Predicting the Last 5 In, First 5 out for New York Jets' Final 53 Man Roster
NFL fans are certainly excited about the fact that training camps start within the month, but it signals the start of an incredibly stressful month for most players.
Within a matter of a few weeks, dreams are gained and crushed based on a player's performance in a few games and practices. A Jets roster that features a dozen drafted rookies will see an even greater amount of competition as each youngster tries to prove their worth to a new set of coaches.
Even if a player plays well enough to deserve a spot, minute differences such as special teams play and age can be the difference between an extended NFL career and the unemployment line.
Here are predictions for the last five players to make the roster and the five who just miss the list at the end of training camp.
In: Stephen Hill
There is no sugarcoating the fact that the only reason Stephen Hill is still a member of the New York Jets is because of his status as a former second-round pick.
The once highly touted prospect out of Georgia Tech has done little to convince that he can last as an NFL receiver in the long term. In fact, Hill was so poor in 2013 that he lost his job to David Nelson—a journeyman midseason signee who was coming off an ACL injury.
As easy as it may seem for the Jets to simply admit their mistake and move on from Hill, it would be foolish to part ways with such an immensely talented 23-year-old. He certainly needs a lot of refinement in his game, but he still has a combination of size and speed (and age) that few in the NFL can replicate.
To make the team, Hill does not necessarily have to outplay everyone else on the roster—he just has to show improvement and give the Jets hope that he may become a player worth waiting for, which he appears to be doing so far.
The fact that he does not offer much value on special teams does hurt his value, but his raw talent is too immense to pass on so early into his career.
In: Tajh Boyd
The path for Boyd to make the final roster is clear as day: he needs to beat out the incumbent third-string quarterback Matt Simms for the final spot on the depth chart.
The first few weeks of training camp will give us a better idea as to how this battle will play out, but if all things are equal, Boyd is the favorite to win the job.
Not only is he younger, more athletic and has more upside, but he was also Rex Ryan's personal draft pick (he played with his son at Clemson), making him a natural favorite to the head coach.
Still, Boyd does have a lot to improve on before he can ever think about making a bid to be used in meaningful action. He deserves at least a year of development, and the Jets would prefer to not risk losing him by placing him on the practice squad for other teams to snatch up.
In: Zach Sudfeld
Just a few months ago, Zach Sudfeld was scheduled to be a contributing member of the Jets' offense as the second tight end on the roster.
However, after the addition of Jace Amaro in the second round of the draft, Sudfeld having any kind of job security is no longer in the cards.
Sudfeld may have seen a (rather inevitable) demotion, but he his physical tools alone make the former New England Patriot worth keeping around. His 6'7" frame drew comparisons to Rob Gronkowski during his time in New England.
Assuming he can continue to show improvement in training camp and contribute on special teams, the third and final tight end job should be Sudfeld's to lose. He does, however, have less room for error than he ever did in a crucial offseason.
In: Jermaine Cunningham
Since joining the Jets' roster in the middle of the 2013 season, New England Patriots castoff Jermaine Cunningham has slowly but surely climbed the ladder to a bigger and bigger role with his new team.
It took him until the end of the season, but he earned playing time in the final two games of the season. His momentum has continued into the spring, where he has been given time with the second-team defense and looked the part in doing so, as noted by Brian Costello of the New York Post.
Also working into Cunningham's favor is the uncertainty of Antwan Barnes' health as he recovers from a torn ACL injury
If he can continue to dominate rushing the passer in training camp, he will be able to focus more on being a regular member of the Jets defense and spend less time on the roster bubble.
In: Dalton Freeman
The unheralded backup center out of Clemson University may not be well known among fans, but Dalton Freeman is a hidden treasure to the coaching staff that works with him on a daily basis.
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013, injuries forced the Jets to release Freeman at the end of training camp last season. Now blessed with a clean bill of health this offseason, Freeman has been among the most impressive players in spring practices, Brian Costello of the New York Post notes.
Outside of an injury to longtime starter Nick Mangold, there is no chance Freeman will see the field on the regular offense in 2014. However, with Mangold turning 30 this past year, it is never too early to groom for potential replacements, especially those of the undrafted variety.
After using a fifth-round pick on Dakota Dozier, the Jets will almost certainly drop one of their incumbent offensive linemen—but don't expect Freeman to be on the chopping block at the end of training camp.
