The New York Jets had a busy offseason trying to re-sign the dozen or so free agents that tested the open market. The team has also been busy pursuing free agents like Nnamdi Asomugha and Plaxico Burress to fill the voids left after the 2010 season.
New York has retained some of their players in Santonio Holmes and Antonio Cromartie but they also lost some important players like Braylon Edwards and Shaun Ellis. In an ideal world, the Jets would have loved to have kept everyone from last year. Unfortunately money prevented that from happening.
As a result, New York has some holes to fill going into the 2011 season. There are positions that are still open going into the first preseason game in about a week and it will be interesting seeing the competition between players battling for a place on the depth chart.
There is no doubt that the losses at the wide receiver and defensive line position have left the team in a tough situation. However, this only gives players a chance to prove themselves to the coaches.
So with a number of uncertainties as of now, rookies and veterans will have to step up. Here are seven players to watch out for in 2011. Don’t be surprised if they turn heads around the league.
The Jets might have lost Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, and Jerricho Cotchery this offseason, but don’t sleep on rookie wide receiver Jeremy Kerley out of TCU.
Kerley was a steal for the Jets when they selected him in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft as he was drafted to replace Brad Smith who was destined to leave New York after pricing himself out of this town.
Kerley broke all sorts of records in college and now joins a receiving core in New York with the likes of Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress. The wide out from TCU is a speedy, athletic receiver who can also return kicks and run the Wildcat offense following the departure of Smith. Kerley is in fact listed as the primary punt and kick returner on the depth chart.
He has impressed so far in training camp making some impressive plays while competing against other receivers like Scotty McKnight, Derrick Mason, and Michael Campbell. The loss of Cotchery, Smith, and Cotchery only opens the door for this rookie to make a name for himself.
You heard it first here. Watch out for this player.
The Jets already have an impressive backfield with LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene getting the bulk of the carries, but don’t think rookie running back Bilal Powell won’t get any playing time in his first season in the league.
Powell was drafted in the fourth round and will likely take the spot of last year’s disappointing fourth round pick Joe McKnight out of USC. The running back from Louisville will battle McKnight in the preseason and if he can win the starting job, he can become a dangerous weapon for a Jets offense that could potentially have a three-headed monster in the running game.
Powell is quick, agile, and an exciting player to watch. He can be used on screen passes and turn into the kind of player that Leon Washington was for the Jets a couple of years ago.
He was the Jets first round pick and he comes with a lot of high expectations, but the reality is the transition from college to the pros is something that takes time. Many Jets fans expect Wilkerson to become a dominant pass-rusher right away. But it will take a few weeks for him to make adjustments to his game.
That said; the former Temple standout has already impressed coach Rex Ryan who has already given Wilkerson the starting job on the defensive line following the departure of Shaun Ellis to the rival Patriots. Rex is impressed with his ability to play in the 3-4 defense as both a solid run stopper and an effective pass-rusher.
Given the majority of playing time at defensive end will definitely be beneficial to the growth of Wilkerson. Give him a couple of weeks and he will turn heads. He will make you forget about Shaun Ellis leaving New York.
If you aren’t familiar with the name Jamaal Wersterman it is understandable. The third-year linebacker/defensive end out of Rutgers University has never started a game in the NFL and only appeared in six games a season ago.
Westerman has only one career sack, but Rex Ryan is calling him the defense’s secret weapon in 2011. Spending his first two years in New York behind Vernon Gholston on the depth chart, Westerman finally has an opportunity to get regular playing time. Most of his action came on special teams as Jason Taylor and Gholston were part of more of the plays on defense.
While spending most of his time on the practice squad, Westerman was compared to guys like Dwight Freeney and Mario Williams. Rex has already given him the role of being a designated pass-rusher. Though he will not start, expect him to come in on passing downs to get after the quarterback.
Sooner or later all of the practice going against D’Brickahaw Ferguson will pay off. Maybe it will be this year.
The Jets offensive line last season was one of the best in the league for a second straight year. Despite getting rid of Pro Bowler Alan Faneca and dealing with injuries on the line, the Jets offensive front held up well.
The injury to Damien Woody in the playoffs made a lot of fans nervous, but Wayne Hunter—the best backup offensive lineman in the league according to Rex—was exceptional going up against the defenses of the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His excellent performance in the playoffs earned Hunter a contract this offseason and now finds himself starting on the line after the team released Woody.
The offensive line should be solid with Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Brandon Moore, Matt Slauson, and Wayne Hunter. Expect all to help out the running game and passing game. Don’t be surprised if Hunter has a standout season in 2011 at right tackle for the Jets.
Dustin Keller has already shown how good he can be in the passing game throughout his three-year career so far. The former first-round draft pick from Purdue in 2008 has blossomed into a dangerous target for quarterback Mark Sanchez but has not always been the most consistent of players.
Keller started off 2010 with a bang, scoring five touchdowns in the first four weeks. He had his best ever game against Miami in which he racked up 98 yards in the air to go along with two touchdowns. Unfortunately he didn’t score a single touchdown after his week four matchup against the Buffalo Bills in which he scored two times.
As Santonio Holmes came back from suspension and Braylon Edwards played better, Keller was no longer the number one option for Sanchez.
This season Keller will likely see more passes thrown his way and he will be used more in the offense along with tall Plaxico Burress in the red zone. This year will finally be the season in which Keller will make the transition from a very good tight end to a star tight end.
Don’t be surprised if he has a breakout season and earns a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl team.
Mark Sanchez entered the league with a lot of hype and high expectations. People immediately began comparing him to Broadway Joe but so far his brief career has had its ups and downs. Sanchez has led his team to two consecutive AFC Championship games but has not played like a star just yet.
Sanchez has shown how clutch he can be late in games with seven career fourth quarter game-winning drives in pressure-packed situations. However, he hasn’t put up impressive numbers by any stretch of the imagination.
His second year as a professional was definitely an improvement over his positive rookie season. He threw for more yards and scored more touchdowns but there is still room for improvement.
In year three, the quarterback will have more control of the offense than he has ever had. Rex Ryan will no longer baby him and force him to hand the ball off until he absolutely needs to call a passing play.
Now the leader of the offense, Sanchez will have a breakout season in 2011. He will have many weapons in the passing game including Holmes, Burress, and Keller to go along with a great running game. The team will mix up run and passing plays, leaving the defense on their heels.
We’ve seen his potential in the past but this is finally the season in which the Sanchize will take that next step.