Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa breaks a tackle against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 1, 2017, at MetLife Stadium.

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Lichtenstein: 5 Predictions For 2018 Jets As Darnold Era Commences

Steve Lichtenstein
September 05, 2018 - 9:45 am
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The emergence of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has Jets fans energized. Some might say irrationally exuberant.

Call it the excitement of the unknown. Of course, since no professional track record exists for Darnold, the third overall selection in this year's draft, this season promises to be more unpredictable than most. 

TAKE THE QUIZ: Which Jets Player Are You Most Like?

A year ago, we all knew the Jets would stink. That they went 5-11 was sold to us as some great achievement when in reality the public just couldn’t conceive that certain teams could possibly play worse on given Sundays.

This season, the Jets appear to be an improved football team, but it’s conceivable that their record at season’s end won’t reflect it.

Still, despite the cloudiness of my crystal ball, I give you five predictions for Gang Green’s 2018 campaign in advance of Monday night’s opener in Detroit:

1) Darnold will throw more interceptions than touchdowns.

Throw out the preseason stats. Darnold did a tremendous job protecting the football in his first three games as a pro, with just one interception on a forced fourth-down throw. That’s because those games didn’t count. Coach Todd Bowles purposely kept those game plans simple, with few downfield throws, since winning wasn’t the only priority. The same goes for the Jets’ preseason opponents. The defenses Darnold will face will get a lot more complex starting in Detroit. And we all know how precarious the Jets’ offensive line is. Darnold has received praise for his ability to process the game, but the speed will ramp up in the regular season. Let’s see what happens in fourth quarters, when big plays are needed to win games. It’s not a disgrace if it takes him a year to get used to it. It’s the norm for rookies -- the Russell Wilsons are the outliers.

It seems incongruous that in this age of air dominance in the NFL, Jets quarterbacks have thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions only four times in the last 10 seasons. Yes, it’s been that bad here. They’ll be 4-for-11 after this season. 

MORE: Lichtenstein: QB-Starved Jets All In On Darnold This Season

2) The Jets' sack leader in 2018 will be ...

 ... linebacker Darron Lee. Demario Davis, also an inside linebacker, tallied the most sacks (five) for the Jets last season. With Davis gone and Avery Williamson, who never recorded more than 3 1/2 sacks in a season during his four-year career, in his place, I expect Lee to get plenty of blitz opportunities. Maybe not so much from the edge, which I wrote about in a prior post. However, with Leonard Williams, the Jets’ only credible pass-rush threat among their defensive linemen, double-teamed to death, Lee could find openings up the middle the way Davis did last season. The Jets need Lee, who is going into his third season after getting drafted in the first round (20th overall) in 2016, to have a breakout season for the defense to have any kind of chance to stop teams.

3) The Jets' leader in TD receptions will be ...

... Quincy Enunwa, the wide receiver who sat out all of 2017 with a neck injury. A big target, he should become a Darnold staple this season, especially in the red zone. Robby Anderson topped the Jets with seven TD receptions last season, but even if he isn’t suspended (as of this writing, the league has not disciplined him for his two arrests in 10 months) I don’t see him getting the same number of opportunities on deep balls with Darnold under center. Some believe Bowles will ease Enunwa back, but even if Jermaine Kearse’s health (abdomen) wasn’t a question mark going into Detroit, I think Bowles would still want Enunwa on the field often just to provide an extra blocker in the run game. Enunwa, one of only two players currently on an NFL 53-man roster among the 12 drafted by prior general manager John Idzik in the Jets’ 2014 class, will get the chance he missed last season to get to the next level.

MORE: Jets Sign Davis Webb To Practice Squad

4) The return drought will continue.

The Jets haven’t had a punt or kickoff return for a touchdown since 2012. Only Oakland and San Francisco have longer droughts. The goal for Gang Green’s special teams this year should be to just break even, because the coverage teams were a mess in certain games last season and, despite Bowles’ public emphasis that it will get fixed, I’m not so confident.

The Jets’ returners had a hard time just holding onto the ball in the preseason, with rookie Trenton Cannon the most obvious culprit. Andre Roberts is the most accomplished returner, with three career TDs. But, at 30, he may be losing steps. Another season without reaching the end zone will make the Jets 0-for-their-last-6.

5) The Jets will again be one of the five most penalized teams in the league.

Rookie quarterback. New offensive coordinator. An offensive line that played zero snaps together in the preseason. That’s a recipe for flags galore, no matter how many pushups Bowles makes his players do in practice for their lack of discipline. The Jets’ secondary will feel the strain of an impotent pass rush, leading to more illegal contact and holding penalties.

The 119 accepted penalties against the Jets were the fifth-most in the league last season. Expect that number to rise with the new rules -- and all that is new in New York -- this year.      

2018 Prediction: 6-10

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.