New York Jets Players Climbing the Depth Chart This Offseason
The up-and-coming New York Jets have several key personnel decisions to sort out before the 2014 NFL season kicks off in just under three months. The Jets' influx of youthful talent spurs optimism that this particular version of the Green and White is capable of contending for a playoff berth, but some players are better equipped to make an immediate impact than others.
A premature sneak peak at the Jets' 53-man roster boasts a bounty of familiar names from 2013's surprising 8-8 squad, although some newcomers, like wide receiver Eric Decker and rookie safety Calvin Pryor, are expected to positively impact the depth at their respective positions.
For the Jets to exceed expectations in 2014 and claim a wild-card spot in the playoffs, they need several young players to elevate their play beyond what they were able to accomplish at the collegiate level.
They also need greater consistency from an offense that averaged just 18.1 points per game last season and for team leaders such as Calvin Pace and Muhammad Wilkerson to mirror the type of production they were able to sustain in 2013.
As the countdown to training camp officially gets underway, the Jets aim to work toward unseating the New England Patriots as the continuously dominant team in the AFC East.
The following slideshow examines five Jets players climbing the depth chart this offseason.
5. Shaq Evans (WR)
The Jets improved their receiving corps over the offseason via the draft and free agency, but it remains uncertain how certain first-year players like Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans will perform in their rookie seasons. Evans, a UCLA product, has the potential to become an immediate impact player for the Jets in 2014 because of his downfield speed and ability to beat press coverage.
Evans is a physical receiver who flaunts solid downfield blocking ability, which will ideally enable more big plays. His impact won't solely be as a playmaker on offense. According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Evans flashes the ability to pull down off-target passes, turning incompletions into positive yardage.
The Jets need that kind of ability on offense, especially if second-year signal-caller Geno Smith wins the starting quarterback job. Evans recorded 133 receptions for 1,956 yards, averaging 14.7 yards per catch, with 14 touchdowns in 46 games during his college career.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, the Jets' talent evaluators believe that Evans has the best chance to make an impact in his rookie season, specifically because of his vertical speed and skill set. The Jets currently boast 13 receivers on their pre-camp 90-man roster.
Nine of those players have realistic hopes of snagging a spot on the 53-man roster. Early indications are that Evans is a favorite to land at the No. 5 or No. 6 receiver slot on the depth chart.
4. Zach Sudfeld (TE)
The presumption at tight end is that rookie Jace Amaro will claim the starting gig over incumbent Jeff Cumberland, who was moderately productive at best in 2013. While Amaro is a tremendous talent, former undrafted free agent Zach Sudfeld shouldn't be overlooked.
Sudfeld saw minimal playing time after being claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots at the beginning of the 2013 season. He registered five receptions for 63 yards, averaging 12.6 yards per catch in five games for the Jets. At the moment, it seems likely that Sudfeld will make the roster as the Jets' No. 3 tight end, but it's possible for him to move up the ladder.
At 6'7" and 260 pounds, Sudfeld is taller and leaner than Amaro (6'5", 265 pounds), which enables him to get downfield slightly quicker and make plays over the top of defenders. Amaro has the potential to be a lethal weapon on the Jets offense, but he needs to become a more fluid route-runner in order to place a grapple on a starting role.
Cimini points out that Amaro has already made a mental gaffe in practice, failing to turn his head on a seam pattern during seven-on-seven drills that resulted in QB Michael Vick pegging him with a pass attempt. As Amaro continues to work out the kinks, it's possible for Sudfeld to turn some heads come training camp.
3. Dex McDougle (CB)
It's arguable that the Jets made a questionable decision in selecting former Maryland defensive back Dex McDougle, who missed all of the 2013 season due to a season-ending shoulder injury, in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft. McDougle is turning doubters into believers at the beginning of offseason training sessions, although his new coaches never doubted his abilities for a moment.
The Jets rave about McDougle's confidence. He's mentally tough and dedicated to overcoming the injury that ended his collegiate career. Head coach Rex Ryan praises McDougle for his candid competitive nature, making an indirect comparison to Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis when referencing the third-round pick as someone who knocks balls down during walkthrough activity (per Jane McManus of ESPN New York).
At 5'10'' and 195 pounds, McDougle doesn't embody the type of size that Ryan ideally likes his cornerbacks to boast, but the Jets' outspoken head honcho points out that McDougle is a perfect fit in his defensive scheme because of his aggressive style of play.
McDougle has the potential to develop into a starting-caliber cornerback. It likely won't happen in his rookie season, but his mental fortitude serves as an indicator of what he wants to accomplish at the pro level. He has a ton of work to do in order to move up the depth chart. It's a challenge he's not going to back down from.
2. Oday Aboushi (RG)
Former fifth-round pick Oday Aboushi was virtually redshirted during his rookie season. The converted left tackle out of Virginia needed a full year to transition into a role as an interior lineman. At the moment, he's slotted as the Jets' No. 2 right guard on the depth chart, a position where New York severely lacks sufficient depth.
General manager John Idzik re-signed veteran guard Willie Colon to a one-year contract worth $2 million over the offseason. The deal made sense, given his season-long performance in 2013. The downside to re-signing Colon was no different than before: He's extremely prone to injury.
Colon will miss significant time due to arthroscopic knee surgery, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, seemingly granting an opportunity to Aboushi. The Jets don't have substantially reliable options on their current depth chart if Colon is unable to start the season as the Jets' right guard.
New York's other options at Colon's position include converted defensive lineman Will Campbell and rookie Dakota Dozier, who is unlikely to earn a roster spot despite an opening. It's possible for Idzik to venture into the remaining free-agent pool in order to find a stopgap solution at right guard.
1. Calvin Pryor (S)
First-round pick Calvin Pryor is a perfect fit for the Jets, and not just because of his ability to obliterate ball-carriers in the open field. Pryor's hard-hitting tendencies on the field mirror his loudmouth personality in front of the microphone. The former Louisville standout isn't afraid to speak his mind.
Pryor is on the fast track to earning a starting role on the Jets' vaunted defense. He's a quick learner both on and off the field, already openly expressing his extreme dislike of future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady and the archrival Patriots (h/t ESPN New York).
Pryor flaunts the athletic ability needed to back up his trash-talking skills. He demonstrated exceptional closing speed at the collegiate level, recording 75 total tackles, including 5.5 for loss, with four passes defended, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2013.
His combination of size and speed makes him a prototypical smash-mouth safety who showcases solid ball awareness and an ability to read the quarterback. Pryor is expected to make an immediate impact on the Jets defense in 2014. He's the type of athlete the Jets were noticeably lacking in 2013 when big plays dogged the team's secondary all season.