Every year around this time, we speak with Football Outsiders to talk about the upcoming Jets season. Their 2013 season preview almanac is available for purchase on their website. They break down every team and skill player in great detail with some extraordinary statistics on player and team performance along with coaching tendencies. I've been using this book for years to get acquainted with the league every season and used their fantasy football advice to great success.
Below is the short Q and A we conducted with Football Outsiders on the 2013 New York Jets.
1. You guys seem to be higher on the Jets than most people. The general consensus is the Jets are going to be one of the worst teams in the league, but you say there is a 50/50 shot they win at least 8 games. Why does your analysis differ so greatly from everybody else?
The consensus is driven by narrative, not numbers. It's easy to say things like "The Jets are a circus, Rex Ryan is a joke, Sanchez is terrible, and the Jets will be 4-12." New York has won more games than they've lost over the last three years, and Sanchez and Ryan were around then, too. The media made a big deal out of the losses of Bart Scott, Brandon Moore, Sione Pouha, and Bryan Thomas, but no other team signed any of those players, either.
The passing game will be bad, but simple regression to the mean should make the passing game better in 2013 (fewer buttfumbles, for example). Sanchez had a DVOA of -29.4% in 2012; he's never been good, but that's a significant dropoff from his DVOA in 2011 (-12.6%) and 2010 (-4.3%). The Jets lost Darrelle Revis, but they didn't have him last year, and still finished 9th in DVOA. We expect the Jets to be bad on offense and good on defense, which means an 8-8 season shouldn't be unexpected.
2. What kind of contribution are you expecting from the Jets' rookie class?
For years, Football Outsiders has chronicled for years how first round cornerbacks struggle as rookies. Add in the fact that Alabama rookies have also struggled, and Kareem Jackson (a Crimson Tide cornerback) was terrible as a rookie before improving significantly over the last two years for the Texans, and it's safe to say we don't expect much from Milliner in 2013. Sheldon Richardson may also struggle as he'll be asked to learn multiple positions in the Jets flexible defensive scheme.
Guard Brian Winters brings toughness to the offensive line, but he may start the year on the bench. As for the Jets other pick in the first three rounds? We can get to him in a few minutes.
3. Kyle Wilson is perhaps the most polarizing player on the Jets. Many fans think he's a quality starter. Others believe he is among the worst cover guys in the league. Where do you stand?
As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. He hasn't lived up to his first-round expectations, but playing alongside Revis and Antonio Cromartie tends to magnify his mistakes. When the Jets ask him to do too much -- say, the safeties are poor or Revis is hurt -- he looks overmatched. But as a #3 cornerback he's above-average, and he can be a fine second corner if he is surrounded by above-average defensive backs (or facing a weaker opponent). He can't thrive on an island, but he's capable of playing well in spurts both on the edge and inside. He's one level above "just another guy", but there are lots of secondaries that rely on JAGs every year.
4. I would be remiss without asking a quarterback question. Who is the better choice to start, Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith?
That's a complicated question. For the 2013 Jets, the higher upside probably resides with Smith, simply because he's Not Mark Sanchez. But the Jets are probably better off not starting Smith for two reasons. One, he's got an uphill battle to climb: the Dana Holgorsen offense is very different than what Marty Mornhinweg will throw at him, and taking a year to learn makes sense. Rookies tend to struggle with the complicated WCO playbook, and Smith's weaknesses may be magnified in that regard.
But more importantly, how much can we expect out of any quarterback throwing to Jeremy Kerley, Jeff Cumberland, and Clyde Gates? Santonio Holmes is probably going to miss the start of the season, and Kellen Winslow is unlikely to stay healthy for very long, either. Stephen Hill struggled as a rookie, and he looked no closer to having the light turn on in minicamp, either. With a weak supporting cast, even a veteran quarterback would probably struggle. Throwing Smith into this lineup seems like a recipe for ruining his confidence, and Sanchez at least is used to playing with this garbage. The Jets just added Braylon Edwards, which would probably be good news for Sanchez, who has always enjoyed throwing to the lengthy Edwards.
5. What needs to happen for the Jets to surprise the world, win 10 games, and make the Playoffs?
Good health, good luck, and good production out of the running game. The defense has the potential to be very good, and Milliner, Richardson, and DeMario Davis will inject some youth and speed into what was becoming an older and slower defense. Kerley may already be a top-five slot receiver, but what he really needs is for Stephen Hill to develop. Fellow Georgia Tech wideout Demaryius Thomas has 283 yards as a rookie and 1,434 yards in his third season. If Stephen Hill can show similar development in year two (we can't use Thomas' year-two stats without a massive Tebow-multiplier), the Jets could suddenly have a respectable passing offense. If that happens, ten wins is a legitimate possibility, especially if Chris Ivory and/or Mike Goodson adds some explosiveness to the running game.