Out: Trevor Reilly
As a 26-year-old walk-on team captain who was barely drafted in the seventh round, there are plenty of reasons to root for Trevor Reilly.
However, there is no getting around the fact that while he managed to get drafted, making the roster of an NFL team that already has 11 other drafted rookies competing for spots stacks the odds against Reilly.
Working in Reilly's favor is his leadership, character and versatility. Not only is Reilly's story tremendous as a walk-on player who became a captain as a senior, but the fact that he started as a safety before making the conversion to linebacker proves that he offers much more than his listed position would suggest.
Reilly's versatility and leadership is particularly important on special teams, when position lines are blurred and players must swallow some pride to perform lower-level duties after being starters on their respective college teams.
However, the fact remains that Reilly is 26-years-old and does not offer the same type of upside that a typical rookie does. Reilly needs to be flawless in training camp to hold on to a spot; otherwise, the Jets would prefer to use as many roster spots as possible on younger players with more room to develop while performing the same tasks on special teams.
Out: William Campbell
William Campbell may have spent the entirety of the 2013 season on the inactive list, but he actually has a legitimate excuse for his lack of productivity.
Campbell was just starting to undertake the dramatic position change from defensive tackle to offensive guard, just as Brandon Moore once did to run a dead career into a fulfilling one.
Campbell may have gotten a free pass as a rookie, but he needs to start to show improvement in training camp if he is to stick around on the roster. The fact that the Jets used a fourth-round pick on a guard (Dakota Dozier) is hardly a vote of confidence for the Michigan man.
Fortunately for Campbell, not dressing for a single game last year does preserve his practice-squad eligibility. If he can at least show some type of improvement from year one to year two, he stands a good chance to remain employed by the Jets, albeit in the form of a massive demotion.
Out: Antwan Barnes
Veteran linebacker Antwan Barnes does not need to necessarily prove anything in training camp, from a talent perspective, to stick on the roster. Instead, he just needs to show that he can return to the same form of health that the Jets originally signed last offseason.
According to Rex Ryan, Barnes has not recovered well from the ACL injury he suffered in Week 5 of last season and does not appear to be putting much stock in him being available for camp.
Rex Ryan indicates Antwan Barnes' status for beginning of training camp is uncertain http://t.co/LG1iApih8K— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) June 5, 2014
Set to turn 30-years-old in October, the odds of Barnes making a full recovery seem daunting at best. Young players have a hard enough time making a full recovery from such a severe injury, never mind a 30-year-old veteran linebacker.
Combined with the recent emergence of Jermaine Cunningham to provide relief as an edge pass-rusher (in addition to draft picks Ik Enemkpali and Trevor Reilly), the recipe is set for the Jets to simply part ways with Barnes at the end of camp if he cannot find a way to return to form.
Out: Kerry Hyder
After a spring of quiet performances from most of the Jets rookies, this undrafted free-agent defensive lineman has been one of the most impressive players in practice so far.
Unfortunately for Hyder, he happens to have picked the worst possible team to try and earn an open roster spot along the defensive line. The Jets are as young, talented and deep as any team in football along the defensive front. Not only are the Jets immensely talented with stars like Muhammad Wilkerson, but they have depth with players like Leger Douzable and Kenrick Ellis.
Hyder could always hold out hope that the Jets will be generous enough to keep around an extra defensive lineman. Still, Hyder's best route to an NFL roster would be to play well enough in preseason games for other, more defensive line-needy teams to take notice and scoop him up after roster cuts are made.
Out: Quincy Enunwa
No depth chart on the roster will feature more intense competition than the embattled receiver position.
The Jets took the volume approach to fixing the biggest problem area of their roster, signing two free agents (Eric Decker and Jacoby Ford) and adding three draft picks to compete with what they already had on the roster.
Simple math suggests that even if the Jets carry a sixth receiver, there is going to be more than one odd man out by the end of training camp.
Nebraska captain Quincy Enunwa enticed the Jets enough with his size (6'2", 225 lbs.) and hands to warrant a sixth-round pick, but he is simply not explosive enough to earn a meaningful role in the Jets' offense even if he was on the roster. His size and relative lack of speed also make him an odd fit on special teams, where young, late-round receivers are expected to contribute.
The most likely route for Enunwa will be to spend a year on the practice squad to develop his skills and return to camp next year ready to compete for playing time.