Offseason New York Jets Player Power Rankings
What's the point of player power rankings before the New York Jets' first OTA session is complete? It's mainly to talk about whose job is safe and whose job is not. We know who the marquee draft picks are and who they might replace. What other players are in jeopardy this offseason?
That's the basis of these power rankings. It's a list of starting players in descending order of job security. Performance isn't the only factor. Age is another. Perceived upside is a third. The whole process is somewhat unscientific to be honest. It, like the OTA session that ends May 30, is just a starting point.
These rankings reflect the doubts and uncertainty that surround the 2014 Jets. Not all free agents place that high. Not all players who had a great season on paper do that well here. The question of repeatability comes into play. Having one career year is great; is it a sign of good things to come or is it the swan song of a player who has seen better days?
The depth chart that forms the basis for these ratings comes from ourlads.com. Its preparation date is May 22, 2014. Ourlads.com maintains a depth chart archive in case changes have occurred by the time you read this.
Who's on your New York Jets bubble? Whose job is safe? Let's talk about it.
Players the Depth Chart Forgot
A basic depth chart doesn't do justice to every key contributor on an NFL team. It's especially true when a team plays a position by committee, like many teams do with running backs. Here are some players who the depth chart calls backups but are every bit as important as starters.
SS Dawan Landry: Don't count Landry out of contention for a starting job at strong safety. He wasn't flashy, but he was the Jets' third-leading tackler and the secondary's field general. There may be more of a rotation at safety with Landry, Antonio Allen and Calvin Pryor sharing time at the two positions. That would blur the distinction between "free safety" and "strong safety."
CBs Kyle Wilson, Darrin Walls and Dexter McDougle: The battle for starting No. 2 cornerback is not over. Kyle Wilson, rookie Dexter McDougle and Darrin Walls may all challenge Dimitri Patterson for the No. 2 job. Those who lose that battle will compete for the slot or nickel role.
WR David Nelson: He was unemployed when the 2013 season began. The Jets picked him up after four games and his 36 receptions tied Bilal Powell for second place on the team.
QB Michael Vick: Vick's importance is up to Geno Smith. If Smith fulfills the potential of 2013's last four games, he may finally earn the title of franchise quarterback and relegate Vick to expensive insurance policy. At least the Jets have such a policy for 2014.
RB Bilal Powell: Powell doesn't have the power of a Chris Ivory or the breakaway speed of a Chris Johnson or Mike Goodson. He just shows up for work week after week and finds a way to contribute. His 176 carries and 36 receptions yielded 969 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown.
TE Jace Amaro: In 2013, Kellen Winslow was the backup tight end on paper and caught 31 passes to Jeff Cumberland's 26. This year, rookie Jace Amaro may occupy a similar role. After catching 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns in his final collegiate season, the tight end/wide receiver hybrid is ready to provide new options for Marty Mornhinweg's offense.
RB Chris Ivory: 2013's team rushing leader with 833 yards and three touchdowns will get his chances to carry the rock. Ivory added two receptions to his 182 carries, and improving that part of his game would make him harder to remove from the field.
WR Jeremy Kerley: If the depth chart included a place for starting slot receiver, that would be Kerley's place. He deserves better treatment after leading the Jets in receiving for the past two years, keeping the offense together when bigger names such as Santonio Holmes left with injuries.
22. G Brian Winters
Blame Vladimir Ducasse for Winters' position at the bottom of this list.
Ducasse was supposed to hold down the fort at left guard while Winters learned the position. Winters had played left tackle at Kent State, but at 6'4", 320 pounds, guard is a better NFL fit.
Ourlads.com's scouting report explains the challenges Winters faced in making the transition: "Will need more work on pass protection technique due to his team’s heavy run game tendencies. ... Grades out as an eventual starter once he develops as a guard, a position he never played in college."
He played to this scouting report, someone inexperienced in pass blocking playing an unfamiliar position. For being what he was, Winters became the line's weakest link. One positive note: In twice as many starts as Ducasse, Winters committed only one more penalty.
After starting 11 games, inexperience will not be a crutch Winters can use in 2014. He must demonstrate improved technique and the ability to keep up with the pace of the NFL game.
21. FB Tommy Bohanon
Tommy Bohanon took a position of low productivity and did nothing to change it in 2013.
He became the starting fullback after the Jets placed incumbent Lex Hilliard on injured reserve for the 2013 season. That's not a bad way to begin a career for a seventh-round draft pick.
Bohanon didn't embarrass himself, but he ddidn't set the world on fire either. Compare the two fullbacks' performance lines:
- Hilliard (2012): Eight carries for 31 yards, four receptions for 23 yards in 12 games. Sixteen-game equivalent: 11 carries for 43 yards, five receptions for 29 yards.
- Bohanon (2013): 17 carries for 62 yards, 11 receptions for 69 yards in 16 games.
Bohanon's 28 touches for 131 yards were almost twice as much as Hilliard's pro-rated numbers. Granted, snap counts may have differed. A change in offensive coordinators from Tony Sparano to Marty Mornhinweg is probably another factor. Mornhinweg views running backs as essential elements in the short-range passing attack.
If any aspect of Bohanon's game leads to his replacement, it may be his performance in short-yardage situations, especially near the goal line. The Jets eventually employed Sheldon Richardson as a short-yardage back in goal-line situations. Richardson scored two touchdowns.
Hilliard's career with the Jets may be over. He is on their list of unsigned free agents. Undrafted free agent Chad Young from San Diego State will provide Bohanon competition. Young has modest offensive numbers. He is reputedly a skilled blocker.
20. WR Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill's position as the Jets' No. 2 wide receiver may not last beyond OTAs and minicamp. The Jets provided him plenty of competition in the draft and free agency.
Hill must overcome the inconsistent play and susceptibility to injury that has plagued his two-year career. The games in which he appears to put it all together are what gives coaches and fans hope.
Take his NFL debut in 2012 against the Buffalo Bills. Hill caught five passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns. That was the last game of the year in which he topped 40 yards.
In 2013, Hill had two such games. In the Week 2 loss to New England, he caught four passes for 86 yards. The following week against Buffalo, he had his career day: three catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. At the time, a 1,000-yard season seemed possible.
Hill never came close. He never gained more than 46 yards in any other game or scored another touchdown.
Now it's time for Hill to step up. If he wants to start or even remain on the team, he must prove that those three games were not isolated incidents. New arrivals Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans and Quincy Enunwa aren't going to wait patiently while Hill puts it together. Nor, for that matter, will former Oakland Raiders receiver Jacoby Ford. They'll push him to get it done now or move over for someone who can.
Stephen Hill's honeymoon is over. It's time for him to prove that he's no draft bust.
19. CB Dimitri Patterson
The best free-agent cornerback John Idzik could bring to the Jets after Antonio Cromartie's release was a career nickel corner with problems staying healthy. He is supposed to succeed as the Jets' No. 2 corner.
Patterson will have to achieve the following goals to justify his signing:
- He'll have to have a year like LaRon Landry or Willie Colon, other injury-plagued players who came to MetLife Stadium and played full, productive seasons.
- He'll have to be the takeaway threat he was in 2010, his first four-interception season, and in 2013, when he had his second such season despite playing only six games.
If Patterson can't stay healthy or surrenders too many big plays, he may open the door for Darrin Walls or Dexter McDougle to take the No. 2 role. It would be almost like saying that Idzik wasted his money.
18. G Willie Colon
Willie Colon is a solid player and vocal presence in the locker room. Age, injury history and susceptibility to penalties are what keep him in the lower part of this list.
At 31, Colon is one of the Jets' elder statesmen. He came to the Jets from the Pittsburgh Steelers after not playing a full 16 games since 2009. He passed the durability test in 2013, starting all 16 games, only to leave the season finale with a torn biceps.
He has been rehabbing that injury during the offseason, only to learn that he now requires a knee operation that will sideline him until training camp, head coach Rex Ryan announced Wednesday.
The Jets used Oday Aboushi at right guard during the May 28 OTA practice. Other options include William Campbell, Dakota Dozier or veteran Caleb Schlauderaff.
Whoever plays right guard for the Jets in 2014 could stand to reduce Colon's penalty count. He led the team in that department in 2013. It's an accomplishment he would rather not repeat.
17. TE Jeff Cumberland
Jeff Cumberland seems to have hit a plateau as far as offensive production goes. Compare his numbers from the past two years:
- 2012: 29 catches for 359 yards and three touchdowns (12.4 yards per catch)
- 2013: 26 catches for 398 yards and four touchdowns (15.3 yards per catch)
With No. 2 draft pick Jace Amaro waiting in the wings, that could cost Cumberland his starting position. Even in 2013, he was the nominal starter, but his results weren't much different from Kellen Winslow's 31 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns (12.5 yards per catch). Amaro's versatility as a receiver may make him a preferable target.
Cumberland is capable of highlight-reel plays. Check out the video (around one minute, 19 seconds) for a catch in which he recovered from dropping a pass in time to grab the ball for a first down. There's room for that athleticism on the Jets roster.
Amaro's presence on the field may not require Cumberland's absence. There may be more dual tight end sets that exploit the stylistic differences between them. If the upgrades at wide receiver and running back work as advertised, Cumberland may have an easier time getting open.
Amaro, Eric Decker and the other new faces might be the best things that happened to him.
16. OLB Calvin Pace
There's no dispute that Calvin Pace had a career year in sacks in 2013. He's at this position because at 34, he may not have a similar year within him.
Pace deserves credit for finishing the opportunities that come his way. The numbers don't tell the whole story behind how he got them.
ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini observed that of Pace's 10 sacks, six resulted from coverage. Another 1.5 were because blockers blew assignments. That leaves 2.5 that Pace got on his own merits.
Five sacks might be a more realistic total in 2014. It would still represent the sixth-best total of his 12-year career.
15. ILB Demario Davis
To get an idea of Davis' performance, compare his 2013 season with the 2012 year of his predecessor, Bart Scott:
- Scott (2012): 2.5 sacks, one interception, one pass defended, one fumble recovery, 36 solo tackles, 24 assists
- Davis (2013): 1.0 sacks, one interception, 63 solo tackles, 44 assists
Scott may have caused more disruption in the passing game. Davis' results speak to a higher overall activity level, one that contributed to the Jets' improvement in run defense in 2013. He became a full-time starter in his second professional season and should make more of an impact in years to come.
14. OLB Quinton Coples
Adjusting to a new position is challenging. Coples had to interrupt the process because of injury. Ironically, it came in the act of demonstrating his long-term potential. Coples fractured his ankle in a fall after deflecting a pass from Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne during the Jets' second preseason game.
Once Coples returned to action, his progress seemed slow. But the Jets were at least no worse off than they were in 2012.
To measure Coples' progress, compare his statistics with those of his predecessor, Bryan Thomas:
- Thomas (2012): 12 games, 2.5 sacks, one pass defended, 18 solo tackles, six assists. Prorated totals for 14 games: 3.0 sacks, one pass defended , 21 tackles, seven assists
- Coples (2013): 14 games, 4.5 sacks, three passes defended, one forced fumble, 24 solo tackles, 14 assists
Without knowing the number of snaps each man took or the situations in which he played, that's a crude comparison. Another way to look at Coples' work is to check his statistics' distribution. 3.5 of his sacks, nine solo tackles and five assists came in his last five games.
If that means that Coples is increasingly comfortable pressuring quarterbacks from his new position, the Jets may have the edge-rusher Rex Ryan has always wanted.
13. FS Antonio Allen
Antonio Allen is another example of a conversion project in progress. His collegiate role was closer to that of an NFL linebacker than safety in that he focused on the run as opposed to learning deep coverage techniques. The 2014 season will be his third in the NFL and his second at safety. If he continues to progress and the personnel around him fulfill expectations, Allen could emerge as a force in a revived Jets secondary.
Consider that in 2013, the Jets secondary included a rookie cornerback experiencing growing pains, a veteran cornerback playing in pain and a veteran strong safety who didn't strike tremendous fear in attackers. Allen still managed to defend seven passes, make a memorable pick-six against Tom Brady and contribute a sack, 39 solo tackles and 21 assists.
One year later, the rookie cornerback was Defensive Player of the Week after Week 17, the veteran cornerback has left and the team's No. 1 pick is a field-roaming, hard-hitting machine that will make offenses sit up and take notice.
Allen's success in 2014 depends on how much cleanup he must perform. If everyone plays their roles, Allen will be more able to roam the field and wreak havoc. Otherwise, his role might be more of support and backup, minimizing the effect of others' mistakes.
That's the key to judging Allen's 2014 performance, recognizing what role that he plays and how well he plays it. Making others look good may be his primary contribution, one that statistics don't measure.
12. CB Dee Milliner
If Dee Milliner's award-winning performance in the Jets 2013 season finale is a portent of things to come, Rex Ryan and the Jets have one less worry in the defensive secondary.
The best thing about that performance is that it wasn't an isolated incident. Milliner's strong play against the Cleveland Browns, during which he made his first NFL interception, began the stretch that led to receiving the December 2013 NFL Rookie Defensive Player of the Month award.
Those two games produced 11 passes defended and three interceptions. Milliner only had four passes defended before that.
The conclusion is simple. If Milliner's most recent play means that he has come of age as an NFL cornerback, his side of the field will be solid in 2014. If it was a Stephen Hill-like isolated incident, the Jets are in for another roller-coaster year in the secondary.
11. QB Geno Smith
Has Geno Smith arrived as the franchise quarterback of the New York Jets, or is he still a project in progress?
Smith's rocky start and resultant high turnover count skew his accomplishments, supporters say. They'll point to his last four games in which he threw four touchdown passes against two interceptions. In those games, Smith went 68-116-790 with a completion percentage of 58.62. He ran 31 times for 186 yards and three touchdowns, averaging six yards per carry.
That performance over 16 games would produce 3,160 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. It would generate 744 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
It would be an improvement over 2013. With the new weapons the Jets have provided Smith, it might not be enough to give Smith the long-term job.
In 2013, 14 NFL quarterbacks exceeded 3,800 passing yards. All but three had completion percentages over 60 percent. Two threw more interceptions than touchdowns. How could Smith join that group?
Realistic goals for Smith in each game could be 18 completions in 30 attempts for 240 yards, 13.3 yards per completion. He'd supplement that by running between seven and 10 times per game for between 35 and 60 yards.
That would give him 3,840 passing yards for the year. If he could also throw for 18 touchdowns while reducing his interceptions to 12, that would mark progress in ball security.
The Jets gave Smith new weapons in Eric Decker, Jace Amaro and Chris Johnson. The ball's squarely in Smith's court. If Smith can achieve these goals, Michael Vick will have to contend himself with clipboard duty.
10. RB Chris Johnson
Thanks to signing Chris Johnson, the Jets enter 2014 with something they lacked in 2013: a 1,000-yard rusher. He's reached that mark for all six years of his NFL career.
That doesn't mean Johnson will attain that goal in 2014. It does mean that despite concerns about him no longer having the speed of old, he can still be productive. He is also still good for a highlight-reel moment or two.
Johnson gives Mornhinweg a capable receiver out of the backfield. He averages 45 catches a year and has never caught fewer than 36. That skill has added roughly 2,000 yards to his offensive production and may be a more significant part of his workload with the Jets.
Mike Goodson showed promise as a speed-rusher to the outside and receiver from the backfield. Johnson's presence may make Goodson expendable.
One more thing: When the Jets play the Tennessee Titans in 2014, they need not fear Johnson breaking a big play against them.
9. OT Breno Giacomini
One crisis John Idzik faced this free-agent season was the departure of tackle Austin Howard for the Oakland Raiders. Fortunately, a familiar solution was available, former Seattle Seahawks' tackle Breno Giacomini.
Giacomini was an attractive buy. His cap charge for 2014 will be $2.625 million against Howard's $8 million.
On the field, he's supposed to be similar in ability to Howard. His strength lies in run-blocking while Howard's is in pass-blocking, but overall, the quality of play from the right tackle spot should not diminish in 2014.
8. ILB David Harris
Look at the Jets' tackling statistics from 2007 to the present and it wouldn't be hard to conclude that David Harris has been their defense's focal point. He's led the team in tackles for five of his seven seasons.
His fifth time was in 2013. You could argue that he's bound to get opportunities at inside linebacker and the important thing about your play is not how many tackles you make, but where on the field you make them. That's where this assessment by ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini is significant:
The Jets are ranked third in run defense, and that doesn't happen unless the 'Mike' linebacker is having a good year. Harris dropped weight last offseason, improving his quickness and pass-coverage ability. He has seven tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble.
It didn't hurt that Harris' partner Demario Davis was significantly more active than 2012's Bart Scott. Still, Cimini's analysis points to the importance of quality of work as well as quantity.
Harris is among six Jets starters who are at least 30 years old. He hasn't been playing like it. The more help he gets from teammates making plays, the longer he'll be able to keep Father Time at bay.
7. SS Calvin Pryor
As of its May 22 draft chart, the Jets' top draft pick of 2014 is the only rookie ourlads.com projects to start. He hasn't gotten a chance to display the aggressive hitting that has made his reputation. His performance during rookie camp impressed Rex Ryan with his range and football intelligence. If he replaces Dawan Landry as the Jets' starting strong safety, he'll need it.
Landry may not be flashy. His most significant contribution was using his knowledge of Ryan's defense to coordinate the secondary. Someone will have to assume that role in Landry's absence.
That's a lot to ask of a rookie. It's a lot to ask of any projected starters.
- Antonio Allen has the longest service time under Ryan. He's entering his third year in the NFL and his second as a full-time safety.
- Dee Milliner is entering his second professional season at cornerback.
- Dimitri Patterson, the projected No. 2 cornerback, has been in the NFL since 2005. He has the least familiarity with Ryan's defense.
If Pryor improves the range of the strong safety position and improves the Jets' takeaway ratio, he'll be a strong contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. If he accomplishes that while assuming Landry's leadership role, he'll be almost a lock.
6. WR Eric Decker
2014 could be Eric Decker's make or break year. He has already received the richest contract John Idzik has offered. Now he must earn it.
Decker had two consecutive 1,000-yard receiving years with the Denver Broncos with Peyton Manning at quarterback and Demaryius Thomas as the No. 1 receiver. Now is his chance to make his own reputation by drawing the top defenders to himself and making enough plays to maintain their attention. That will in turn create opportunities for Chris Johnson, Jace Amaro and the other Jets receivers.
If he fails, he'll experience one of the biggest drops on next year's list.
5. OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson
He may be in the twilight of his career, but in 2014, D'Brickashaw Ferguson will continue to be an anchor on the Jets offensive line as he has been since 2006.
He's been a tribute to excellence and durability. He made the Pro Bowl for three consecutive years, from 2009 to 2011, and hasn't missed a game in his eight-year NFL career. In a sport where injuries are the rule rather than the exception, a coach has to draw comfort from knowing a player of Ferguson's caliber is there week after week after week.
As the Jets rebuild, Ferguson's presence is a link to better days and a model for how to be a professional football player.
4. C Nick Mangold
Just as D'Brickashaw Ferguson has been a fixture at left tackle, Nick Mangold has been a fixture at center. Both have been a constant on the Jets offensive line since 2006.
Nitpickers might say that Mangold lacks Ferguson's durability. Mangold actually missed two games out of a possible 128. Those came in 2011 and ended a string of 82 consecutive starts. Mangold's current streak is 44.
On the other hand, Mangold has earned five Pro Bowl trips, most recently in 2013, and two All-Pro selections. Like Ferguson, his career may be on the decline, but he has plenty left to hold down the fort for now. Based on his more recent Pro Bowl trip, perhaps he'll outlast Ferguson.
That would be in a way unfortunate. Mangold and Ferguson came in the NFL together. It seems appropriate that they leave together and accept Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame awards together.
That's a romantic notion that in the what-can-you–do-for-me-now world of pro football will most likely not occur.
3. NT Damon Harrison
Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison has risen from undrafted free agent to one of the premier run-stuffers in the NFL and a worthy member of the "Sons of Anarchy" defensive line. Comparing Harrison's statistics to his predecessor Sione Pouha's demonstrates the improved productivity:
- Pouha (2012): 12 games, 1.0 sacks, one pass defended, 20 solo tackles, 9 assists
- Harrison (2013): 16 games, 1.0 sacks, two passes defended, 36 solo tackles, 30 assists
There's no need to prorate Pouha's figures to get a fair comparison. Other than sacks, he didn't achieve 75 percent of Harrison's productivity. Without a snap count, it's impossible to make a precise comparison, but that might not matter. Even if Harrison had more snaps, he also accomplished more with them.
He has used his prowess in run defense to establish himself as a solid starter. His ongoing mission is to expand on that presence to incorporate more pass defense as well. He intercepted Mark Sanchez once during the Jets' 2013 OTAs. It would be a thrill to see him do that against Tom Brady.
2. DT Sheldon Richardson
What more can you ask from a player who not only earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors but was an offensive weapon as well?
You can ask for a repeat performance, perhaps with more quarterback pressure. Even that was an improvement over Richardson's predecessor.
- Mike DeVito (2012): One sack, two forced fumbles, 27 solo tackles, 25 assists
- Richardson (2013): 3.5 sacks, one pass defended, one forced fumble, 42 solo tackles, 36 assists
Richardson added four carries for four yards and two touchdowns. He's a two-way threat in the vein of William "Refrigerator" Perry.
If he could do more, it would be in the area of pass defense. Imagine having a double-digit sack threat on both sides of center. All in the front seven would benefit, especially Muhammad Wilkerson. Anarchy would reign indeed.
1. DE Muhammad Wilkerson
It can only be a good thing for a team when its best player continues to set career highs each year. In 2013, Muhammad Wilkerson set new personal bests in the following statistical categories:
- Sacks: 10.5, his first double-digit season and more than twice his previous high
- Solo tackles: 43, seven more than 2012's 36
- First career interception
Wilkerson added three passes defended, two forced fumbles and 20 assists.
It's true that Wilkerson only got half a sack, 11 tackles and seven assists in the Jets final five games. Meanwhile, Quinton Coples and Calvin Pace combined for 6.5 sacks. Therein lies the secret for lessening the pressure on Wilkerson. It's more productivity from his teammates. As players such as Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, Coples and Demario Davis continue to develop, they will become threats to opposing quarterbacks in their own right.
This point probably sounds like a broken record by now, but it's true. The more threats the Jets develop, the easier life on the field will be for everyone, no matter where in the power rankings they are.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid.