Ranking the 8 Biggest Upgrades the New York Jets Made This Offseason
Entering a season with heightened expectations, following a surprising, yet unsatisfying 8-8 season, the New York Jets were forced to make massive improvements on both sides of the ball.
General manager John Idzik made a few splashes in free agency, but responsible spending and deciding to retain all 12 of their draft picks have given the Jets a high volume of players that attack just about every area of need with multiple players.
The Jets have added a fair share of talent, but much of their improvement will come through competition and internal development.
Ranking the improvements is dependent on a combination of factors that goes beyond the talent of the player brought in. How weak the position was beforehand, room for further development and the quality of the supporting cast around a player all contribute to how much of an upgrade the Jets have made.
These slides are not just for new players—players poised for a massive improvement in their play by simply being in a more favorable situation constitute as upgrades just as equally.
Here is a ranking of the biggest improvements the Jets have made to the roster over the offseason.
Advanced stats provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
8. Defensive Line
The only additions the Jets made to their defensive line were three undrafted free agents—yet this should be one of the most-improved units on the team.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
The Jets vaunted defensive line that carried the team through several games and finished third in run defense is not just effective—they are young and athletic. No player is older than 25, and two of the starters—Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison—are athletic freaks of nature from small schools and would have been much higher picks (or in Harrison's case, drafted at all) had they come from more prominent programs.
The fact that the Jets line is as healthy as it is comes as no surprise. Any team that uses three-consecutive first-round picks at one position (including rush linebacker Quinton Coples in 2012) should expect to have a dominant unit in due time.
Even undrafted free-agent Damon Harrison has upside that is matched by few. The best run defender at his position in 2013 (according to Pro Football Focus), Harrison is entering only his second season as a starter at age 25.
This is not even taking into account that the Jets have 2011 third-round project Kenrick Ellis waiting in the wings, ready to explode onto the scene at any moment. Prominent backup Leger Douzable was retained to round out the defensive end rotation.
Oh, by the way, undrafted signee Kerry Hyder is already impressing with the second-team defense.
This unit is already among the best in football and is only destined to improve with time. The sky is the limit for a group that has so much athleticism and raw talent crammed into such a small space.
7. Offensive Line Depth
The Jets offensive line has plenty of questions to answer after enduring some shake-ups in the offseason, highlighted by replacing the departed Austin Howard for Breno Giacomini. The questionable health status of Willie Colon as he recovers from surgery and unsteady play from Brian Winters puts the Jets in jeopardy of fielding a worse starting unit from last season.
The good news is the Jets have more quality young talent in place to fill in if called upon than they ever had under former general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
The most dramatic improvement has come from second-year player Oday Aboushi, who is making the expected transition from tackle to guard with stellar results. If Colon's injuries flare up, the Jets may have a long-term replacement on their hands in Aboushi.
Even without Aboushi's emergence as a potential starter, the addition of Dakota Dozier and return of Dalton Freeman from injury will make it difficult for William Campbell, a sixth-round pick from 2013, to secure a place on the roster.
The Jets are also holding out hope that Winters can improve upon his unspectacular rookie season with a year of experience under his belt.
There is still a lot of uneasiness surrounding this position that only camp competition can sort out, but the new abundance of options along the line are apparent.
6. Wide Receiver Depth
John Idzik's "volume" approach to the offseason was no more apparent than how he handled the troubled wide receiver position.
While he did splurge a bit on Eric Decker (who is still under a very responsible contract), most of the improvement on the Jets receiving corps will come from the sheer volume of additions they have made to the position.
Outside of Santonio Holmes getting replaced by Decker, it is possible that the Jets' receiving corps is largely the same as it was last year—but the number of viable competitors in training camp make that scenario a near impossibility.
In addition to Decker, Idzik brought in speedster Jacoby Ford and drafted three players in the middle rounds. These four players immediately put the disappointing Stephen Hill and the limited David Nelson on notice—neither player is guaranteed a job in 2014, regardless of their production last year or former status as a high-draft pick.
In particular, drafting Jalen Saunders gives the Jets newfound insurance at the slot receiver position. No longer will they be so dependent on Jeremy Kerley to move the chains.
There is still a lot of work to be done before the reconstruction of the receiver position is complete, but a new foundation has been laid.
5. Cornerback Depth
The Jets have their fair share of problems at the top of the cornerback depth chart, but there is no denying the fact that their depth has been vastly improved over the course of the offseason.
