5 New York Jets Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
After managing a surprising 8-8 record during the 2013 season despite boasting minimal talent on offense, the New York Jets appear ready to take the next leap toward solidifying themselves as a legitimate contender in the AFC East.
The Jets flaunt several up-and-coming players who could be on the verge of breakout efforts.
General manager John Idzik is in the process of deliberately executing a long-term rebuilding plan that will ideally land the Jets in the Super Bowl.
If the team receives valuable contributions from some of its younger players earlier than expected, that has a chance of happening in the foreseeable future. While the Jets remain far from a championship-caliber team, they have several key pieces in place.
The biggest difference between the 2014 version of the Green and White and past versions is they now boast legitimate playmaking ability on offense.
Free-agent signing Eric Decker may not be a true No. 1 wide receiver, but he's a big-time upgrade over disgruntled wideout Santonio Holmes. Second-round draft pick Jace Amaro also figures to have a substantial role in Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense.
For the Jets to exceed expectations and claim a wild-card berth in the 2014 season, they need several breakout performances from key players on both offense and defense.
The following slideshow highlights five players poised for big performances in the upcoming season.
5. Stephen Hill, WR
The Jets' high hopes for Stephen Hill are on the verge of crashing into a difficult roster decision. New York didn't improve its receiving corps to the point of making Hill expendable, although his career as member of the Jets is at a crossroads.
If Hill doesn't flash some semblance of capability as a legitimate No. 2 wideout in 2014, he'll likely be released at the conclusion of the season.
Hill exhibits outstanding vertical speed, but hasn't been able to sustain a consistently high level of success in the NFL through two seasons.
Hill was touted by ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini as the most improved player in Jets training camp last summer. That sentiment never translated into substantial success, though. The former second-round pick started 11 games for the Jets in 2013, recording 24 catches for 342 yards and one touchdown.
Hill averaged a respectable 14.3 yards per reception last season, but struggled to find open space in the red zone. That needs to change if Hill is going to prove himself worthy of a future roster spot with the Jets.
This is a make-or-break season for Hill, who flaunts the talent needed to excel in the NFL but hasn't been able to mount consistent production.
Hill should benefit from the Jets having additional playmaking options on offense this season. He'll no longer be easily blanketed by defenders downfield, creating opportunities for him to succeed.
4. Dee Milliner, CB
The Jets opted not to pay a premium price tag for a top-tier free-agent cornerback this offseason, forcing added pressure on second-year player Dee Milliner, who excelled toward the end of last season.
Milliner had difficulty in press coverage for a majority of his rookie year, which caused head coach Rex Ryan to temporarily bench him in favor of Darrin Walls.
Milliner is poised for a big season. He demonstrated an ability to hold big-name receivers like Josh Gordon and Mike Wallace in check last year. The former Alabama standout has the capability to develop into a shutdown cornerback. He recorded 45 total tackles, 15 passes defensed and three interceptions in 2013.
New York needs Milliner to perform like a front-line defensive back in order to improve upon a defense that allowed 247.0 passing yards per game last season.
The Jets' stout run defense forces opponents to rely more heavily on the pass, making Milliner key to New York's ability to win games.
At 22 years old, Milliner's future is bright. He's going to be a staple in the Jets defense for years to come. This season represents his first opportunity to showcase his skill set as the team's No. 1 cornerback.
3. Quinton Coples, OLB/DE
After suffering an ankle injury during the 2013 preseason, Quinton Coples had difficulty transitioning into an edge-rushing role from the stance. Barring any injury setback, Coples is expected to start at outside linebacker in the Jets' 3-4 base defense in 2014.
Coples started 13 games for the Jets in 2013, registering 24 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, three passes defensed and a forced fumble.
His quickness is an asset. Coples demonstrated the ability to drop back into coverage over the middle, aiding the Jets' pass defense. His value as a versatile pass-rusher who can line up in a stance and from the point is irreplaceable. It allows Ryan to dial up exotic blitz schemes that confuse opposing quarterbacks.
Although Coples has demonstrated an ability to produce as a 3-4 OLB, he needs to improve his technique in order to become elite at his position. The Jets expect more out of Coples, who is entering his third season at the pro level.
At 284 pounds, Coples is somewhat oversized for an every-down edge-rushing role from the stance.
While his versatility is a plus, Coples faces the difficult task of excelling as stand-up linebacker who boasts 20 pounds more mass than the typical 3-4 OLB in Ryan's defense. All indications are that Coples is capable of handling the challenge.
2. Jace Amaro, TE
Jace Amaro is going to be a big-time playmaker for the Jets. At 6'5'' and 257 pounds, Amaro is a big-bodied downfield target who can shed defenders and find open space.
He's a premier red-zone target because of his size and route-running prowess. Amaro is going to greatly help the Jets score more touchdowns in 2014.
As a rookie tight end, expectations are marginal for Amaro, who will have to improve his blocking technique in order to earn a starting position.
Despite improving their receiving corps over the offseason, the Jets remain a run-first team. If Amaro is unable to effectively supply the offensive line with additional run-blocking protection, his receiving abilities will become less of an asset because he'll spend less time on the field.
Amaro was totally unstoppable in his final collegiate season, registering 106 receptions for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. He averaged 12.8 yards per catch. He figures to be a valuable component of the Jets' revamped offense, ideally helping second-year quarterback Geno Smith progress.
The Jets believe they've acquired a dynamic playmaking weapon in Amaro. Now, it's time for Amaro to prove it.
1. Calvin Pryor, S
The Jets were in dire need of a starting-caliber safety this offseason. New York struggled to prevent big plays downfield in 2013, in part because of Antonio Cromartie's bad hip.
The Jets are confident that Milliner and veteran Dimitri Patterson can effectively man the team's starting cornerback spots in 2014. They're also confident that first-round pick Calvin Pryor can make an immediate impact at safety.
Pryor is a physical safety who leverages his body against ball-carriers. His style of play mirrors Ryan's defensive scheme. Pryor is a solid open-field tackler who flaunts good ball awareness. He effectively reads quarterbacks in the pocket, reacting well in coverage.
Pryor was a significant component of Louisville's defense, which allowed just 12.2 points per game in 2013 to rank second in the FBS. He recorded 75 total tackles—including 5.5 for loss—four passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in his final season at the collegiate level.
Pryor flaunts a hard-nosed persona to couple with a smashmouth style. He's expected to excel in a starting role throughout the upcoming season.
Pryor has the sheer aptitude to become an immediate impact player for the Jets defense.