Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 out for New York Jets' Final 53 Man Roster
Training camp is the ultimate proving ground in the NFL—not for the starters as much as for the backups. This is the time of year when they earn their spot by proving that they are better options than others at their position.
For the New York Jets, that battle will be even stiffer this year than it was last year. The influx of talent at the top of the roster means that there are fewer backup spots to compete for. For example, the No. 5 cornerback spot will be like the No. 4 or No. 3 spot last year thanks to the additions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
In some cases, the new players will push the old ones out. In other cases, the Jets veterans will prove that they are worthy of the spot they've had for years.
No one ever wants to see the backups on the field—that means that the starters are either struggling or injured—but the battles for backup spots will be taken just as seriously as the battles at the top of the roster. Here are five players who could be on either side of the roster bubble.
In: Antonio Allen
The 2014 season was turbulent for everyone in the Jets secondary, but maybe for Antonio Allen most of all. The safety moved to cornerback due to a shortage of warm bodies at the position. Although his 6'1", 210-pound frame was supposed to be a major weapon in his favor, he simply never mastered the fundamentals necessary to excel at the new position.
Now the Jets are returning Allen to his more natural position. It may be harder for him to earn playing time there, with Calvin Pryor taking up the snaps at strong safety and Marcus Gilchrist getting the looks as the free safety. However, he'll be in a position to succeed when he does take the field.
If nothing else, he can make an impact by contributing on special teams. He only had one special teams tackle in 2014, but his ability to line up there as well as returning to his natural position will both be factors in his favor come cutdowns.
In: Stevan Ridley
Former New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is riding a wave of uncertainty into training camp and preseason. He's recovering from a torn ACL, while also competing with a lot of other talented running backs.
Seven months after reconstructive knee surgery, Ridley spent most of the spring watching his teammates from the sidelines. He participated in individual drills, but he did not take part in team drills, according to ESPN's Rich Cimini.
There's a wide range of reports about Ridley's availability for the start of the 2015 regular season. Some folks think he'll start the season on the PUP list, others think he could be good to go for the start of the season.
Assuming Ridley will be healthy enough in time to make an impact is difficult. The PUP list may be the best thing for Ridley, because it gives him a safe way onto the roster where he won't count against the final 53-man tally.
In: T.J. Graham
There's a quiet competition for the fifth roster spot at wide receiver, and it's possible that a surprise cut could be coming at the position. The Jets traded down 12 spots for two extra draft picks and Houston Texans wide receiver DeVier Posey during the 2015 NFL Draft, so that gives you an indication of what the Texans thought about Posey.
He has some potential as a wide receiver drafted in the third round just a few years ago, but he doesn't have any value in other areas. The fifth wide receiver will be needed on offense from time to time. But because of Chan Gailey's spread offense, that fifth receiver needs to be able to contribute in other ways.
That's where the likes of Saalim Hakim and T.J. Graham come into play. Neither have been particularly productive (in Hakim's case, not at all) as a receiver, but both men offer value on special teams as either a returner or a gunner.
Graham, specifically, is a former third-round draft pick of Gailey's with the Buffalo Bills. There's a good chance that Gailey can still see the same qualities in Graham that made him such a coveted prospect just a few years ago.
In: Taiwan Jones
The Jets simply don't have many other inside linebackers to choose from.
David Harris and Demario Davis form a nice starting duo of inside linebackers, but if either of them ever need to come off the field, the Jets need to be prepared. Make no mistake, the Jets could be in trouble no matter what they do—but they would benefit from at least having someone who knows the position.
Former Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones might bear the inglorious label of a "run-thumper" at linebacker. That status certainly isn't going anywhere after he ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash at the 2015 Scouting Combine. He can still be productive though, as Jones had 127 tackles in the past two seasons, with 19.5 tackles for loss.
He may never run all over the field in coverage or shadow Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in his routes, but NFL.com's Lance Zierlein thinks Jones has the potential to be "a backup linebacker and core special-teams player" at worst. If Jones gets a good enough grasp of the defense, he has proven that he can contribute to a front seven.
In: Deion Barnes
One problem with projecting "tweener" defensive end/outside linebacker prospects is that it's unclear exactly what position they should be playing in the NFL. A good coach, however, can hone in on the strengths of any player and find a way to maximize those strengths.
