Geno Smith will try to lead the Jets back to the post-season in 2014.
by Connor Rogers
After a surprising 8-8 finish, Rex Ryan is back for his sixth season as the head coach of the New York Jets. With limited talent on the offensive side of the ball and a rookie quarterback starting all year, Ryan and the Jets found a way to finish .500.
After an offseason filled with multiple free agent additions and twelve draft picks, the Jets look to make a playoff push in 2014. The question is, can the Jets’ offense finally produce average production to aid an extremely solid defense? Let’s take a look how it might all play out…
Key New FA Additions: WR Eric Decker, RB Chris Johnson, QB Mike Vick, OT Breno Giacomini
Decker was the first free agent addition for the Jets, signing a five year contract worth 36.25 million dollars (15 guaranteed). Vick was brought in on a one-year deal to be Geno Smith’s back up.
Chris Johnson was cut by the Titans well into free agency and was brought in on a two-year deal worth an $8 million dollar base salary (up to $1 million in incentives). Dmitri Patterson was signed after the cornerback market completely fizzled on a one-year deal. Then he fizzled too, going AWOL during the pre-season and was released.
Key Departures: CB Antonio Cromartie (Arizona), Santonio Holmes (Chicago), Mark Sanchez (Philadelphia), Austin Howard (Oakland)
The Jets made no attempt to bring back Cromartie and failed at coming to terms with Howard, who was paid a king’s ransom by Oakland to move from right tackle to guard. Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes were cut by the Jets after failing to live up to mega contracts they received from former general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
NFL Draft Additions:
Round 1: Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Round 2: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Round 3: Dexter Mcdougle, CB, Maryland
Round 4: Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma/Shaq Evans, WR, UCLA/Dakota Dozier, OT/OG, Furman
Round 5: Jeremiah George, ILB, Iowa State
Round 6: Brandon Dixon, CB, Northwest Missouri State/Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska/IK Enemkpali, OLB, Louisiana Tech/Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Round 7: Trevor Reilly, OLB, Utah
Pryor will start at one of the safety spots. He was brought in to improve the Jets turnover differential and overall turnovers, both categories of which the Jets were in the bottom 5 of the league.
Amaro will receive significant (starter level) reps at both tight end and split out wide. His blocking is much better than he is given credit for, while being a red zone target from day one.
Mcdougle is lost for the year with a torn ACL injury and will look to compete for a starting corner spot in training camp in 2015 after rehab.
Jalen Saunders is the starting punt returner and fifth wide out on the team. Shaq Evans has been put on IR for the year. Dakota Dozier brings depth to the interior offensive line positions.
George has struggled in the preseason and is currently on the roster bubble. If he does make the team, he is the backup for Demario Davis and David Harris.
Dixon is a project cornerback that will most likely land on the practice squad in year one. He has excellent speed (top 5 40-yard dash time at the 2014 NFL combine) and experience in man-to-man press coverage. If he can refine his lateral movement and flipping of his hips, he will see the field in 2015.
Enunwa is a big red zone threat (6’2, 225 pounds) and a nasty blocker. He will most likely land on the practice squad as his route running needs work, unless he can stick on special teams.
IK Enemkpali is a power rusher that played at a lower level of competition at Louisiana Tech. He can step in on special teams as a rookie while working on a role as a situational edge rusher for the 2015 NFL season.
Matt Simms beat out Boyd for the third string quarterback spot, though Simms is merely on the practice squad for now.
Trevor Reilly played every position except nose tackle in the front seven at Utah. The versatile 26 year old is a special teams candidate for the Jets in 2014.
Geno Smith will be the starting quarterback, as he looks to carry his strong finish from 2013 into the 2014 season. There is a lot to like about Smith, who was forced into a starter’s role after Mark Sanchez suffered a season-ending injury in the 2013 preseason vs. the Giants.
Smith has a strong, accurate arm and + graded mobility. He is a “down field” thrower that needs to refine his reads and footwork. After being given a full NFL offseason, Smith should have a better grasp on the playbook and reading of an NFL pass rush. I would temper expectations going into year two, but 18 passing touchdowns, 4 rushing, and 12-15 turnovers are very fair expectations for Smith.
The Jets will rely on a run-heavy attack featuring power back Chris Ivory, speedster Chris Johnson, and the one cut runner in Bilal Powell. Ivory is a load when healthy and a goal line menace. Johnson can bounce it outside and bring it to the house on any play, from handoffs or passes.
Powell is the best pass-protecting back on the team and displays very good vision to find the hole, cut and go. Daryl Richardson will also be featured in case one of the top three are injured. The speedy back from the Rams is very capable of handling second-string running back duties.
Eric Decker will be the primary wide receiver. Jeremy Kerley will handle the slot duties and continue to be the go-to guy on third downs. Jace Amaro and Jeff Cumberland are extremely capable pass catchers that can line up as in-line tight ends as well, although Cumberland has struggled mightly as a blocker in the past.
David Nelson will be a short-intermediate possession target, while Greg Salas will most likely back up Kerley. Jalen Saunders will handle returning punts and occasionally work out of the slot if he develops as a NFL pass catcher this year. Stephen Hill’s status with the team is up in the air as he continued to struggle in the preseason.
The offensive line will feature mainstays D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold with free agent addition Breno Giacomini. The guards will be Brian Winters and Willie Colon, with Oday Aboushi as a primary do-it-all back up. Giacomini and Colon are bruisers that lack a lot of foot speed but can maul when they get their hands on defenders.
Ferguson is the blindside protector who handles the primary edge rushers. Mangold is as solid as they come, after he did not allow a single sack in 2013. Winters is the guy to keep an eye on as penalties and pass protecting seem to be key struggles in his game right now.
The defense is led by young talent along the line in Mo Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples will start at the outside linebacker positions, with Jason Babin being the situational pass rusher. Antwan Barnes is still working his way back from a 2013 knee injury.
Rookie Calvin Pryor and veteran Dawan Landry will start at the safety positions. The cornerback positions are anyone’s best guess at the moment, outside of Dee Milliner being a lock. Darrin Walls is an extremely capable outside coverage corner who seems to be the front-runner to line up across from Milliner. Antonio Allen will see time at both safety and corner, wherever the Jets need him. Kyle Wilson will most likely play a slot corner position.
Bruiser David Harris and youngster Demario Davis lead the middle of the defense. Harris struggles considerably in coverage but plays the interior run as well as anyone. Davis is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker that could lead the team in tackles in 2014.
First-year coach Thomas McGaughey from LSU will look to improve the Jets special teams in 2014. Jalen Saunders will be the primary punt returner, with Jeremy Kerley serving as his back up.
Kick returner will be a week-to-week position depending who is on the roster. Jacoby Ford, Saalim Hakim, and Clyde Gates can all handle kick return duties. The question is, which one makes the roster, if any?
Nick Bellore is the special team’s “stand out.” Bellore is a tackling machine that always seems to have his nose on shutting down returns.
Nick Folk has been as reliable as they come for the Jets, hitting 33 out of 36 field goal attempts in 2013. Ryan Quigley is a huge question mark at punt returner, and the Jets should look to replace him after cuts. Long-snapper Tanner Purdum seems like a lock.
The Jets made a lot of offseason improvements and will look to build off of their 8-8 finish in 2013. Right now I have them finishing 9-7, just missing the playoffs due to a very strong AFC in 2014. The most important factors for the team will be Geno Smith’s development and the secondary containing the big play, two week-to-week issues they faced last season.
Connor Rogers works in Bleacher Report’s NFL Video Department and is a lead editor for Turn On The Jets. He has been featured on newyorkjets.com and many more outlets. You can follow him on twitter at @CRogers_NFL.