For the first time since the Fitzmagic faded, the New York Jets are optimistic. An offseason that promised much seemingly delivered.
Le’Veon Bell eventually joined the Jets in Gotham after months of flirting and speculating. Bell is one of the premiere players in the NFL. His patience in the rushing game to wait for the gap to open in the trenches creates more opportunities for a ground game than last season, where the Jets were 26th in the league. New York got nearly a quarter of their rushing yards in a single game against the Denver Broncos. Bell should also be fresh after holding out from playing this past season.
Bell will need to have good chemistry with his offensive line, another weakness in the Jets last season. Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell were solid at tackle, but the interior line was torn asunder repeatedly.
Trading for Kelechi Osmele was a low-risk, high-reward move to strengthen at guard. After failing to acquire Matt Paradis in free agency they will likely look to Jonotthan Harrison to give some semblance of structure at center. Harrison was a highly capable replacement for Spencer Long, who struggled badly in the position last season. New offensive line coach Frank Pollack has been known to kick his side into shape, having coached Cincinnati, Dallas, and Oakland into some of the best in the league during his tenure. He will want to hit the ground running in MetLife Stadium.
Bell’s pass-catching abilities will be crucial as second-year quarterback Darnold continues to develop. Bell offers a safety blanket in the passing game for the USC product to check down if he doesn’t like what he sees downfield. The Jets lack of explosive talent in the receiving corps, making Bell a likely candidate for plenty or receptions. Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Jamison Crowder can be very good, but none are Bonafide WR1 players as of yet.
Chris Herndon was a fantastic find last year at tight end, but suspension for the first four games of next season leave Ryan Griffin and draft pick Trevon Wesco as their only alternatives early in the season.
Enunwa and Crowder both work better in the slot, so pairing them both on the inside could plug up the middle too much if the playcalling isn’t creative enough. This won’t be an issue for new head coach Adam Gase, who was hired mainly due to his reputation for being quarterback-friendly.
He’ll mentor and guide Darnold to improve in the same vein of Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Mitchell Trubisky in year 2. Darnold showed his good and bad in his rookie season. His 57.7% completion rate and 15 interceptions do not make for comfortable reading, but he looked like a genuine star in the final quarter of the season. Gase’s job is to maintain and accelerate Darnold’s growth.
A defence built for the run
The Jets are stout up the middle defensively. Leonard Williams enters a contract year with a sterling reputation but less heralded statistics. He’ll be aided this year up the gut by namesake Quinnen Williams, the 3rd overall pick from Alabama who both blesses and thanks himself when he sneezes.
Quinnen’s charm off the field is matched by his intensity on it. His presence will create pressure right in the middle on the defensive line. On the edge, the Jets have Henry Anderson and Nathan Shepard to prevent quarterbacks from escaping the pocket. Missing out on Anthony Barr when he reneged on a deal to return to the Minnesota Vikings hurt their edge rush prospects, but if third-round pick Jachai Polite lives to the hype and Jordan Jenkins builds on his seven-sack season in 2018, the Jets could finally have serious threats on the edge.
The free agent splash on defence came in the form of C.J. Mosley. Mosley will lead and call defensive adjustments at middle linebacker. Avery Williamson will fit nicely beside him inside with Jenkins on the outside. Mosley coupled with Jamal Adams at safety can create a new culture in the Jets’ defence.
Marcus Maye’s return will also tighten things up, but the cornerback unit must improve dramatically. All too often in 2018, big free agent acquisition Trumaine Johnson was exposed. In a passing league such as today’s NFL, a weak secondary means fighting uphill battles every series on defence. Depth is a massive issue at cornerback. Brian Poole and Darryl Roberts have done little to show they deserve to start at cornerback.
Likelihood of making the playoffs: Average
The Jets passing offence and defence is hindered by a lack of depth at receiver and cornerback. An expected improvement on the offensive line should give both Darnold and Bell chances to show their worth. Stout defence up the middle will give up little ground. The Jets lost five games by seven points or less last season, while winning one. Easily a better team than last year, playoffs are a realistic goal if they can fix issues at secondary.