New York Jets' Most Likely Postseason Award Candidates for 2014 Season
New York Jets training camp 2014 hasn't even opened yet, and here we go discussing candidates for postseason awards. It's another way of defining expectations for the team's biggest stars.
Players aren't the only postseason award candidates. Head coaches and general managers receive them too. We'll use their awards to set performance expectations for them.
The rankings consider eight postseason awards that the Associated Press presents. These awards are of the "…of the Year" or "MVP" variety. While the AP also names an All-Pro team, this list doesn't make suggestions. If a player is a leading contender for another AP award, he's also an All-Pro candidate.
After listing less likely but plausible award candidates, the list ranks each award by probability. Each nominee's page ends with the odds of his winning. Don't interpret these odds as the basis for a bet. Use them to compare each Jets candidate's chance of winning.
The odds are steep. No player or coach is a clear-cut favorite. They simply represent the best the Jets have to offer.
There's no set formula for assigning these probabilities. It's an admittedly subjective process of determining performance objectives and assessing the candidates' ability to meet them.
That's inaccurate. The process is actually a look at what the team can accomplish and how the player's individual numbers might benefit. No one wins a postseason award by himself. He wins because his teammates make reaching great performance goals possible.
The introduction is over. Let's meet some of the New York Jets' candidates for postseason awards.
These players probably wouldn't be the Jets' leading candidates for postseason awards, but this is the NFL. Strange things can often happen.
Dimitri Patterson for Comeback Player of the Year
Patterson played six games for Miami, intercepting four passes. If he could imitate LaRon Landry and Willie Colon by playing for a full season after an injury-plagued past, that would be a great first step. If he proves his worth as a No. 2 cornerback and takeaway threat, he might earn a postseason award.
Dexter McDougle for Defensive Rookie of the Year
If Patterson doesn't stay healthy, McDougle might get his chance to shine. His mission would be the same as Patterson's, to prove himself a durable player who plays excellent coverage while being a takeaway threat. McDougle's enemy is time. The healthier the starters stay, the less are his chances to earn this award.
Chris Johnson for Offensive Player of the Year
Running backs in platoon systems don't make good candidates for postseason awards, as they don't carry the team on their backs. Chris Johnson isn't here to do that. His versatility and breakaway speed, however, might force Marty Mornhinweg to use him more often than planned. More playing time within reason could produce the numbers an Offensive Player of the Year needs.
Sheldon Richardson or Dee Milliner for Defensive Player of the Year
Both Milliner and Richardson marked themselves as possible future stars. Richardson was more convincing as the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Milliner was December's Defensive Rookie of the Month following a rocky start. If Richardson can become a sack threat in his own right and become a more complete player, he might earn his second consecutive postseason award. If Milliner continues to play like he did to close out 2013, he has a chance for his first.
That completes the less probable candidates. Now it's on to the major contenders.
8. John Idzik for Executive of the Year
It depends who you ask.
Idzik's failure to sign free agents such as wide receiver DeSean Jackson and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has resulted in a fair share of criticism.
WalterFootball.com is an example. Here's the site's analysis of the Jets' free-agent signings:
You can't exactly call this a successful offseason for the Jets. Rex Ryan wanted to bring back Darrelle Revis, but arch rival New England stole him away. Ryan then wanted Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Antonio Cromartie, yet New York whiffed on both and now has nothing at corner. Meanwhile, the front office added a No. 1 receiver for Geno Smith. Except Eric Decker is not a No. 1 option. He was a product of Peyton Manning, so he won't be nearly as effective in his new home.
Free agency wasn't a total disaster though. The Jets brought back Willie colon cheaply and inked Breno Giacomini to a reasonable deal. Of course, Giacomini is a downgrade from Austin Howard, who was yet another player to get away from Ryan.
UPDATE: The signing of Philadelphia's former quarterback drops this to a C-. He will fire yet another coach (Rex Ryan will be added to the extensive list of coaches he has canned) and will destroy the confidence of Geno Smith. Not that Smith had much hope in the first place, but the Jets wasted $5 million on this signing.
The site is no more complimentary about the Jets' draft:
It doesn't appear as though the Jets understand the value aspect of the draft. They see players they like, and they take them, completely ignoring the fact that they can obtain better prospects at earlier picks all while still securing the players they covet much later.
In the above video, Idzik responds to the draft comments. He tells Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton that the differences in players' grades shrink as the draft progresses. It's more important to get the players you want than to worry about when you pick them.
Idzik has supporters. ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini used the "John the Deliberate" nickname in a recent article. Nevertheless, Cimini was complimentary overall:
Overall, Idzik had a solid offseason, adding several new pieces on offense (let's not forget about running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick) -- but the second-year GM didn't spend as much money as he could've. After dumping Holmes' and Mark Sanchez's contracts, the Jets were among the league leaders in cap space, but Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, relying on a 12-player draft haul to upgrade the roster. Unlike some GMs, who overpay for second-rate talent, he refuses to deviate from his long-term plan. It's the right approach for a franchise previously obsessed with quick-fix moves, but it's not foolproof. The cornerback situation will come back to bite him.
