Early Predictions for New York Jets' 2014 Training Camp Battles
Training camp is still in the distant future, but the recent opening of organized team activities (OTAs) have given us a glimpse of what is to come in terms of training camp competition this August.
After adding a dozen draft picks to their roster, competition will be plentiful in Jets camp, with every position between the starting quarterback and the backup outside linebacker up for grabs. In a season with elevated expectations, Rex Ryan should not be afraid to make bold moves and draft the depth chart based on performance, not pedigree.
Here are some early predictions for the Jets training camp battles.
Advanced statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Michael Vick vs. Geno Smith
The headline event will be at the quarterback position, with the starting job in at least some kind of doubt with Michael Vick coming in to push Geno Smith.
This competition, however, is anything but a classic veteran vs. youngster battle—that is, if there even is a battle:
Rex Ryan says there's "no doubt" Jets have competition at QB. Mike Vick still isn't buying it: http://t.co/OE2QDDNZWQ— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) May 28, 2014
The intriguing aspect of this battle is the fact that Smith has a year of experience as the Jets' starter on his resume. While Vick may be the better player for this season, the Jets are better-off from a long-term perspective riding the Geno Smith train as long as possible.
Rex Ryan, who may be fired after this season if he does not earn a playoff berth, is much less interested in the big picture of things. He will want to play the best player, regardless of experience or age.
If this competition is close, the Jets will likely lean in the direction of Smith, but this will be the top headline in training camp until a winner is proclaimed.
Matt Simms vs. Tajh Boyd
Mike Vick vs. Geno Smith will garner all of the headlines, but the battle at the bottom of the quarterback depth chart will be just as fierce.
Matt Simms showed some promise last preseason when he outplayed Greg McElroy for the last quarterback spot, but the Jets are clearly not content handing him his same position as last year after drafting Tajh Boyd in the sixth round.
Boyd is one of the most decorated quarterbacks in Clemson history, but an up-and-down senior season destroyed his draft stock.
At one point, Boyd was considered to be a potential first-round pick. He offers a lot of upside in terms of arm strength and mobility, but his accuracy, mechanics and decision-making can be downright awful at times.
Simms may be the better player for the immediate future, but Boyd's potential and connection with the Ryan family (he played with Rex's son, Seth, at Clemson) may give him the slight edge in training camp if he at least shows some promise. After all, the No. 3 position is more about potential and upside than ability to step in and win in the immediate future.
Antonio Allen vs. Calvin Pryor
Upgrading the safety position with the selection of Calvin Pryor in the first round was the easy part—finding a spot for the "Louisville Slugger" is the real challenge.
Rex Ryan seems adamant about keeping veteran Dawan Landry in his starting role, leaving the young, up-and-coming Antonio Allen as the assumed victim of a numbers game.
As much as the Jets would love to play with their new toy, they must be careful about inserting a young rookie into the starting lineup too early. Allen played exceptionally well at times last season, particularly in man coverage against tight ends—an aspect of the game that is far from Pryor's strength.
The Jets will likely carve out situation-specific roles for all three safeties, but expect Allen to make it as hard as possible for the Jets to find room for their first-round rookie.
Ik Enemkpali vs. Trevor Reilly
The abundance of draft picks the Jets had this year will make it difficult for the team to retain all 12 of their draftees. The Jets used a sixth and seventh-round pick on outside linebackers Ik Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly, respectively, but there may only be room for one—especially with veteran Antwan Barnes returning from a season-ending injury.
Both players will be listed at the same position, but they both have vastly different styles of play. Enemkpali wins with his brute strength and hidden quickness to rush the passer, but his lack of lateral agility may cause him to struggle in open space.
Reilly, a former walk-on safety at Utah, stands out with his versatility and underrated athleticism. The 26-year-old is much more mature than most of his rookie counterparts and would be an ideal special teams player.
Reilly would be a safer bet for the team in the immediate future because of his versatility on special teams, but his age limits his upside. Enemkpali is a more physically imposing player and has a lot of potential as a pass-rusher if he can drop some weight and increase his movement ability.
Dexter McDougle vs. Darrin Walls
With the starting cornerback job opposite Dee Milliner all but set in stone for training camp, third-round pick Dexter McDougle and journeyman Darrin Walls will duke it out for depth chart positioning.
Rex, on WFAN, on Dimitri Patterson: "We expect him to be a starter." #nyj— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) May 15, 2014
Walls is one of the more under-appreciated players on the team. He finished as the top corner in the NFL last preseason (according to Pro Football Focus) and played well in spot duty for Milliner during the regular season.
However, McDougle offers much more upside as a speedy, instinctive cornerback with youth on his side. The fact that the Jets invested a relatively high draft pick in McDougle gives them a bit more incentive to place him higher on the depth chart.
McDougle has gotten off to a hot start in OTAs, reminding Rex Ryan of a familiar name around Florham Park.
Barring injury, neither player will see a lot of the field on defense in 2014 with Miliner, Patterson and Kyle Wilson ahead of them on the depth chart. However, the winner of this battle will set the tone for who will eventually take over the starting job next season after Patterson leaves.
Stephen Hill vs. David Nelson
With so many additions to the receiver position through the draft and free agency, there will be competition at nearly every position on the depth chart. One of the more intriguing battles will be between Stephen Hill and David Nelson for what could be the final spot on the roster.
Despite not joining the team until midseason last year, Nelson stole the No. 2 receiver job away from Hill. Hill proceeded to perform a disappearing act, catching just one pass between October 27th and the end of the season—a two-yard screen pass.
If the Jets plan on keeping all three of their receiver draftees, the Jets will have (maybe) just one spot left between Hill and Nelson—assuming they keep an extra sixth receiver.
Nelson may seem like the easy choice based on recent production, but moving on from Hill so early in his career makes little sense. Hill is only 23 years old and is still growing into his position—literally:
When it comes to depth receivers, upside outweighs immediate production. If Hill can at least show signs of turning the corner in his third year, he should get one more year to prove he can be a useful player.
Jace Amaro vs. Jeff Cumberland
Both of the Jets' top tight ends are going to see their share of playing time this season, but dividing up the roles of each player will largely be determined by training camp performance.
The Jets have hopes that the incumbent Jeff Cumberland can make big strides in his fifth season, evidenced by the contract extension the team gave him. Cumberland has always had potential as an athletic receiving tight end, but injuries and a one-dimensional game (he is hardly adequate as a blocker) have prevented him from breaching the 400-yard mark in a season.
However, the Jets did not plan on adding one of the most dynamic tight end talents in the draft in Jace Amaro to accompany Cumberland. Neither player is a proven blocker, but Amaro at least as the upside to learn how to block at the next level—he simply was not asked to block inline often at Texas Tech.
The Jets got a taste of Amaro's potential at OTAs and plan on getting him integrated into the offense as soon as possible.
Barring an explosion in production from Cumberland, it is only a matter of time before Amaro assumes the No. 1 duties. The question is how quickly Amaro can pick up the NFL game and adjust to a new playbook.