8 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 New York Jets
We are still well over a month away from the start of training camp, but it is never too early to start making bold predictions about the upcoming season for the New York Jets.
Each year, unexpected players emerge as stars, while dependable veterans fade into obscurity. As much extensive analysis as there is on the NFL, the league remains an unpredictable beast that keeps us coming back for more.
Here are some bold predictions for the Jets' 2014 season.
Bold: Dexter McDougle Will Start at Cornerback
There are two reasons why rookie third round-pick Dexter McDougle has a strong, if not probable, chance of being a starter for the Jets at cornerback at some point during the season.
For one, McDougle has been the most impressive rookie so far through OTAs and minicamp. Rex Ryan had made comparisons to Darrelle Revis, via Jane McManus of ESPN.com, which, while lofty, speak volumes for how well he has played so far against NFL competition.
Secondly, the player slated to start on opening day (Dimitri Patterson), has a long history of injuries and will be playing a bit out of position. A natural slot cornerback, Patterson has not played a full 16-game schedule since 2010. He appeared in just eight games for the Miami Dolphins over the past two seasons.
Based on those odds, it is a near certainty that Patterson will miss some time or perhaps even struggle in a new role as outside corner enough to give McDougle a chance.
Assuming McDougle continues to play as well as his coach claims he has so far, he should undoubtedly claim the first backup job—putting him in the fast lane for the starting lineup.
Slightly Less Bold: Stephen Hill Will Make the 53-Man Roster
After two incredibly disappointing seasons with the Jets, the former second-round pick out of Georgia Tech has his job on the line this season.
Still, as unproductive as Stephen Hill has been at times (he caught just one pass for two yards in the second half of last season), his talent and upside will result in him getting at least one more chance to prove that he has long-term value to the Jets.
Despite his size, Hill has developed a reputation as being unreliable when the ball is in the air. His career as a Jet is symbolized by a dropped pass he had in 2012 that cost the Jets a key divisional game against the New England Patriots.
However, Hill finally appears to be turning the corner in his third offseason with the Jets. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has noticed a significant improvement in Hill's play this spring:
With his unique combination of size and speed, Hill has always had a ton of potential. Just 23 years old, writing off such a young player could be a decision the Jets come to regret.
We will find out soon enough whether or not these improvements in spring practices will translate to the games, but Hill's improvement will give the Jets enough reason to keep him around for one more season.
Bold: Quinton Coples Leads the Team in Sacks
Muhammad Wilkerson may have set a new standard for Jets pass-rushers with 10.5 sacks in 2013, but his status as the team's go-to pass-rusher will be short-lived.
Headed into his third season (his second at outside linebacker), former first-round pick Quinton Coples is poised to emerge as the dominant pass-rusher the Jets envisioned him becoming.
Not only does Coples have a year of experience at his new position under his belt—he has a clean bill of health heading into training camp. Last year, an ankle injury spoiled almost the entire first half of the season, and it took him until December to fully recover from the injury.
A healthier Coples finished the season with five sacks in as many games, showing off the potential the Jets always knew he had.
With the emergence of Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson at defensive end, opposing teams are going to give Coples a lot more favorable one-on-one situations that he can win against. If he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for Coples in 2014.
Slightly Less Bold: Jace Amaro Will Overtake Jeff Cumberland
The Jets may have given Jeff Cumberland a nice extension this offseason, but they did not plan on being able to draft a talent like Jace Amaro in the second round.
With his unique combination of size and speed, Amaro is a superior talent as a receiver. Cumberland has shown some promise in this area, but injuries and inconsistent play have yet to allow him to surpass the 400-yard mark in a season.
While Cumberland struggles mightily in the blocking game, ranked 42nd in run blocking by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Amaro has yet to be tested much in this area simply because he was not asked to do it much at Texas Tech.
This is not to say he is incapable of being effective as a blocker, he just may need some time to develop his technique to hold up against NFL defensive ends.
Amaro will need a few months to adjust to the NFL game, but it is only a matter of time before he becomes the Jets' top tight end.