Turn on the Jets' Joe Caporoso gave a more succinct endorsement:
According to NFL media analyst Elliot Harrison, the Jets had the NFL's sixth-best offseason. "The Jets seemingly did it all this offseason, acquiring a QB1 (maybe), RB1 (although not 2K) and WR1 (debatable) this offseason."
Jay Greenberg of the New York Jets' official website assesses Idzik's style as follows:
Best Reason to Like John Idzik So Far — After two free agent classes, it seems safe to say that on his watch the Jets are not likely to get stuck with big, dumb contracts that will inhibit their ability to spend on somebody really worthwhile. At some point Idzik will have to take a shot. We're just not sure that makes huge sense coming off 8-8.
Idzik's detractors question his ability to negotiate in a fast-paced environment and his tendency to reach in the draft. His supporters praise his long-term outlook that shuns quick fixes and questionable long-term deals.
That approach will deny Idzik any postseason honors until the Jets become a consistent postseason contender. Returning to the playoffs in 2014 won't be enough. The Jets will need to return in 2015 and the years beyond. They'll need to advance further into the postseason each year until they win their second Super Bowl. That's when Idzik will win his first postseason award.
7. Michael Vick for Comeback Player of the Year
If Michael Vick wins this award, it will be a personal triumph. For the Jets, it will be an organizational setback.
That doesn't mean signing Vick was a mistake. It was the football equivalent of buying an insurance policy, a smart move. Let's hope that's the extent of Vick's use.
There's a difference between buying insurance and having to use it. Buying the policy is damage control. Using it means there was damage. In the case of the Jets, that damage would be Geno Smith's failure to perform as their starting quarterback.
Only one scenario exists where Vick's successful comeback doesn't reflect badly on Smith. Smith would have to suffer a season-ending injury that doesn't threaten his career.
Even that might threaten Smith's future with the Jets. The proof is Vick himself. He beat Nick Foles in the Eagles' training camp competition. One injury later, Foles is starting and Vick wears a Jets uniform.
In all other cases, the harm to Smith's status may be irreparable. He would have either suffered a career-threatening injury or not fulfilled the expectations of an NFL starting quarterback. If he's physically able to play, it may never be in a starting role again.
That would move the Jets from quarterback controversy to quarterback quandary. Vick's contract expires in 2015. Suppose he has led the Jets to double-digit wins and a playoff berth. Would he, at 35, be worth retaining? Is he the next coming of Vinny Testaverde, who, at 35, enjoyed the finest all-around season with the 1998 Jets?
Whether he is the next Testaverde or not, it will eventually be back to the quarterback drawing board for the Jets if Vick has to save the 2014 season. They'll have to resume their search for the young talent who can lead the team for 10 seasons or so.
Vick, on the other hand, would be able to take the taste of losing his job to Nick Foles out of his mouth and entertain competing bids for his services in 2015.
It's too soon for Vick to start counting 2015's money. First, he has to wrestle the job from a man who started all 16 games in 2014.
6. Geno Smith for MVP
Is Geno Smith NFL MVP material in 2014? Suppose the Jets don't need to cash in their Michael Vick insurance policy. Smith leads the Jets to a winning record and playoff berth, finally earning recognition as the Jets' franchise quarterback.
He won't be a league-wide MVP until his production matches elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. That doesn't mean he must match them pass for pass. It does mean the Jets' offense must emerge as a powerhouse on that scale.
Smith has the arm and legs to do that. Thanks to his legs, he can be a quarterback whose most important statistic combines his passing and rushing yardage. It's not yards from scrimmage in the typical sense, but the concept is essentially the same.
He can generate the 5,000 yards of offense that Manning gives Denver by passing for 4,500 yards and running for 500 yards. That averages just below 315 yards of total offense per game.
Though it might be too much to ask of a second-year quarterback who is being acquainted with major new acquisitions such as Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Jace Amaro.
Generating between 3,800 and 4,000 yards of total offense might be a more realistic goal in 2014. Averaging 230 passing yards and 20 rushing yards per game would hit 4,000 yards for the year. Generating 24 touchdowns, 18 in the air and six on the ground, would go far toward improving his productivity. Reducing his turnovers to 12 would significantly help the Jets' turnover ratio.
That should be enough progress to get Smith the uncontested starting position in 2015. He'd take a major step toward being the new franchise QB.
Having accomplished that milestone, he could next turn to becoming elite.
