The 2012 Jets are going to be far from perfect this season. But if you decide to look past the media frenzy hovering over this franchise, there are a lot of bright spots on this roster that may turn some heads next season. Remember, it was this time last year when Rex and Jets were talking about returning to their third straight AFC championship game and finally reaching the Super Bowl. In hindsight, we can do nothing but laugh at those comments, as the Jets finished at a mediocre 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time during the Ryan-Sanchez era.
Now that the storm has finally passed, storm being the disastrous 2011 season, free agents have been signed, and draft selections have been made, we can finally get a grasp on what to expect from the 2012 Jets. Heading into the offseason, GM Mike Tannenbaum was faced with the difficult task of filling gaping holes at the S, LB, and WR positions. Not to mention the obvious need of an upgrade at RT and 3rd down RB. Skip ahead four months later, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that Tannenbaum turned many of those question marks into confident answers through several key additions made during free agency and the draft.
With the loss of Jim Leonard and Brodney Pool to free agency, Eric Smith was the lone safety under contract for next season. For those not familiar with Smith, in plain terms, he sucks. Most infamous for allowing Giants WR Victor Cruz to burn him on the sideline, which led to a 99-yd touchdown last season, Smith is better suited for a backup role. The Jets addressed this major need by signing DeAngelo Smith and former pro-bowler Laron Landry during free agency, and drafting Antonio Allen in the seventh round out of S. Carolina. With DeAngelo Smith and Allen looking more like special teamers, Landry seems to be the only relevant name on that list. When healthy, Landry is a game changer near the line of scrimmage. Known for his devastating hits, Landry plays with speed and was one of the leaders on that Redskins defense during his five-year tenure in Washington. If not for his season-ending Achilles injury last year, Landry would’ve probably been cashing in this offseason like his counterpart Michael Griffin did in Tennessee. Landry will not be the answer to the Patriots dynamic duo at the TE position, but he will provide some much needed speed and leadership on a defense that was "dinosaur-ish" last season. Another factor to acknowledge… he is playing on a one-year contract. Anytime a player’s future is uncertain, it usually gets the best out of him.
After the season, there was much speculation that the Jets were going to try to trade or release LB Bart Scott. Due to his age (32 by start of season), contract ($4.2 million), and decrease in productivity the past 3 seasons, he was looked at as expendable to many people. Scott will be back with the team this season, but we might be seeing #57 in smaller doses than we’ve seen before. In the third round of this past draft, the Jets selected LB Demario Davis out of Arkansas State. At 6’2" 235, Davis was one of the strongest and fastest linebackers from this draft class, posting 32 reps on the bench press and a 4.53 40-yrd-dash time. Unlike Scott, Davis excels in coverage and uses his speed to play aggressive sideline-to-sideline football. He even spent some time with his hand in the dirt as pass rusher in college, which gives Rex Ryan the ability to plug him in anywhere on the field, on any down. According to Mel Kiper Jr., if Davis had gone to a major football program, we could’ve been looking at a first round draft pick here. I think the Jets got extreme value with the selection of Davis and he should have an immediate impact on passing downs and special teams.
Believe it or not, but the Jets had the second highest red zone scoring percentage in the NFL last season, trailing only the Detroit Lions. That’s a pretty shocking statistic considering how the offense preformed the other 80 yards on the field. A large part of their success in the red zone came from the long, outstretched arms of WR Plaxico Burress. The Jets and Sanchez benefited greatly from having the 6’5" target, as he went on to lead the team with 8 receiving touchdowns (Holmes had 8 TD’s as well). After passing on the option of re-signing Burress and free agents like Braylon Edwards and Vincent Jackson, the Jets decided to move up in the second round to select WR Stephen Hill out of Georgia Tech. Teams feel in love with Hill at the combine, as he posted an electric 4.36 40 while standing at 6’4" and 215 pounds. Now those are some feet for Rex Ryan to fall in love with. Projected to go in the first round, Hill slipped into the early second, so when he was still available at #43 overall, the Jets pulled the trigger to assure themselves of this captivating prospect. Right now, Hill looks to be the No. 2 behind Mr. Grumpy Pants (aka Santonio Holmes) and should fit in beautifully into Tony Sparano’s play-action heavy offense. Hill can take the top right off of a defense, so teams are going to have to respect his big play potential. Opposing safeties are going to have to stay honest, which should keep them out of the box, ultimately opening bigger running lanes for Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight, and Tim Tebow. Hill is still extremely raw and will need some time before he blossoms, but if he can turn into a Demaryius Thomas like player, with the addition of Jeremy Kerley in the slot, the Jets will have a very solid receiving core for years to come.
If you turned on SportsCenter during this offseason, it was hard not to catch an update on the drama filled Jets. Whether it was the possibility of acquiring Peyton Manning or trading for QB Tim Tebow, the Jets spent a lot of time in the spotlight. But one transaction that flew under the radar was the signing of an All-American rugby player and former basketball player. Standing at a massive 6’7" 250 pounds, Hayden Smith projects to play tight end in this new-look New York Jets offense. Smith is a natural beast in the trenches and should provide some good blocking in two-tight end formations. But the intrigue with this multi-sport athlete is the boost he could provide on offense. Former basketball players have translated very nicely in the NFL, with examples like Tony Gonzales, Antonio Gates, and most recently Jimmy Graham. If Smith can pick up the sport of football rather quickly, he could be an attractive option in the passing game for Mark Sanchez. We already know how much Sanchez loves his current tight end Dustin Keller, so it will be very interesting to see how OC Tony Sparano uses this Smith this upcoming season.
All in all, I give the Jets a B on their offseason report card. The pass rush was addressed with first round pick Quinton Coples, while the speed of the defense got a huge lift with Laron Landry and Demario Davis. The safety position still lacks some depth, but the signings of current free agents safeties Yeremiah Bell and O.J. Atogwe aren’t out of the question. The Jets seem to believe they have their heir apparent to Plaxico Burress in Stephen Hill, and hope to get some production from their project at tight end in Hayden Smith. Not to mention QB Tim Tebow, who will give a whole new dimension to a previously lackadaisical offense. I really would’ve liked to see the Jets go after a speedy, change-of-pace third down running back, but obviously management believes Joe McKnight will be able to handle that role in the offense. I don’t foresee Vladimir Ducasse or Wayne Hunter getting any better, so Jet fans will have to live with the nightmare at right tackle for one more year.
With solidified All-Pro players like David Harris and Darelle Revis on defense and The Brick, Nick Mangold, and Santonio Holmes on offense, plus the additions of the previously stated players, the Jets look like they are back on track to their ultimate goal. Until Tom Brady retires, New England will be winning the AFC East, but do not be surprised to see the Jets snag one of two wild card spots and become a serious contender in post-season play once again.