New York Jets' Top Position Battles Heading Into Camp

Steve Lichtenstein
July 21, 2020 - 9:30 am
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If, as expected, the NFL marches on towards the opening of training camps come hell or high coronavirus infection rates, players will begin trickling into the Jets’ Florham Park complex this week with the whole team slated to convene on July 28.

The testing protocols were signed off on Monday but as of this writing, it is unknown how many players may participate in a camp session or how many preseason games, if any, will be played.

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Since that means he almost surely won’t be able to witness the normal amount of reps, Jets coach Adam Gase, in his second season, must have his camp operating at maximum efficiency to evaluate his personnel and then make decisions at certain positions that experienced significant turnover.

Here, then, are the biggest position battles fans should watch for at Jets training camp:

CB2
Jets general manager Joe Douglas signed former Colt Pierre Desir in the first week of free agency, ostensibly to fill the top cornerback role despite Desir receiving grades last season that didn’t exactly shout “shutdown corner.” Injuries and poor scheme fit were likely contributing factors, so the hope is that his size and physicality will be put to better use by Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Brian Poole was brought back to solidify the slot after an excellent 2019 campaign, but Gase and Williams still have an outside corner position to fill. The competition winner could very well be another ex-Colt, though I can’t fathom a scenario where it’s Nate Hairston, who was just brutal last season after coming over in a trade. Unfortunately, Quincy Wilson, whom Douglas acquired during the NFL Draft for a sixth-round pick, fared even worse while in Indianapolis. Wilson, a former second-round pick, is known as a physical corner who might fit Williams’ mold for that spot, though he is notably slower than Desir.

The two corners who finished out last season for Gang Green, Arthur Maulet and Blessuan Austin, will also be in the mix. Sure, maybe their strong second-half performances were due to the lousy opposing quarterback play the soft schedule afforded, and Williams was still forced to play more zone than he probably would have liked to keep them from getting toasted, but the duo did make some noise with their ability to stick with receivers and tackle. Well, at least until Austin was benched for good at halftime in the home finale versus Pittsburgh.

If you’re looking for a sleeper in this battle, how about Bryce Hall, the Jets’ fifth-round pick who dropped in the Draft only because of an ankle injury in college? If he’s healthy in camp, he could absolutely sneak up on this weak competition.  

LT/RT
The Jets must believe 11th overall selection Mekhi Becton is their left tackle of the future, and training camp will determine if he is worthy of protecting quarterback Sam Darnold’s blind side in 2020.

I gather Becton will get the first shot to nail down the slot, with expensive free agent acquisition George Fant the frontrunner at right tackle. However, that configuration is far from etched in stone. Don’t count out 2019 third-round pick Chuma Edoga, even though he struggled at both spots as a rookie last season, because the organization still reportedly has high hopes for his development. Fant, meanwhile, also hasn’t distinguished himself at this level, as nearly 40 percent of his snaps last season in Seattle were as a sixth offensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus. Also worth noting: While Edoga was selected by the prior regime, Douglas didn’t exactly tie himself down to Fant either, as his contract is not guaranteed after this season.

Douglas has said the team will put the five best guys on the line. May the least destructive two tackles win.

WR2
There is a decent possibility that the starter opposite speedy free agent acquisition Breshad Perriman isn’t currently on the Jets’ roster. I know Jets fans would love to see Denzel Mims grab the job by the horns and run with it, but let’s just say that this franchise hasn’t had much luck betting on second-round rookie receivers.

Mims has the size and speed, but his route tree at Baylor was limited. The hope is that his Senior Bowl practices were more indicative of what he can do at the next level.

If not, help wanted.

Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios have the slot covered, but neither have proven they can be effective outside. The depth chart also includes 2016 first-round bust Josh Doctson, development project Vyncint Smith, and blank slate Josh Malone.

The Athletic reported that the Jets have been “talking” to free agent Demaryius Thomas about a return. Thomas isn’t anywhere near the player he once was and had the NFL’s ninth-highest drop rate among receivers with at least 50 targets, but he was highly respected in last season’s locker room, and on the field, he still had a knack for using his size to position himself against defenders on intermediate routes.

The only question, then, is whether Thomas would be a better option than some other team’s trash at the end of camp. 

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

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