Grading the New York Jets' Final 53-Man Roster
It took months of preparation, dozens of practices and four preseason games, but the New York Jets have finally trimmed their roster down to 53 men.
Although most of the players cut were long shots to make the final roster, some of the moves are attention-grabbing.
So, are the Jets a better team than a year ago? Did the front office make the right decisions to keep and release certain players?
Click through to see grades and analysis for each of New York's positional units as the regular season approaches.
All signs point to Geno Smith performing much better in his second campaign.
Smith had a solid preseason in which he showed improved maturity and pocket presence. He also did a great job of not turning the ball over, which is something he really struggled with in his rookie season.
Smith's improvement with ball security has been so big that Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger reported quarterbacks coach David Lee, who is known as the team's most media-shy coach, felt the need to praise Smith publicly.
If the West Virginia product can cut down his turnovers by even one-third from last season, it would give the Jets a good chance of competing in each and every game.
The Jets are going as far as Smith can take them, but there's some optimism following the preseason that that could be further than expected.
If anything were to happen to Smith, Gang Green also possesses one of the most electrifying backups in the league in Michael Vick.
Vick isn't the player he used to be, but he can still lead an offense when given the opportunity.
New York made a surprising decision to roll with just two quarterbacks and cut both Matt Simms and Tajh Boyd, but the team did manage to sign Simms to the practice squad after the quarterback cleared waivers.
The Jets' backfield has all the makings of one of the league's most productive groups this season.
The three-headed monster of Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell should tear apart and wear down defenses with its combination of speed, power and pass-catching ability.
Johnson should see the most carries of the trio, and rightfully so, as he's one of the game's most explosive offensive threats and put together an impressive offseason.
While many are saying the former first-round pick has declined dramatically in recent seasons, he's still managed to put up 1,000 rushing yards in every one of his six years in the NFL.
Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will also do a nice job taking pressure off Johnson, as their ferocious, between-the-tackles running styles tire opposing defensive units.
Gang Green may not have a single runner who rushes for over 1,000 yards this season, but as long as the offensive line does its job, the trio of backs should have no problem leading New York's offense throughout the season.
The Jets' receiving corps will look a heck of a lot different than it did last season.
With great hands, size and route-running ability, Decker could fill that role admirably.
However, it's the depth behind him that is troubling.
After releasing Santonio Holmes early in the offseason, New York cut free-agent addition Jacoby Ford and former second-round pick Stephen Hill.
That leaves David Nelson and Jeremy Kerley as the team's No. 2 and slot receivers, respectively. Nelson is a solid route-runner, but he lacks the explosiveness to make big plays.
Kerley, on the other hand, is a terrific target when healthy. He's entering a contract year, so he'll definitely be looking to leave it all on the field this season.
Training camp standouts Saalim Hakim and Greg Salas make up the team's No. 4 and 5 wideouts, but Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger notes both probably made the roster because of their ability to contribute on special teams more than their receiving prowess.
Rookies Jalen Saunders and Quincy Enunwa finalize the receiver depth chart. Both are talented players, but neither put together an extraordinary training camp. Hoping for any kind of production out of them in their first years may be a pipe dream.
Decker and a healthy Kerley have the potential to mask the flaws in this unit, but it's once again hard to feel confident with the majority of the receivers on the roster heading into the season.
New York hasn't gotten much production out of the tight end spot since the departure of Dustin Keller in free agency a couple of years ago, but the team hopes that can change in 2014.
The Jets re-signed Jeff Cumberland and selected Jace Amaro in the second round of the draft this offseason to improve the position.
Cumberland has never passed 400 receiving yards in any given season, but his physical tools are elite. The Illinois product is 6'4'' and 260 pounds, but NFL Draft Scout indicates he can also run a 4.46 40-yard dash.
That makes him a mismatch for most defenses and a dangerous deep threat across the middle. If the 27-year-old can improve his route running and hands, he could be in for a breakout season.
Amaro was one of the most productive college football tight ends in recent memory, but he really struggled adjusting to the NFL style of play early in training camp.
However, the Texas Tech product has improved dramatically in recent weeks. According to Seth Walder of the New York Daily News, the Jets' coaching staff is heaping on the praise.
Dom Cosentino of NJ.com suggests Even third-stringer Zach Sudfield impressed in training camp.
The Jets' tight end unit has a lot of potential, but Cumberland and Amaro need to show improvement in some areas for that potential to be reached.
New York's offensive line won't return to its 2009-10 form, but it should still put together a strong campaign.
The two stalwarts, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, are getting up there in age, but they're still very capable of performing at a high level. Expect them to be the leaders of this unit once again.