5. Calvin Pryor for Defensive Rookie of the Year
So far, top draft pick Calvin Pryor has impressed the Jets with his football intellect and intensity. Ourlads projects him as a starting safety, replacing Dawan Landry. That creates a murky picture at the position that might adversely affect Pryor's chances for postseason recognition.
To be Rookie of the Year, Pryor would have to take over one of the starting safety positions and make it his own. His skill at run defense and pursuit suits the strong safety role, Landry's position. Pryor's physical capabilities may well exceed those of Landry. His biggest challenge would be to replace Landry in the role of secondary field general. Thanks to playing for Baltimore under defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Landry came to the Jets already familiar with the defensive scheme. Pryor lacks that experience.
There is speculation that Pryor will be part of a three-safety rotation that consists of Landry, Antonio Allen and him. The number of snaps he gets in this system could hurt his chances for postseason glory. Here are some evaluation criteria.
The 2013 Jets had 1,100 defensive snaps. Landry was on the field for 1,081 snaps, or 98 percent. Allen was the next most active safety with 534 snaps, or 49 percent. Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson played for 880 snaps, or 80 percent. Although Richardson played the line and Pryor plays safety, that's not a bad goal. It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Using 2013's snap counts to illustrate, the two safety positions played 2,200 snaps. Dividing them equally among three players, leaves 734 snaps for one, 733 snaps each for the others. Take 75 snaps from two players to give the third (Pryor) 883 or 884 snaps.
To get more snaps, Pryor must be the presence on the field the other safeties are not. He's displayed some of that potential during rookie camp but he won't get to display the hard hitting that's the basis of his reputation until full-contact drills begin. He'll also have to prove he can cover pass receivers and be a takeaway threat to earn more playing time.
It would be asking a lot to have Pryor assume Landry's leadership role. It might be a long-term goal that's unrealistic for a rookie. An intermediate step would be for Pryor and Allen to coordinate their roles when Landry is off the field.
Pryor appears to have a bright future in green and white, but expecting him to mimic Sheldon Richardson might be asking too much. The closer he comes to playing a full-time number of snaps, exerting an impact on both the run and the pass and playing a leadership role, the better his chances of earning a postseason award.
4. Jace Amaro for Offensive Rookie of the Year
Here's an instance where a player doesn't need to start to become Offensive Rookie of the Year. If Jace Amaro exceeds 2013's production from Jets tight ends and redefines the team's use of the position, he'll be a strong contender.
If Amaro exceeds 63 receptions, 856 yards and six touchdowns, he'll have surpassed 2013's combined production of Kellen Winslow, Jeff Cumberland, Zach Sudfeld and Konrad Reuland. Judging by 2013's statistics, he'd be among the 10 best tight ends in the NFL.
As impressive as that sounds, it might not be sufficient to be Rookie of the Year. To earn that honor, Amaro would have to enable Marty Mornhinweg to use the tight end position in new ways.
He'd have to fulfill the promise of his college career by functioning in both tight end and wide receiver roles. In creating that dual threat, Amaro would open the way for Mornhinweg to employ more double-tight end formations, perhaps splitting out Amaro from one side of the line and putting Jeff Cumberland next to the other side's tackle. As Amaro's reputation grows, he'll draw increased defensive attention and open opportunities for Cumberland. It could lead to Cumberland establishing new career highs as well.
Then, what might seal the deal for Amaro is if he put his 6'5", 265-pound body to work in service of the running game and established his blocking ability beyond a doubt. If his comments from a Jets Nation interview are prophetic, that should be no problem. Watch the video above to hear them yourself.
3. Eric Decker for Offensive Player of the Year
It's hard to determine what the Jets expect from Eric Decker. Differences abound between the offensive powerhouse of the Broncos he left and the offense of the Jets he seeks to revive.
- There's no Hall of Fame quarterback. Geno Smith and Michael Vick aren't Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow. They're also not Peyton Manning, with whom Decker enjoyed his best two seasons.
- There are few other threats. Denver had Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker. They combined for 165 receptions, 2,208 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Jets' equivalent, Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson, combined for 79 receptions, 946 yards and five touchdowns. Chris Johnson should spark the Jets' passing game coming out of the backfield, and Jace Amaro should add a new threat at tight end, but they're as new to the Jets as Decker.
Decker has points in his favor. He may not have been a 1,000-yard receiver before Peyton Manning arrived, but his yardage-per-reception and touchdown rate was similar.
- 2010-2011: 50 receptions for 718 yards and nine touchdowns, 14.36 yards per reception, a touchdown every 5.6 receptions
- 2012-2013: 172 receptions for 2,9352 yards and 24 touchdowns, 13.67 yards per reception, a touchdown every 7.2 receptions.
Similar yardage per reception implies that Decker's change in production didn't result as much from a change of quarterback as from a change in offensive philosophy that gave him more opportunities. Granted, that philosophical change resulted from a quarterback change, but the numbers imply that Decker's production depends more on his number of targets than on who is throwing the ball.
