Winners and Losers of the New York Jets' Offseason so Far
With the bulk of roster moves in the rearview mirror, we now have a clearer picture as to who is set up for success and who will see a drastic decrease in playing time in 2014.
Several players will be phased out of their previous roles because of incoming rookies and free agents. Meanwhile, some players that were previously underused will have a new season to prove their worth by stepping into open spots at need positions.
Here are the winners and losers from the Jets offseason so far.
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Winner: Geno Smith
The past few months have been very kind to Geno Smith in more ways than one.
First and foremost, the starting job appears to be his to lose, despite the addition of Michael Vick. Vick himself has been open about the fact that the Jets intend on starting Smith for the second consecutive season.
Not only does Smith get to keep his job—he gets to operate a revamped Jets offense that features more weaponry than it has had in several years. After adding players like Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and rookie Jace Amaro, Smith's second season in Marty Mornhinweg's offense is bound to be easier.
That said, Smith does have higher expectations to live up to and will no longer have the "rookie excuse" to fall back on. Smith has been set up for success in 2014, and he must deliver.
Loser: Dawan Landry
After using a first-round pick on safety Calvin Pryor, one of the Jets' incumbent starting safeties was bound to take a hit in their playing time.
Based on how OTAs have gone, Dawan Landry is being phased out of the starting defense.
Rex had veteran safety Dawan Landry work with the third team today but says not to read anything into that. Okayyy ...— Bart Hubbuch (@HubbuchNYP) June 4, 2014
Perhaps Rex Ryan is telling the truth in that they are just working out some kinks with the two younger safeties, but this is not a good sign for Landry no matter how Ryan spins it.
It seems unlikely that the Jets would cut ties with Landry just a few weeks into offseason practices, but it is certainly in the realm of possibility based on his recent playing time.
Landry does not sell tickets with game-changing hits and interceptions, but he offers value as a reliable veteran who won't take unnecessary risks. Even if he is benched, keeping him around in case Pryor struggles in his rookie season would be wise.
Winner: Jermaine Cunningham
Since getting dumped by the New England Patriots last year, former second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham appears to have found a comfort zone with the Jets. A midseason addition last year, Cunningham slowly crept up the depth chart to appear in two games late in the season.
Brian Costello of the New York Post notes that Cunningham was getting reps with the second team in OTAs while looking like he belonged.
Cunningham's emergence comes at a convenient time for the Jets. With the health of veteran linebacker Antwan Barnes in doubt, the Jets have a sudden need for a situational pass-rusher on the edge to compliment their talent on the interior of the line.
If Cunningham continues to practice well, he should have himself a valuable role in Rex Ryan's 2014 defense as a backup behind Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples.
Loser: Darrin Walls
The Jets added a high volume of players to refill their depleted cornerback position, but it comes at the expense of young, up-and-coming cornerbacks like Darrin Walls.
When given the chance, Walls played well in place of the benched Dee Milliner. The top-rated cornerback from the 2013 preseason in Pro Football Focus' rankings has shown enough to earn more trust from coaches as at least a viable backup.
However, the addition of Dimitri Patterson in free agency and Dexter McDougle in the third round of the draft will only push Walls further down the depth chart. Now, Walls will have to battle for playing time on special teams rather than take steps closer to a starting role.
The health questions surrounding Patterson and McDougle will give Walls value as a backup, but a lot has to break right for him to have a meaningful impact on defense this year.
Winner: Oday Aboushi
After being largely irrelevant during the 2013 season (inactive for every game), Oday Aboushi may turn out to be a key player as the Jets sort out their offensive line.
As Willie Colon recovers from knee surgery, Aboushi has been working with the first team at guard in his place, and turning heads in the process.
Takeaway from Jets OTA: Brian Winters could transition from LG to RG if Colon biceps/knee rehab lingers. Aboushi has opened eyes at LG #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) June 11, 2014
A move to guard makes plenty of sense for Aboushi based on his skill set. A tackle in college, Aboushi's slower feet make him a better fit inside where he won't be exposed in space.
We will learn more about Aboushi's ability to play guard when the pads come on for training camp, but the Jets can at least take some solace in knowing that they have a solution in case Colon's knee issues linger.
Loser: Jeff Cumberland
As far as "losers" go, Jeff Cumberland has had a nice offseason after signing an extension with the Jets. However, he did not envision having to battle for his starting job so soon after getting a raise.