By adding Dexter McDougle and Brandon Dixon through the draft, quality veterans like Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster are going to have a tough time getting on the field.
If Ras-I Dowling can avoid injury and turn into the second-round player he was supposed to be for the New England Patriots, the Jets will have their hands full trying to determine which young, talented cornerback they can afford to part ways with.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Dee Milliner's ability to perform and Dimitri Patterson's ugly injury history, it seems inevitable that the Jets will have to tap into their depth reserves at some point this season. Thanks to quality management from John Idzik, the Jets are more prepared than ever to handle turmoil at any of the starting cornerback positions, including the slot.
4. Chris Johnson as a Complementary Back
Chris Johnson may not be the player that rocked the football world during his "CJ2K" campaign back in 2009, but he is the most explosive offensive player the Jets have had since Santonio Holmes' 2010-11 season.
After upgrading the receiving corps and solidifying the offensive line, the Jets still lacked a dynamic threat on offense that could inject some much-needed speed into an otherwise-slow unit.
Even if he does not reach his lofty goals of 1500 yards, Johnson is going to have a very noticeable effect on the Jets offense. Not only will Johnson produce explosive plays for the Jets, but the sheer threat of him being able to score from anywhere will open up defenses, making life easier on Geno Smith.
Johnson is one of the few cases in which paying a small premium for his name and reputation is worth the extra cash.
3. No. 3 Running Back
Adding Chris Johnson did more than just give the Jets a more dynamic one-two punch at running back—it also gave them one of the best No. 3 running back situations in the league.
Bilal Powell is more than just a "filler" running back. While Chris Ivory was recovering from hamstring injuries at the start of the 2013-14 season, Powell exploded onto the scene as the Jets' starting runner. Finishing with a solid 4.0 yards per carry, Rex Ryan referred to Powell as the "most underrated player in the NFL" (h/t thecardinalconnect.com).
Through no fault of his own, Powell is destined to see a major workload decrease in his third season, but he will still play a valuable role on the Jets offense. Powell is much more than a runner—he excels in pass protection and catching the ball, two areas in which Chris Johnson tends to struggle.
One myth about CJ?K is he's good in pass gm. Poor routes/atrocious pass pro/shaky hands. Once benched for Javon Ringer on pass downs in TEN.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) July 16, 2014
Powell has also been very durable in his short career with limited wear on his tires—the opposite could be said for Ivory, who has yet to play 16 games in his four years.
Essentially, Powell will be a high-quality glue that will hold the running back stable together through any adversity this season.
2. Top 2 Quarterback Spots
No matter how the quarterback "competition" plays out this summer, the Jets will be better at both the starting and backup quarterback positions.
The Jets paid Michael Vick a premium price to be in possession of arguably the best backup quarterback (and potential starter) in the NFL. Even if Vick is better than Geno Smith, there is no way an older Smith with a year of development under his belt can get worse.
The Jets are paying a player $5 million with hopes that they never have to play him, but that does not mean they are wasting their money if Vick sits on the bench for the entire season. Smith is the heavy favorite to win the competition, but Vick's presence alone will push Smith as hard as possible while lending an example of how an accomplished 34-year-old veteran goes about his business.
Not only are the Jets better at the position from a talent and developmental perspective, but their upgrades to the skill positions have set the starter up for success—which was hardly the case last year.
Of course, with greater levels of talent at the most important position in sports comes great expectations, but there is no time like the present for Smith to establish himself as the Jets' franchise quarterback.
1. Eric Decker as the Top Receiver
Eric Decker may have been a small cog of the Denver Broncos record-breaking offense, but he is instantly the most proven and reliable player in the Jets offense.
The legitimacy of Decker being a true No. 1 receiver is very much up for debate, but there is no question that he is a massive upgrade over what the Jets had at the position a year ago. Unable to rely on the moody Santonio Holmes to stay healthy, the Jets became dependent on players like David Nelson and Jeremy Kerley to carry the passing game on their shoulders.
Playing with Peyton Manning certainly helped Decker reach such stellar numbers last year, but average receivers do not reach the 1,200-yard mark no matter how good their quarterback is.
Armed with his experience from playing with the Denver Broncos, Decker also brings a new standard to a Jets offense. After spending the last five years try to "not lose" games for the defense, Decker is used to an environment where anything less than top-notch production is unacceptable.
When combining his talent and attitude along with the fact that he fills a huge positional need, Decker is easily the Jets' biggest upgrade of the offseason.