To qualify for Offensive Player of the Year, Dicker will need to show that he's transformed the Jets' offense from ground-and-pound into a high-flying aerial circus. He'll need 80 or more receptions for the third straight year, 1,200 yards or more for the second straight year and double-digit touchdowns for the third straight year. He will have to show big numbers didn't desert him when he left Peyton Manning and Denver.
The Jets may not ask that much of him. They may be content with a 16-game version of Santonio Holmes' 2010 season: Holmes caught 52 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns in 12 games. The 16-game equivalent would be 69 catches, 995 yards and eight touchdowns.
A performance like that would be a marked improvement over recent wide receiver work. It might even exceed internal expectations. That depends on how much help Decker's fellow receivers give him and how well the quarterback performs.
Exceeding internal expectations won't be enough for Decker to garner postseason honors. For that, the Jets' offense will have to put many pieces together in a big way.
2. Rex Ryan for Coach of the Year
ESPN's NFL Power Rankings considered the 2013 New York Jets the worst team in the league when the regular season began. By Week 11, those rankings placed the 5-4 Jets in 12th. Head coach Rex Ryan received accolades galore. He became a Coach of the Year candidate.
Their post-bye slump knocked them out of the playoffs and down a few pegs, but an 8-8 record, second place in the AFC East and 19th place in the power rankings was more than many thought possible. Ryan didn't earn Coach of the Year honors, but he earned a contract extension, a chance to come back and fight another day.
It's 2014. The Jets have improved their offensive skill positions and the secondary. On paper, they're a better team than last year. That doesn't guarantee a playoff trip. They still must overcome some unfilled needs and a challenging schedule, particularly its first half.
Several positions remain question marks after the draft. There are new faces available, but many are new to the NFL or have limited NFL experience.
The Jets lack an established big-play wide receiver. Eric Decker is an upgrade, but he's not a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Unless a young veteran such as Stephen Hill fulfills expectations or a rookie such as Jalen Saunders, Shaq Evans or Quincy Enunwa emerges, the deep passing game will not be a major part of the Jets' offensive arsenal.
Cornerback and edge-rusher are defensive shortcomings. It's too early to measure the impact of offseason signings, draft picks and signs of improvement in 2013. One ominous sign is the slow recovery of outside linebacker Antwan Barnes from 2013's season-ending knee injury.
Willie Colon's recent knee surgery exposed a need for depth in the offensive line. If he doesn't make it to training camp or falls to injury thereafter, Caleb Schlauderaff, Oday Aboushi, William Campbell or Dakota Dozier need to step up their level of play.
In 2013, the Jets schedule included a stretch of five games in which they faced elite or near-elite quarterbacks: Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Atlanta's Matt Ryan, New England's Tom Brady, Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and New Orleans' Drew Brees. They were 2-2 entering this stretch. They emerged from it 5-4 and in control of their own playoff destiny.
There's a similar stretch of games in 2014. It begins in Week 2 with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Then the Jets face Chicago's Jay Cutler, Detroit's Matthew Stafford, San Diego's Philip Rivers, Denver's Peyton Manning and Brady. That stretch may make or break the Jets' postseason hopes.
There is one sign of progress. The 2014 post-draft ESPN NFL Power Rankings ranks the Jets 21st. That's much better than 32nd but still not playoff-level. It looks like Ryan has another year of making the whole worth more than the sum of its parts.
That's what he does best. Whether it was getting two wild-card teams to the brink of the Super Bowl or remaining a playoff contender for most of 2013, Ryan displayed a gift for getting his players to exceed expectations.
To be Coach of the Year in 2014, he'll have to do it again. He'll have to reach the playoffs and advance a round or two, but thanks to the Jets' offseason acquisitions, it shouldn't be as much of an uphill climb.
1. Muhammad Wilkerson for Defensive Player of the Year
It's about time Muhammad Wilkerson gets recognition for his role in the Jets' defense. He is its heart and soul, its core.
Earning that recognition requires a team effort. For example, Wilkerson established a career high of 10.5 sacks in 2013. Only 0.5 sacks came in the Jets' last five games. One theory attributes this to exhaustion—Wilkerson played for 1,039 of a possible 1,100 snaps, or 95 percent. (Sheldon Richardson's 880 snaps, 80 percent, was second.)
He'll need a 2014 performance that doesn't appear to peak before the season's end. Developments in 2013 such as the emergence of Damon Harrison, Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson and the late-season play of Dee Milliner and Quinton Coples are positive signs toward that end. Offenses will not be able to focus on stopping Wilkerson when other threats abound. He may also get more chances to rest.
If that growth takes place, Wilkerson and the Jets defense will have a monster year and he'll reap the postseason honors. He'd be in a great negotiating position entering the final year of his contract.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid