Jets quarterback Sam Darnold

USA TODAY Images

Jets Season Preview: Unknowns All Over The Field

From QB To Pass Rush, Gang Green Is A Mystery

August 10, 2018 - 10:24 am
Categories: 

By Jamie Weintraub
WFAN.com

The Jets, who open their preseason Friday night at home against the Falcons, are looking to improve upon their second straight five-win season.

After entering free agency with about $92 million to spend, Gang Green made several notable acquisitions, and they hope they've finally found their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold.

Expectations vary for the Jets, who are hoping to make their first playoff appearance since 2010. And, of course, with Tom Brady and the ever-dominant Patriots in the division, winning an AFC East title won't be easy.

Offense

The story of training camp has been the quarterback competition. Who will be the starter come Week 1?

Sam Darnold is undoubtedly the long-term plan, though he is not guaranteed to start the regular season.

Josh McCown, the 39-year-old who started 13 games for the Jets last season, was effective in 2017, throwing for a career-high 18 touchdowns.

Teddy Bridgewater is also strongly in the mix, as the former Viking looks to re-establish himself following a horrific knee injury that kept him out for most of the previous two seasons, though there are reports that the Jets are considering trading him.

MORE: Jets Open To Trading Bridgewater

“Until we get deep into camp, you can’t really answer that question (of who will start)," Jets coach Todd Bowles said this week. "I’ve never seen somebody take a spot at any position in one week coming into training camp."

Last season, the offensive line was a major liability for Gang Green, though they hope to have improved that unit. The Jets let center Wesley Johnson walk in free agency following an underwhelming 2017 and replaced him with Spencer Long, who played the previous four seasons with the Washington Redskins. Long should be an upgrade in the middle of the offensive line. Right guard Brian Winters, who played a large portion of 2017 with a torn abdominal muscle, looks to be back at full strength.

The Jets appear to be entering the season without a true lead running back. Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire and the recently acquired Isaiah Crowell are expected to all split carries this season (although McGuire is currently sidelined with a broken foot). Powell offers experience and versatilty, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and hauling in 81 passes for 558 yards over the past two seasons. Crowell, who had been the starter in Cleveland for much of the past three years, was a small bright spot on some dreadful Browns teams, averaging just over 4 yards per carry the last two seasons. Rookie Trenton Cannon is also raising eyebrows in camp and could force his way into the running back committee, especially while McGuire is out. Ex-Seahawk Thomas Rawls is also competing for a roster spot.

At wide receiver, the Jets have a wealth of options, but not necessarily top-end talent. Robby Anderson, who is slotted as the No. 1 receiver, had an encouraging 2017, catching seven touchdowns while racking up 941 yards. The Jets hope to have Quincy Enunwa back to his 2016 form after he missed all of last season following neck surgery. Unfortunately, Enunwa suffered a thumb injury on his right hand early in camp, though it is not expected to keep him from missing any time in the regular season. Jermaine Kearse should be a key contributor again, and Terrelle Pryor presents a viable deep threat, though his stint in Washington was less than successful.

MORE: Darnold Has 'Very Fair Shot' To Win Jets' Starting QB Job

Tight end may be the biggest unknown heading into the season, as the Jets have two guys who have combined for no regular season appearances vying for the job. Austin Seferian-Jenkins signed with Jacksonville this offseason, leaving the job to Jordan Leggett and Chris Herndon. Leggett is a second-year player who missed all of 2017 after undergoing knee surgery, while Herndon was drafted in the fourth round this year out of Miami.

Defense

The Jets' defense was subpar a season ago, allowing 353.3 yards per game (25th in the league) and letting too many leads slip away in the fourth quarter.

General manager Mike Maccagnan made a series of moves this offseason with the aim of improving that unit. 

Trumaine Johnson is Gang Green's marquee free-agent signing. The former Ram offers the Jets an elite cornerback to match up against the league’s top receivers. Bowles' defensive scheme requires defenders to hold their own in man-to-man coverage, which Johnson has the physical attributes to thrive in. The signing of Johnson should also take some pressure of Morris Claiborne, allowing him to match up against receivers he is more equipped to guard. Second-year safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye should improve after impressive rookie seasons.

Though the Jets addressed their secondary, little was done to improve the pass rush. They finished 28th in sack percentage last season and have largely the same group on the defensive line this season.

Leonard Williams
USA TODAY Images

Leonard Williams is a disruptive force but will need to improve his ability to get to the quarterback quickly. Last season, he had an impressive 25 hits on opposing quarterbacks, but only two sacks.

The rest of the Jets' pass rushers will need to carry their weight. If not, Williams could see a disproportionate number of double teams. The starter opposite Williams remains in question, as rookie Nathan Shepherd, Xavier Cooper and Henry Anderson are likely to split time at the position.

MORE: Lichtenstein: A Look Inside Jets' Non-QB Position Battles

The Jets will also lean on third-year-pro Darron Lee at outside linebacker, following a season in which he recorded three sacks and started 15 games.

In the offseason, the Jets let Demario Davis leave for New Orleans after he recorded 135 tackles and five sacks last season. The Jets acquired Avery Williamson from the Titans to fill the role. Williamson is a good run stopper and pass rusher, though he is questionable in coverage.

If the Jets can find a consistent pass rush to pair with an improved secondary, the defense should be on the upswing in 2018.

Special Teams

The three primary special teams positions -- kicker, punter and long snapper -- are likely set for Week 1. Cairo Santos was signed as the placekicker. Because of a groin injury, he played in just five games last season, split among Chicago and Kansas City. Lac Edwards is back for his third season as the Jets' punter, and Thomas Hennessy is penciled in as the long snapper.

It will be interesting to see whom the Jets rely on to returns kickoffs and punts. They brought in veterans Lucky Whitehead and Andre Roberts to vie for the return man job, while Cannon is also competing for returns.

Review

Some observers are high on the Jets, predicting them to finish with double-digit wins, while others see them finishing at the bottom of the AFC East once again.

Can Anderson repeat his success of 2017? Will Williams get any help in the pass rush? Can Darnold, if he wins the job, find instant success? 

If the cards fall into place, the Jets could be in for a successful 2018 -- or they could bring their fans more heartache.

Tags: