5 Underrated New York Jets Who Will Star in 2012

John Dorn@johnsdornCorrespondent IIIAugust 6, 2012

5 Underrated New York Jets Who Will Star in 2012

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    This time last year, Rex Ryan and the Jets were bouncing back from two consecutive AFC title game losses. 

    Though disappointing finishes, New York had to have been encouraged by the overall postseason trips, in the only two years of the Mark Sanchez/Rex Ryan era. The team had championship hopes going into 2011, and with good reason. The AFC championship game loss to the Steelers left a bitter taste in the mouth of Gang Green, and Ryan's Jets would be chomping at the bit to finally get over the hump, no?

    Here we are, getting ready to kick off the 2012 season, and the Jets still haven't appeared in a playoff game since.

    After a disappointing 8-8 finish, the Jets look to return to their winning ways, the way Ryan and Sanchez were accustomed to. Changes have been made, and the team appears ready to be a winner once again. 

    If you have access to a television or computer, you're probably aware of the Jets' acquisition of a new second-string quarterback.

    Here's a look at some of the guys you might not be hearing a whole lot about.

Honorable Mentions

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    Stephen Hill, WR

    Hill was taken by the Jets 43rd overall in the 2012 NFL draft out of Georgia Tech. At 6'4'', 215 pounds, Hill could be the deep threat that New York wished to have in Plaxico Burress last season. With Burress donning green, Mark Sanchez's passing options aren't plenty appealing, to say the least.

    Hill's combination of speed and size could prove to be lethal in time. A 4.36 40-yard dash time encased in a frame like Hill's could torch defenses apart. But how ready is Hill?

    Here's a quote from Jets WR coach Sanjay Lal, courtesy of Lisa Zimmerman of CBSSports.com.

    We did a lot of homework on him. We gave him an extremely detailed workout. We ran every exotic route known to man. Every blocking drill. Every release drill. We got our answer.

    It's important to note that Hill was predominantly a blocking receiver at Georgia Tech, so route running will take time to adapt to. But if and when it does click for Hill, it'll be a sad day for 31 NFL defensive coordinators.

    Marcus Dowtin, LB

    Dowtin had a troublesome college career. In May of 2010, following his junior year at Georgia, he was charged with second-degree assault for his role in an altercation at a bar. He lost his scholarship from the school and then transferred to North Alabama, where he played his senior season.

    Dowtin's Georgia career was stellar. In his final year there, he had 57 total tackles—including two 10-tackle games—and one interception.

    While taking the step down to Division II, Dowtin padded his stats a bit. He totaled 115 tackles (nine for a loss of yardage), and sacked the quarterback four times.

    At 6'2'' and 230 pounds, Dowtin displays some athleticism. He posted a 4.56 40-time at his Pro Day in March, and the good folks at NFLDraftScout.com ranked him 17th among the 101 players of his position and class.

    Here's the Pro Football Weekly summary of his scouting report (h/t JetsInsider.com):

    A legit SEC athlete, Dowtin stuffed the stat sheet in his only season at North Alabama. Has intriguing physical ability and versatility to play multiple spots in a fast-flowing, 4-3 front, as well as handle nickel linebacker duties and excel on special teams if he falls in line.

    Dowtin isn't a lock to make the team, with the surplus of linebackers the Jets currently have on the roster. Though, if he is on board in East Rutherford this season, it'll be interesting to watch how this 23-year-old's career will begin.

Jeremy Kerley

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    A fifth-round selection in the 2011 NFL draft, Kerley opened last season with high expectations.

    His speed and ability to run the Jets' "Seminole" offensive package placed him in good graces with the organization. So much so that just over a month into the season the team shipped veteran receiver Derrick Mason out of town, setting the table perfectly for Kerley to slide into the third receiver role.

    Kerley showed flashes of excitement during his rookie season, but finished with only 29 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown in 2011.

    With former offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer out of the picture for 2012, expect the Jets to look downfield much more than in years past. With a year of experience under his belt, don't be surprised to see Kerley targeted a lot more, too.

    Also, with Tim Tebow in the mix for 2012, Tony Sparano's new Jets offense will be sure to expand on the Wildcat plays he grew famous for in Miami. Kerley will see plenty of touches off these gadget plays as well.

Aaron Maybin

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    Any NFL linebacker would certainly love playing in Rex Ryan's blitz-friendly defense, and Maybin's 2011 season was a clear result of that.