Veteran Willie Colon, coming off biceps surgery, was solid in his first year in green and white and should be again as long as he stays healthy.
His backup, rookie Dakota Dozier, is also very capable of stepping in and performing well if Colon does go down. A small-school product, he possesses phenomenal strength and girth (6'4", 312 lbs).
Offseason addition Breno Giacomini also brings a toughness to the line that Austin Howard did not. Although the former Seahawk can sometimes get caught up in penalties, he should be a solid presence up front.
The big question mark is the left guard spot. Brian Winters really struggled in the starting job last year, as he allowed 10 sacks and wasn't impressive in the preseason either.
That means Winters will start at left guard once again, but his room for error will be small.
The offensive line won't be the Jets' best unit this season, but it will be far from the team's worst. If Winters can improve, it could play a huge role in a playoff run.
I've run out of things to say about the Jets' defensive line.
It's big, strong, dominant, young, powerful, entertaining. It's the present and the future of the franchise.
This unit is—and will be for as long as the core stays together—the team's best positional unit as well as one of the league's most feared defensive fronts.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Damon Harrison are three of the best at their respective positions.
Wilkerson, the prized pass-rusher of the group, could easily rack up 15 sacks this season. Meanwhile, Richardson and Harrison could easily rank among the game's top run-stuffers.
Even the backups along the defensive line, such as Leger Douzable, Kenrick Ellis and TJ Barnes, are capable of playing at a high level when given the opportunity.
New York has at least some question marks at most positional units, but the defensive line isn't one of them.
Expect the "Sons of Anarchy" to dominate opposing offenses in 2014.
The linebacker corps won't get the same hype as the defensive line, but don't get me wrong: This is one of Gang Green's strongest units.
The starting four are all capable of playing at a high level, and the backups are nothing to scoff at.
David Harris is one of the most complete linebackers in the game, as he can rack up tackles, rush the passer and drop back in coverage.
Demario Davis is a similar type of player. He's undersized and coming off an up-and-down first year in the starting role, but he's lightning-quick and can make plays all across the field. This may be his breakout season.
Calvin Pace came out of nowhere to record 10 sacks a year ago. While many of those sacks might have been because of the attention given to the defensive line, he still managed to bring down the quarterback at a terrific rate.
A repeat season might not been in the cards, but he should still put up decent numbers.
Quinton Coples may be the biggest question mark of the starting group, but he has the physical tools to break out this upcoming season. In his second year at outside linebacker, he may finally get a handle on the position.
Even if Coples struggles, the Jets have Jason Babin waiting in the wings. Babin is 34 and learning a new position, but this is a guy who has recorded 45 sacks in his last 64 games.
Rookie Ik Enemkpali is another player to watch. The Louisiana Tech product recorded two sacks and a blocked punt in limited preseason action, and he has the explosiveness to continue to make big plays when it counts.
The Jets have come a long way from having Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie opposite each other in the secondary—just not in the direction one would hope.
New York's secondary is a mess. There's no other way to describe it. The futility of this unit could actually end up costing Gang Green a playoff berth.
Safety isn't that big of a concern. Rookie Calvin Pryor was mighty impressive in the preseason and he has all the talent in the world. Veteran Dawan Landry is capable of manning the other starting spot, even if he can occasionally allow a big play or two.
Cornerback, though, is a disaster. It hurts my eyes to even look at the positional depth chart.
Dee Milliner was expected to lead the unit, but the second-year man suffered a high-ankle sprain a few weeks ago and Darryl Slater of The Star-Ledger reports he is still a major question mark for Week 1.
The other projected starter, Dimitri Patterson, was cut following an absurd situation in which he went AWOL for 48 hours and then publicly accused the front office of lying upon his return.
That leaves career backup Darrin Walls and converted safety Antonio Allen as the likely season-opening starters.
While Walls appears more than capable of stepping in and performing well, Allen has spent just a few weeks adjusting to the new position.
First-round bust Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster sit behind them in the depth chart, but neither is capable of manning the outside.
However, it's difficult seeing McFadden playing a major role in the secondary, as he has struggled thus far in his NFL career.
The Jets play host to several elite passing attacks this season, and it would be a miracle if the secondary could contain even some of them.
Nick Folk, Ryan Quigley and Tanner Purdum will reprise their roles as kicker, punter and long snapper, respectively.
The three are all solid at what they do—especially Folk, who nailed three game-winners a season ago.
The real question is what the Jets can get out of their return game, which has been ineffective since the departure of Joe McKnight.
Rookie Jalen Saunders and Jeremy Kerley will probably split the duties. Both have great speed, but neither will instill fear into opposing special team coaches.