Jets coach Todd Bowles

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Lichtenstein: Jets Appear Set To Make Some Questionable Roster Cuts

Steve Lichtenstein
August 31, 2018 - 12:26 pm
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Forecasting the final 53 seems to be a thing among all the Jets beat writers, so there’s no need to generate one here.  Instead, I will focus on a few positions where my analysis differs from the media consensus as to where they think coach Todd Bowles is leaning in advance of Saturday’s cutdown.

Tight End

In a pregame interview, Bowles labeled this position as the one to watch in the Jets’ unwatchable final preseason tilt, a 10-9 loss to the host Eagles on Thursday night. It is assumed Bowles will keep four of his five tight end candidates, since most experts believe he will ax all of his fullbacks. Unfortunately, though the competition is close to call, it hasn’t exactly produced the finest performances. 

The run blocking has been erratic and the one player who has made a few plays in the passing game with the starters (veteran Clive Walford has seven receptions for 92 yards with the backups) is Neal Sterling, the third-stringer on the depth chart. 

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Most troubling is that Eric Tomlinson has not only been assumed to be a given to make the team, he has maintained his status as the starter. Like all the offensive starters, Tomlinson did not participate in Thursday’s game. Tell me, why has he gotten a pass this preseason?  It’s not like he is an established NFL contributor.  He has eight career receptions, and he hardly distinguished himself in any of the previous three preseason contests, with just one catch for 2 yards and a few costly penalties. For one who is supposed to be regarded for his blocking, Tomlinson received merely average grades in pass blocking and was below average in run blocking last season, per ProFootballFocus.com. He’s also too slow for special teams. 

Jets tight end Eric Tomlinson is tackled while playing against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 10, 2017, at New Era Fieldin Orchard Park, New York.
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Rookie Chris Herndon and sophomore Jordan Leggett have too much potential to cut, and the Jets have to be impressed with Sterling’s improvement. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa often acts as a de facto tight end by providing a safety valve in the middle of the field and cracking back to block in the running game.  In this case, the Jets should either keep Lawrence Thomas as their fullback or stalk the waiver wire for a semicompetent one instead of wasting a roster slot on Tomlinson.

Wide Receiver

Bowles has a numbers problem here even if he uncharacteristically loads up with seven. And that’s without ArDarius Stewart, the 2017 third-round draft pick who would be on the roster bubble if not for a two-game league suspension for violating the performance-enhancing substance policy, which exempts him from the count for the regular season opener on Sept. 10 in Detroit. 

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As of this writing, starter Robby Anderson has not been suspended despite two arrests in the last year, so he would be active in Week 1. Enunwa, Terrelle Pryor and Jermaine Kearse (who's in danger of missing Week 1 with an abdominal injury) are the other obvious survivors in this position battle, while free agent pickup Tre McBride has played his way into the slot receiver rotation. That leaves at most two spots open, at least until Stewart returns. The consensus believes one of them will be saved for Andre Roberts. Why, because he can catch a punt?  Give that job to one of the Jets’ young jitterbugs -- rookie Trenton Cannon and, when he returns from a foot injury, sophomore Elijah McGuire. Even though he’s had a subpar preseason, I wouldn’t give up just yet on Chad Hansen, a fourth-round selection last year. In addition, Charone Peake’s value on the Jets’ lousy coverage units outweighs what Roberts has shown he can do with returns. 

Outside Linebacker

I delved into this mess in my last post, but, unfortunately, nothing has changed here. It appears Jordan Jenkins and Josh Martin will start, with Brandon Copeland and Frankie Luvu as the lone reserves.

Bowles has given very limited reps in the preseason games to 2015 third-round pick Lorenzo Mauldin and Dylan Donahue, who might be saved, at least temporarily, by a suspension if the league imposes one for his two drunken-driving guilty pleas. The Jets on Friday reportedly cut David Bass, who was tied for the second-most sacks on the team last season and also sparingly used in the preseason.

Aside from Jenkins, I just don’t see how any of the other three “locks” have separated themselves from the pack. Luvu has a nice story as an undrafted rookie, but he already seems overrated despite having accomplished nothing yet on this stage. His claim to fame this preseason is three personal-foul penalties. 

Bass was a steady and versatile role player in his five NFL seasons. I have no idea why he didn't get a fair shake this preseason. He’s less than a year older than Copeland, who missed all of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.  Unless the Jets find help outside the organization, this group will be their Achilles' heel.      

THOUGHTS ON BRIDGEWATER TRADE

Quarterback, of course, is now a settled matter. However, I want it in the record that I was not on board with the Jets trading Teddy Bridgewater (and a sixth-round draft pick) to New Orleans on Wednesday.  The Saints’ third-round pick, in my opinion, was insufficient compensation for a starting-caliber quarterback who also proved to be the most qualified in the Jets’ three-way position battle in training camp. 

Though rookie Sam Darnold was anointed (unofficially) as Gang Green’s starter, I certainly didn’t see the urgency to deal Bridgewater now. Even if you believe all the other 31 starting QBs will be injury-free and fully effective through the Oct. 30 trade deadline, a similar deal should have been available then from a team in need of a backup. In addition, it’s not like the Jets did Bridgewater a favor. The pending free agent would have been more likely to see the field to showcase his abilities for the Jets this season than for the Drew Brees-led Saints. 

I give general manager Mike Maccagnan credit for creating a valuable asset from his $1 million investment in Bridgewater, but I believe he could have gotten more of a return from that asset. For instance, which would the Raiders prefer as part of an imaginary trade in which they parted with star defensive end Khalil Mack? Bridgewater, or the Saints’ three in exchange for a six?  I think the proven quarterback always beats out a mid-round crapshoot. 

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