    Coming off of two consecutive sub-par seasons to begin his NFL career, the Penn State alum's football future was very much in doubt. He signed a veteran's minimum deal with New York last August in a last-ditch effort to jump-start his career. 

    That effort appeared to fall short when the Jets cut Maybin at the conclusion of the preseason. Although, it wasn't long before the linebacker found himself back in the green and white once again—Mike Tannenbaum and the Jets brass signed him back to the team during Week 4.

    The former 11th overall pick in 2009 played in 13 games for the Jets and, in a limited role, racked up the first six sacks of his career, and forced four fumbles.

    His play turned enough heads in the Jets organization that they brought him back for the 2012 season.

    Look for Maybin's speed and explosiveness to propel him into the starting lineup by mid-season. He will play a huge role for Gang Green as they look to rebound and become serious Super Bowl contenders once again.

Kyle Wilson

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    Largely overshadowed by Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, Wilson could be the hidden gem of the Jets secondary.

    Drafted in the first round of the 2010 draft out of Boise State, the New Jersey native has shown that he can be a starting corner in the NFL, but not without some negatives.

    At 5'10'', Wilson can at times be overmatched by stronger receivers. He makes up for what he lacks, however, by having an outstanding knowledge of the game. His first instincts are very solid for a young player. His quick feet also put him in great positions to make plays. 

    After Antonio Cromartie's unacceptably bad 2011, Wilson may get the nod to cover the opponent's more talented threats much more than he did than last year. Look for him to thrive in these situations, rise to the occasion, and blossom in his third NFL season.

Joe McKnight

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    McKnight didn't exactly get off on the right foot with Jets fans. The team opted to draft him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, and subsequently traded fan favorite Leon Washington to Seattle.

    Then, fumble by fumble, McKnight appeared to be on his way out of New York. He looked completely overmatched by NFL defenses and, frankly, didn't stand a chance.

    Then, last season, something clicked for the former USC star.

    Acclaimed special teams master Mike Westhoff whipped up some magic once again. McKnight blossomed into a wizard of the third team, and from season's beginning, made it abundantly clear to the rest of the league that he was ready to make an impact.

    With a blocked punt late in the fourth quarter of a Week 1 matchup versus the Cowboys, McKnight single-handedly shifted the momentum of what looked surely to be a disappointing, season-opening loss on their home field. The Jets went on to beat Dallas 27-24.

    McKnight seemed determined to erase the "bust" label placed upon him by the notoriously critical New York faithful.

    The return game is also an area where McKnight thrived in 2011. He amassed 1,000 return yards on 34 kickoff returns, for a whopping average of 31.6 yards per return. He brought one back to the house from 107 yards deep at Baltimore in Week 4. Here's a low-quality YouTube video of the monster run-back.

    McKnight struggled as a running back, however, which is disappointing considering that he's No. 2 on the depth chart behind Shonn Greene following the retirement of LaDainian Tomlinson.

    On 43 carries, McKnight totaled just 143 rushing yards, averaging out to a lackluster 3.1 yards per carry. These numbers will need to improve if the Jets hope to rebound from a disappointing 2011. Based off his confidence-boosting second season, however, there's reason to believe McKnight will be off to the races in 2012.

Muhammad Wilkerson

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    The sky is the limit for Mo Wilkerson in 2012. At least that's what his coaches are saying about him during this year's training camp, according to Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.

    When asked what to expect from Wilkerson, Jets defensive coordinator had this to say about the 6'4'', 305-pounder, according to the ESPN.com piece. "I think he can be mentioned with guys going to the Pro Bowl. He's that good."

    Strong words when you consider we're discussing a 22-year-old.

    Though, it's not entirely baseless analysis. In Wilkerson's first ever battles with NFL offensive lines, the former Temple standout started every game for New York, totaling three sacks and racking up 35 tackles. 

    Jets head coach and lover of all things defense, Rex Ryan, shared the same sentiment as Pettine, again coming from Cimini's August 3rd article.

    I really believe he's going to have a huge year for us. There are so many things you can do with him. He can play outside, inside, right, left, down the middle of the center, whatever it is. He's got great athleticism. He's in great condition. I just think he's going to have a great year. He knows the system, and I'd be shocked if he doesn't have a huge year.

    In his second season, Wilkerson will be one year older, a bit stronger, slightly more developed, and worlds more experienced. And Ryan's right; now that he's got the team's strategies down pat, he's only going to be scarier for opposing quarterbacks to line up against.

    You, too, should be shocked if Muhammad WIlkerson doesn't have a huge year in 2012.