With the Jets adding highly touted prospect Jace Amaro in the second round of the draft, the idea of Cumberland being the sole, go-to tight end is an outdated concept. Cumberland will have his hands full just trying to keep his snap count up.
Cumberland does have an edge on Amaro with experience and knowledge of the playbook, but it won't be long before Amaro catches up to Cumberland in the mental aspect of the game.
Cumberland has flashed ability since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2010, but he needs to take the next step in developing his blocking skills to be more of a well-rounded player who can be more versatile, maximizing his snap count.
Winner: Ras-I Dowling
The Jets are reaping the benefits of the Patriots' lack of patience with their recent draft picks. Not only were they able to land an emerging pass-rusher in Jermaine Cunningham, but they found a discarded gem at cornerback in Ras-I Dowling.
Dowling has been one of the more impressive players at OTAs, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post.He has been "all over the field making plays," showing the "strong coverage skills and good ball awareness" that made him a second-round pick in 2011.
However, ability has never been the question for the Virginia product. Dowling has simply been unable to stay healthy for even a few weeks at a time, totaling just nine appearances in three seasons, as hip and knee ailments have derailed his career thus far.
Dowling appears to finally have a clean bill of health, but he will need to prove his durability over the long term to have any kind of impact. If he can stay healthy and play like the top prospect the Patriots thought they were getting, he will give the Jets a huge bonus of talent at a position that needs as much depth as it can get.
Loser: Bilal Powell
It was not long ago that Bilal Powell was arguably the Jets' most dependable offensive player. Now, he finds himself buried on the depth chart, having to scrape and claw for every snap he gets.
After adding Chris Johnson to go alongside Chris Ivory, there simply is not much room left for Powell in the Jets offense. Ivory figures to be the two-down horse while Johnson fills in on third downs, essentially taking over Powell's role.
Powell is not as explosive as Johnson or as powerful as Ivory, but his versatility and dependability make him a better player than his depth chart position would indicate. Powell's skill set allowed him to excel as the Jets' lead back early in the 2013 season (4.0 yards per carry on the season) while Ivory was sidelined with a hamstring injury.
The Jets could still use Powell sparingly in two-back sets to give Ivory and Johnson a break, but there is no sugarcoating the fact that he has received a significant demotion by no fault of his own.
Winner: Marty Mornhinweg
A year ago, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was burdened with the task of salvaging a respectable offense out of a ragtag group of offensive players that included a rookie quarterback.
Now, Mornhinweg is armed with a plethora of weapons to work and a pair of experienced quarterbacks to take the Jets into the upper echelons of offensive football.
Last year, Mornhinweg and the Jets played a never-ending game of musical chairs at the receiver and tight end position. With players like Eric Decker and Jace Amaro in the fold, the Jets have weapons—not liabilities—that they can count on to win one-on-one battles.
To put icing on the cake, not only is Geno Smith a year deep in Mornhinweg's system; Michael Vick gives the Jets added insurance of being able to step in and play without missing a beat if need be.
However, with greater resources comes greater expectations. No longer will mediocre offensive football be tolerated—the excuse of having to work with a rookie quarterback and a depleted group of skill position players is no longer valid. If Morhinweg is truly the offensive guru he has built his reputation on being, he needs to prove it in his second season under Rex Ryan.
Mornhinweg and his offense need to produce up to their potential for the Jets to live up to expectations this season. Otherwise, Mornhinweg may find himself back in the offensive coordinator job market next offseason with a damaged resume.
Loser: David Nelson
The Jets' dire situation at wide receiver last year paved the way for David Nelson to be a major contributor in 2013. Now that the Jets have made the necessary renovations to their receiving corps, Nelson may find himself as the odd man out in a crowded depth chart.
Nelson will be in competition for the final few spots on the roster, but his relatively low amount of upside compared to the three drafted rookies and former second-round pick Stephen Hill make him a much easier player to part ways with.
Nelson brings some value to the table with his size, hands and competitiveness, but he does not have the unique ability possessed by Stephen Hill that makes him an intriguing player to keep around for the long term.
After adding Jacoby Ford, Jalen Saunders and Shaq Evans, finding a role for Nelson will be even more difficult this year, even after winning the No. 2 receiver job last year.