This is the story of former Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes and Jets head coach Todd Bowles. Zierlein points out that Barnes "might lack the natural pass-rushing ability or strength at the point of attack to play defensive end in the NFL," and adds that "Barnes appears to have enough athleticism to transition to 3-4 outside linebacker, but he must improve his hand usage and become more skilled as a pass-rusher to fit into a 3-4 role."
Bowles has found ways to maximize production from less-than-dominant pass-rushers in the past, and the Jets are just desperate enough for depth at the position to make room for a developmental pass-rusher like Barnes.
Out: Jason Babin
The Jets may be desperate for pass-rushers off the edge, but are they desperate enough to pay a 35-year-old $1.6 million in 2015? It's hard to put a price tag on experience, and Jason Babin has plenty of it. But if the Jets can find a young player who can do Babin's job, there's no reason to keep hanging on.
Especially not when the Jets could recoup $1.5 million.
Babin came into his own very late in his career, dominating the NFL with 30.5 sacks from 2010-2011 (18 sacks in 2011 alone). Since then, his production has fallen off a cliff, and he's only brought down the quarterback 16.5 times in three years, and twice in 2014 for the Jets.
The Jets have Lorenzo Mauldin, Trevor Reilly and IK Enemkpali who could all prove worthy of playing time on the outside. Deion Barnes could also fall into that category. Why should the Jets take a chance on a veteran with very little time left in the league, when they could invest their time more wisely into a younger player with a long future ahead of him?
Out: Willie Colon
The Jets have made Willie Colon wait two years for long-term security, and he could be waiting even longer. Colon signed his third one-year deal with the Jets this offseason, and with only $65,000 guaranteed in his contract, the Jets could part ways with him with minimal repercussions.
Colon has started the past two seasons for the Jets at right guard and hasn't missed a game. That being said, he has had multiple knee injuries in his career, and at 32 years old, he could begin wearing down soon, and rapidly. The Jets are obviously cognizant of it, having added young guards over the years (Brian Winters, Oday Aboushi and Brent Qvale).
Now could be the time for those young guards to take their step up into the starting spot, and for Colon to fade into the background.
Aboushi seems the most likely to start opposite James Carpenter—though which side remains to be seen. Aboushi played 734 snaps at left guard for the Jets in 2014, filling in for the injured Winters as the starter for the final 10 games of the season.
Out: DeVier Posey
The Jets moved down 12 spots in the third round of the draft and acquired a fifth-round pick, a seventh-round pick and wide receiver DeVier Posey. The former third-round pick is competing with several receivers for the fifth spot on the depth chart.
At that deep down the roster, you have to be contributing on special teams. Posey hasn't done that, and although he logged six special teams tackles as a rookie according to Pro Football Focus, he hasn't had a single tackle on special teams in the two years since then.
That being said, at 6'2" and 211 pounds, Posey ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL scouting Combine. Someone, at some point, showed some interest in his potential. General manager Mike Maccagnan was part of the Texans front office when Posey was drafted, so perhaps he felt an attachment to a player he helped bring into the NFL.
Out: Stephen Bowen
The battle for roster spots on the defensive line could be one of the deepest and most interesting of training camp.
The top of the roster is loaded with young, athletic players and the back end of the depth chart is held up by experienced veterans. At 6'5" and 300 pounds, Stephen Bowen has the perfect frame to play defensive end in the Jets' 3-4. But at 31 years old, he doesn't have the athleticism that the other players possess.
Between Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and Leonard Williams, the Jets already have a talented group to rotate on the defensive line, and there are a lot of other talented players competing for spots.
Rookies Deon Simon and Davon Walls, second-year tackle T.J. Barnes, and veterans Kevin Vickerson and Leger Douzable are also gunning for spots. While there could be seven spots for defensive linemen, there are more than seven competing. Bowen has battled knee issues and may find it difficult to beat out some of the younger players on the roster.
Out: Darrin Walls
Darrin Walls was a starting cornerback for the Jets last year, and this year, he's competing for a roster spot. That's a pretty good indication of how far the Jets secondary has come in a short period of time.
Of course, the additions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie have limited the number of spots that will be available at the cornerback position. However, Walls could be competing for a spot that just isn't cut out for him. He gave up 52 receptions on 83 targets in 2014 (62.7 percent) for 894 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions with eight passes defensed.
He did all of that without playing a single snap on special teams.
He will also have to prove he can contribute covering kicks and punts if he wants to stick around and prove that last year's performance was a fluke.