worry about next year, even if Landry leaves in free agency.
Projected Starters: Nick Folk (K), Ryan Quigley (P), Tanner Purdum (LS), Jacoby Ford (KR, PR)
For the first time in his career as a Jet, Nick Folk will be able to enjoy training camp without any true competition. Now that he has been locked up with a long-term extension, the Jets can focus their attention on upgrading their punter in training camp.
Ryan Quigley was serviceable for most of the season, but a string of inconsistent play in the middle of the year gave the Jets no reason to assure Quigley a spot on the team next year. There is no doubt that the Jets will bring in camp competition for Quigley or possibly even use a late-round pick on a blue-chip punter.
Meanwhile, the Jets finally added a dynamic returner who could replace Joe McKnight, but the Jets will not hand either returner job to Jacoby Ford without making him earn it.
McGaughey says Jacoby Ford could be KOR factor when he gets healthy, but wants to bring in competition. Odell Beckham Jr, perhaps? #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) April 29, 2014
It is unlikely that the Jets would actively pursue a return specialist in the draft after signing Ford, but they will not be afraid to start a more dynamic rookie if he outplays Ford in the preseason.
Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).