Bold: Geno Smith Will Start Every Game
Forget about a quarterback competition this offseason. Based on what Michael Vick has said to the media about the lack of an open competition, the Jets appear to have every intention of starting the young Geno Smith over the veteran Vick on opening day.
The Jets are taking a lot of risk with this approach by keeping Vick, who is arguably a better player than Smith, on the bench, but they would be sound in their logic. Smith can potentially be a long-term starter for them; the 33-year-old Vick is a mere rental.
The Jets have every right to make this decision, but there is no going back to Vick at this point. If the Jets are willing to forgo competition in the name of getting their young talent on the field, they must be willing to live with the consequences.
Those consequences may include Smith struggling enough to cause the Jets to miss the playoffs, but they will at least know that their franchise quarterback is on another roster or playing college football this season.
If Smith does struggle early on, it makes no sense to go back to Vick for relief. If the Jets were confident enough in Smith to hand him the starting job in spring, they should be confident enough in his ability to bounce back.
If Vick is right about the Jets' true intentions at quarterback, the only way Vick will see the field is if Smith suffers an injury. Otherwise, the Jets' success in 2014 will die or thrive on the right arm of Smith.
Slightly Less Bold: Jets Field a Top-3 Rushing Attack
The Jets offense in 2013 was hardly an elite unit, but they did flash great potential in the run game last year, as Chris Ivory got healthier as the season went along.
After adding Chris Johnson in free agency to pair with Ivory and Bilal Powell, the Jets have the horses to field a dominant rushing attack.
However, there are two question marks that may get in the way of the Jets having the elite running game they envisioned. First, their offensive line was quietly putrid in run-blocking last year, ranking 31st in Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required).
Having only replaced the promising right tackle Austin Howard for the equally productive Breno Giacomini, the Jets are not poised to make drastic improvements in this area in 2014. In fact, with Willie Colon's health in question as he undergoes knee surgery, there is a better chance the Jets get worse in their run blocking before they start to improve.
Second, the running game will be at least partly tied to the success of Geno Smith and the passing game. If Smith struggles, opponents will key on the run game to force Smith to beat them with his arm.
Despite these two question marks, the Jets had enough talent to field a ferocious rushing attack behind Ivory and Powell last year—adding a talent like Johnson only makes the Jets even more difficult to defend.
Bold: Dee Milliner Will Have a Slow Start
The Jets are putting a lot of faith in Dee Milliner's late-season surge from 2013 carrying over to 2014, but signs are pointing to another slow start from the second-year cornerback.
Instead of taking advantage of his first full offseason in the pros (he sat out last spring recovering from shoulder surgery), Milliner is already dealing with hamstring issues. Milliner's activity forced Rex Ryan to call out Milliner publicly in his press conference, taking jabs at Milliner's physical condition.
Milliner has plenty of time to heal up before the season starts, but this was a crucial offseason of development for the former top-10 pick. Set to be the No. 1 cornerback this season, the Jets are headed for defensive disaster if he does not make great strides upon his rookie season.
He did finish strong last year with three interceptions in as many games, but he was also benched on three separate occasions. Milliner can still make improvements to his game, but not enough to play up to the standards of a true No. 1 corner that the Jets need him to be.
Slightly Less Bold: Calvin Pryor Will Replace Antonio Allen
Suddenly faced with a surplus of talent at the safety position, someone on the depth chart is going to suffer from the Jets' decision-making in the first round of the draft.
For reasons unknown, Rex Ryan has been reluctant to give the young, promising safety Antonio Allen the tools to succeed in a full-time role. Allen was one of the few bright spots in the secondary last season, but Ryan still benched him in favor of Ed Reed after the bye week.
The Jets will be looking to insert their first-round pick, Calvin Pryor, into the starting lineup as quickly as possible, likely at the expense of Allen. In fact, Ryan also already publicly stated his support for Landry in the starting lineup:
Rex says Dawan Landry is a 'vital' member of the secondary. Calvin Pryor's presence won't change that.— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) May 17, 2014
All three safeties will see the field somehow this season, but fans looking for a young duo of Allen and Pryor this season will be disappointed. They will have to wait until 2015 to see the Jets unleash their young talent, when Landry is set to leave via free agency.
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