Ranking Strength of Every New York Jets Positional Unit
The New York Jets, 8-8 a year ago, spent the offseason revamping a roster littered with holes.
John Idzik Jr. and Gang Green's front office brought in former Pro Bowlers Chris Johnson and Michael Vick, along with Eric Decker and Breno Giacomini, to instill life into the offense.
New York also selected two instant contributors in safety Calvin Pryor and tight end Jace Amaro in the first two rounds of the draft.
But will the moves result in an overall better roster, and perhaps the Jets' first playoff appearance since 2010?
It's time to diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of New York's roster, beginning with the weakest positional units and ending with the strongest.
In judging the impact of each unit, I considered their performance last year, how additions or subtractions affected them, and if any players are bound to improve or regress this upcoming season.
With that said, here are my rankings of the Jets' positional units.
The game's most important position is a huge question mark for Rex Ryan and company.
Geno Smith showcased flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, but he mainly struggled with the fast pace of the NFL game.
Smith threw just 12 touchdowns to 21 interceptions, he took unnecessary sacks, and he cost New York some games.
Granted, the West Virginia product was surrounded with lackluster skill position players, but it's still difficult to see him evolve into the next Peyton Manning any time soon.
However, this season will serve as the most important of Smith's career, as it will likely determine whether he truly is a franchise quarterback or just another guy.
With an entire offseason in the NFL and an improved supporting cast, Smith can't make many excuses if he struggles.
As for Michael Vick, he should ride the pine unless Geno fails to improve at all. While I originally thought Vick would have a great chance to win the starting job, Marty Mornhinweg was pretty clear in his assessment of where Vick lies on the depth chart.
A dominant secondary has been a staple throughout the Rex Ryan era.
However, after the unit struggled last season and failed to upgrade significantly this offseason, those days appear to be over.
The Jets were No. 22 in pass defense in 2013, as they struggled with opposing slot receivers and tight ends.
New York then lost Antonio Cromartie in free agency and failed to replace him with a serviceable starting talent.
Yes, Dee Milliner should improve drastically in his sophomore season.
Yes, Calvin Pryor is a playmaker with Pro Bowl potential.
However, the hole at the No. 2 cornerback position is too hard to overlook, so the secondary definitely ranks near the bottom of the roster in terms of projected effectiveness.
5. Wide Receiver / Tight End
The receiving corps would have undoubtedly ranked dead last in these rankings at the beginning of the offseason.
However, the additions of Eric Decker, Jace Amaro, and even Jacoby Ford and Shaq Evans upgrades the unit dramatically.
Decker may not be a true No. 1 wideout, but he's been one of the most productive receivers in the game the last two seasons.
The 27-year-old is a formidable red zone target who boasts great hands and route-running ability and underrated speed.
Expect Decker to have a solid first year in green and white.
Amaro put up video-game numbers in college, and he possesses all the tools to make an immediate contribution in the passing game.
If Amaro can learn how to block, he could be an every-down tight end early in his career.
With that said, Gang Green lacks an outside receiver to play opposite Decker, and there's still questions about how well the new additions will produce.
4. Offensive Line
New York's offensive line has regressed a bit in recent years, as stalwarts Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson have gotten older and the guard play has been subpar.
However, the unit still has the ability to play exceptionally well at times.
Mangold and Ferguson are still among the top half at their respective positions, and guard Willie Colon is extremely solid, especially in the running game.
The loss of Austin Howard hurts, but Breno Giacomini is a physical mauler who brings attitude to the line. If he can avoid excessive penalties, he could be a steal.
The left guard position is a big question mark, as Brian Winters really struggled in the starting role last season and youngsters William Campbell and Dakota Dozier probably aren't ready to see extended playing time.
For the offensive line to perform above par, Winters needs to improve dramatically.
Expect this unit to have their share of good and bad performances throughout the season.
3. Running Back
After a couple years of having the unproductive Shonn Greene shoulder the load at running back, the Jets now have one of the most dangerous backfields in the NFL.
Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, and Bilal Powell form a perfect trio of runners, as each has a different running style that complements the others.
Ivory is a ferocious back who wears down opposing defenses and gets better as the game goes along.
Johnson is a finesse runner who struggles on short-yardage downs but can explode for a huge gain on any touch.
Powell's running style is a mix between Ivory and Johnson, and he is a good blocker and pass-catcher.
If used correctly, the three should wreak havoc on the ground and open up the game for Geno Smith.
Expect big things from New York's running backs in 2014.
The Jets' linebacker corps has ascended to become one of the team's strongest units.
David Harris and Calvin Pace have rebounded from a couple tough years to play like Pro Bowlers.
Harris recorded a solid 124 tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble in 2013, and he was a key part of one of the league's best rushing defenses, while Pace eclipsed double-digit sacks for the first time in his career.
Demario Davis also impressed in his first year in the starting role, as he emerged as a three-down player who can make an impact in all facets of the game.
Quinton Coples struggled to adapt to the outside linebacker position, but he began to make an impact late in the year.
There's no reason why New York's linebacker corps shouldn't be one of the team's top strengths in 2014.
1. Defensive Line
The Jets' defensive line isn't just far and away the team's strongest positional unit, but it ranks as one of the top units in all of football.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison are all Pro Bowl-caliber players, and they're all 25 years old or younger.
Wilkerson is among the game's top defensive ends, and he's coming off his first double-digit sack campaign. He could easily compete for the Defensive Player of the Year award this season.
Sheldon Richardson, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, is fantastic in both pass-rushing situations and run-stuffing downs.
Damon Harrison isn't a household name, but he's among the game's top run-stopping defensive tackles, and he's bound to only improve.
The 'Sons of Anarchy' should cause mayhem in 2014, and stake their claim as one of the league's best defensive trios.