My definition for a breakout season is a player who has something to build on from the previous season and to potentially have a significant season. Here I list five players on the current New York Jets team that could top their 2008 numbers and become key components to the 2009 team.
Pace came to the Jets last offseason after five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. After being awarded a hefty six-year, $42 million deal, Pace did a solid job in the Jets pass rush, recording seven sacks, five forced fumbles and 80 tackles despite not having a solid, steady player on the opposite side of the defense to take the pressure off.
The blitz-happy Rex Ryan is now in charge, and you can bet your bottom dollar that Pace is going to be heavily involved in almost every play on the defense this season.
Projected 2009 stats: 83 tackles, 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles
The Jets first-round pick in 2008 was Vernon Gholston. After failing to meet the demands of a first-round pick, Gholston and his 15 tackles rode the bench for most of the year, with the exception of coming in on substitute packages on occasion.
Gholston’s possibilities are endless. It is clear he is very athletic and has the talent to make it in the NFL. This could be the story to watch out for this fall and winter.
As I stated above for Calvin Pace, the Jets lacked that solid, pass rusher on the opposite side of the defense. Rex Ryan took Terrell Suggs under his wing when he came into the league. Could Gholston be Ryan’s next project?
Projected 2009 stats: 67 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles
Clowney is basically falling into a golden opportunity here with the Jets. After the Jets picked him up a couple of years ago off the Packers practice squad, he is finally going to get his opportunity to prove himself as an NFL-caliber player.
With Jerricho Cotchery the only proven NFL wide receiver on this team with a good amount of experience, Clowney will compete with Chansi Stuckey and Brad Smith for playing time on the opposite side.
Clowney’s sub-4.3 40-yard dash speed will provide a very nice compliment to the possesion, over-the-middle style that Cotchery brings to the table. He will be fun to watch if he gets the opportunity to stretch the field.
Then again, a signing of Plaxico Burress could change this all…
Projected 2009 stats: 45 receptions, 590 yards, five touchdowns
While Keller had a very solid 2008 campaign, it is quite possibly that Keller could shatter last season’s numbers and become a top-eight tight end in the NFL this season.
Without a steady starting receiver on the opposite side of Cotchery, it is quite possible that whoever is under center in Week One will make Keller their safety net and utilize him as their second-look or sometimes first-look receiver.
His blocking isn’t quite what you would like, but as a receiver from the tight end position, Keller has what it takes to become one of the elite tight ends in the game today.
Projected 2009 stats: 67 receptions, 780 yards, seven touchdowns
Some might say, "How could he be on this list? He’s already a premiere talent on this team."
This is true.
But, as it has become known, over the past two seasons, Eric Mangini had somewhat handcuffed offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer in the conservativeness of his play-calling.
Schottenheimer has stated that he is looking to get back into the style of offense that he coached during the 2006 season, when Washington was a rookie and the leading rusher on the team.
An interesting stat that Leon can put his name to is the yards-per-attempt statistic. In his rookie season, he averaged 4.3 yards an attempt, while in 2007, he increased it to 5.0 yards. Last year, Leon managed to get 5.9 yards per rush attempt.
With Rex Ryan letting Schottenheimer control every aspect of the offense, this could open up the opportunity for Washington to get more touches, both out of the backfield as a receiver as well as taking handoffs.
Projected 2009 stats: 120 rushes, 684 yards, si touchdowns/32 receptions, 227 yards, two touchdowns