Projecting the New York Jets' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
Outside of a few key additions, the New York Jets have taken a "volume" approach to this offseason, adding a high number of young players with upside as opposed to investing in a few big-name superstars.
A large rookie class that includes 12 draft picks will undoubtedly lead to a ton of competition across the roster. The biggest battle, however, will occur at the quarterback position where Geno Smith will try to hold off veteran Michael Vick for the right to be the Jets starter for the second consecutive season.
Only time will determine the winners of these battles, but the high levels of competition will ensure that this year's training camp will be a thrill to follow.
Here are some of the most heated roster battles entering the 2014 offseason.
Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick
This is the competition that will own the August headlines in New York.
On the surface, this is a classic battle between an aging veteran and a rising rookie, but the fact that Smith has a year of experience under his belt as the Jets starter adds a unique layer of intrigue to this duel.
As of right now, there is little debate that Vick is the superior quarterback, even at his current age of 33. He still has his trademark mobility and arm strength and was good enough to beat out Nick Foles last year in the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp.
Meanwhile, while Smith has flashed a lot of promise as a rookie, he was extremely inconsistent, despite ending the season strong with two straight wins.
If this battle is close, expect the Jets to go with their hand-chosen prospect in Smith in hopes that he can develop into their franchise quarterback in his second season. However, if starting Vick is the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home for the fourth straight season, Rex Ryan will have no problem benching his young quarterback if it means saving his job.
Stephen Hill vs. David Nelson
There will be a ton of competition all along the wide receiver depth chart, but the most difficult decision the Jets will make is between two polar opposite veterans, Stephen Hill and David Nelson.
Assuming the Jets keep their two fourth-round picks (Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans) and Jacoby Ford, there will likely only be one spot left on the depth chart that Hill and Nelson will have to battle for.
Despite not joining the team until the middle of the season, Nelson still had a more productive season than Hill, who has been a massive disappointment since joining the Jets as a second-round pick in 2012. Nelson does not have the same amount of speed and athletic ability that Hill has, but he is much more aggressive when attacking the ball and more disciplined in his routes, resulting in a solid 423-year season in 2013.
Meanwhile, Hill virtually disappeared halfway through the season, catching just one screen pass for two yards between October 27 and the end of the season.
Nelson may have taken Hill's job in 2013, but keeping Hill around as a fifth or sixth receiver in 2014 makes more sense in the long term. With the slew of new additions the Jets made to their receiving corps, limited-but-dependable players like Nelson are not as in demand as highly talented players like Hill are.
Besides, Hill is only 23 and has yet to play three seasons in the NFL. It would be a bit premature to write off his career so soon, especially since he has flashed big-play ability from time to time.
If the camp battle is close, expect the Jets to hang on to their homegrown "talent" for one more season in hopes that Hill develops into something worthwhile.
Dexter McDougle vs. Darrin Walls
Based on Ryan's remarks, the Jets appear to be content with starting the season with newly signed Dimitri Patterson as their starting cornerback opposite Dee Milliner:
This leaves the main competition at cornerback between Darrin Walls and rookie third-round pick Dexter McDougle for playing time in dime packages.
Walls has been a nice find since joining the team late in 2012, holding his own in coverage when asked to replace the oft-benched Milliner. However, the Jets will likely give their relatively high draft pick every opportunity to win the job.
Where McDougle lacks in experience he makes up for with his blazing speed and ball skills, giving him more upside than the steady Walls.
In due time, the Jets are hoping McDoulge can earn the starting job outright, but it may take some time for him to adjust to the NFL game.
Calvin Pryor vs. Antonio Allen vs. Dawan Landry
The Jets certainly added talent to their safety group with the selection of Calvin Pryor in the first round, but it also gives the Jets a whole new set of questions to answer before the season starts.
Using a top pick on a safety all but implies that the player will start, but who will return to the bench to make room for Pryor? According to Ryan, veteran Dawan Landry won't see much of a decline in playing time:
Rex says Dawan Landry is a 'vital' member of the secondary. Calvin Pryor's presence won't change that.— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) May 17, 2014
This leaves the up-and-coming Antonio Allen to take a backseat, despite the fact that he was the Jets' antidote to opposing tight ends last season.
It would be most logical to keep Allen in a situational role, but his obvious talent will make it hard for the Jets to keep him on the bench. Expect the talent of Allen and Pryor to make it as difficult as possible for Ryan to keep Landry in the starting lineup.
Trevor Reilly vs. Ik Enemkpali
The Jets' starting four linebackers are in place, but the backup situations are still very much in flux after adding three draft picks to the position.
With Garrett McIntyre assuming the primary backup duties, there may not be enough room on the team for late-round picks Ik Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly.
Both players are listed as outside linebackers, but both have very different styles of play. Enemkpali is a heavy, powerful player who wins with his brute strength. Reilly, on the other hand, separates himself with his versatility and underrated athleticism (he was a walk-on safety at the beginning of his career at Utah).
The challenge for Enemkpali will be to develop the movement skills to make the move to outside linebacker in a 3-4. Reilly will have to prove that he can hold up physically against the run, although his versatility will be a huge asset on special teams where he will see the bulk of his playing time as a rookie.
This should be a very close camp battle that may be determined by which style of play the Jets prefer from their backup linebackers.
Nick Bellore vs. Jeremiah George
Questions at linebacker extend to the inside position, where depth is becoming increasingly important as David Harris edges closer to the open market in 2015.
The battle to watch will be between Nick Bellore and fifth-round pick Jeremiah George. Bellore has been a core special teams player since 2010, playing well enough not only to survive for four years on the roster, but to earn a tendered contract at the end of the season.
The Jets may want Bellore around for his special teams play, but George offers more potential as an athletic, rangy linebacker who could potentially take over for Harris.
Training camp will determine who will be the primary back to Harris and Demario Davis, but the order of the depth chart will likely have little impact on Bellore's role on special teams. Rather, the order of the depth chart will signify the status of this position in the future.
Tajh Boyd vs. Matt Simms
The Smith vs. Vick battle will garner the vast majority of the headlines, but the battle at the bottom of the depth chart will be just as intense as the main event.
Sixth-round rookie Tajh Boyd will battle the incumbent Matt Simms for what is likely to be the final No. 3 quarterback job. Boyd is a known Ryan favorite, with Ryan having the benefit of getting to know Boyd through his son.
Despite being an early coach's favorite, Boyd will not have an easy time beating out Simms. Simms had a strong preseason in 2013, playing well enough to deem Greg McElroy expendable.
While Boyd is extremely unrefined in his mechanics and decision-making, his arm and mobility give him a bit more upside than Simms. If this camp battle is close, expect the Jets to go with their hand-picked prospect over the known commodity in Simms.