- Andy Benoit, The MMQB’s film study analyst, ranks every NFL team based on roster talent and gives 10 thoughts on each club throughout training camp. We start with No. 32, the New York Jets, whose offensive lineup in Week 1 of the regular season will resemble a great team’s lineup in Week 4 of the preseason
1. Thanks to the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s trendy to throw up your arms and accuse teams of tanking. But what’s now called “tanking” was once called “building for the future,” and smart teams were commended for it. That’s what the Jets are doing. Though he’s still solid, it’s good business to release 33-year-old linebacker David Harris for $6.5 million in savings. It was also smart to release 30-year-old receiver Eric Decker, who posts good numbers in the right situations but is nowhere near dynamic enough to headline an offense. The Jets saved $7.25 million with Decker’s departure, plus they freed up more practice reps for rookie wideouts ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen.
2. Speaking of wideouts, the Jets don’t have any proven ones. The best of their bunch is Quincy Enunwa, who showed a newfound ability to win on the perimeter early last season but wound up remaining an inside possession target. There’s decent enough speed from Robby Anderson and Jalin Marshall, but now we’re just throwing around names. Bottom line: none of New York’s wideouts would be anything more than a No. 3 on most teams.
3. It’s imperative that first-time offensive coordinator John Morton incorporate his running backs into the passing game. Not only do the Jets have no receivers, but they’re even more limited at tight end. Disappointing ex-Buc Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the closest thing the group has to a receiving threat. Last season, Jets tight ends combined for 18 receptions and 173 yards, by far the lowest numbers in the league at that position. (Not coincidentally, the Jets played far more 4-WR, 1-RB sets than any team.) When you don’t have receiving weapons, your passing game must win through play design. Many effective play designs have a mismatch-making element. A running back vs. linebacker scenario is the only mismatch the Jets can create. And that’s assuming the running backs can get it done. Matt Forte caught 102 balls for the Bears in 2014 but just 30 in his first year as a Jet last season. The challenge for Morton is how to use the 31-year-old veteran. If Forte were still an explosive multidimensional pass-catcher, you’d think previous offensive coordinator Chan Gailey would have featured him more in the slot or motioning out wide—especially when you consider how many spread formations Gailey employed. It’s possible Forte is to the point where his receiving prowess is constricted to routes coming out of the backfield. That would make him similar to 28-year-old backup Bilal Powell.
4. The bet here is that Josh McCown will be the starting quarterback. Maybe starting him over a talented but severely underdeveloped 26-year-old Bryce Petty or last year’s second-round pick Christian Hackenberg is not in line with the “build for the futurer” mantra, but you can’t develop the rest of next year’s players if your quarterback doesn’t know where to go with the ball.
5. The offensive line is a glaring question mark. If new left tackle Kelvin Beachum can’t stay healthy (he tore his ACL in 2015 and missed a game with a concussion last year), this front five will have a grand total of zero bona fide athletes. A lot of people are high on guards Brian Winters and James Carpenter. But Winters’s lack of physical strength can show up in both the running and passing games, and Carpenter’s stiffness becomes an issue when he has make adjustments blocking on the move.
6. Last season, the Jets’ defense featured stretches of man coverages, stretches of zone, games with no blitzes, games with lots of blitzes, and a continuous shuffling of front seven personnel. That would have been great if it were a versatile defensive unit. But really it was just a unit with no identity. Which is telling because Todd Bowles, as a defensive play-caller, has a distinct identity: aggression. Bowles loves matchup coverages and designer pressures—preferably those that attack right up in the middle, in the quarterback’s line of vision.
7. Bowles couldn’t run his full scheme in 2016 because the Jets didn’t have a No. 1 corner they trusted on an island. Darrelle Revis looked washed up against Cincinnati’s A.J. Green in Week 1 and stayed that way. He’s gone now. In his place, ex-Cowboy Morris Claiborne is an intriguing mirror-technique press corner, but not the kind of stopper who travels with No. 1 receivers. And opposite Claiborne, there are questions about penalty-prone veteran Buster Skrine.
8. Bowles understands that the more versatile you are at safety, the more versatile your scheme can be. Safeties create your disguised pressures and coverages. In Bowles’s matchup-zone scheme, the safeties must cover tight ends man-to-man and also be able to convert their zone coverage into man coverage against inside vertical routes. Given the athletic demands of all of this, it’s no surprise the Jets found their new safeties in the first round (Jamal Adams) and second round (Marcus Maye).
9. On film, Muhammad Wilkerson, coming off a serious leg injury from late in 2015, was every bit as quiet last season as his numbers suggest. And given his immense talent, Sheldon Richardson was much too quiet, as well. So heading into this year, New York’s best defensive lineman is the one who, two years ago, people felt they didn’t need but were wise to draft sixth overall anyway. That’d be Leonard Williams.
10. Besides “back seven” depth, the biggest concern with this defense might be its lack of a true outside pass rusher. Wilkerson, Richardson and Williams are all interior rushers, not quite quick enough to scare opponents with their first step off the edge. Lorenzo Mauldin was drafted in the third round in 2015 to fill this role, but he doesn’t have the physical tools and needs his pass rushing opportunities generated through scheme. This gets back to the importance of man-to-man corners for Bowles. Without them, he will remain reluctant to blitz. And blitzing is this defense’s best chance at pressuring the quarterback.
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