Not every upgrade a team makes comes in the form of a new player. There are instances when a player improves him performances, takes on a bigger role, or both. Calvin Pryor comes to mind in 2015. He was a starter just like he was in 2014. His level of play improved dramatically. In a lesser sense, Marcus Williams was another player whose improvement helped the team. Williams became a nice depth piece. Here are some players who could potentially help the Jets in a bigger role next season.
It was by almost any measure an excellent rookie year for the first round pick. Williams filled in ably early in the season for Sheldon Richardson during the star's suspension. At this point it feels unlikely both Muhammad Wilkerson or Damon Harrison will return. Either way, it stands to reason the Jets will be depending on an improved Williams to replace them. If Wilkerson goes, Williams might find himself moving around the line more as direct replacement for Mo. If Harrison leaves, Williams might be asked to carry more of the load as an interior run stopper. He obviously has a different skillset from Snacks, but Williams will be one of the most important run stoppers on the team.
I mentioned the other Williams above. Marcus is a guy who quite possibly will see his playing time go up. Given the composition of the roster and the salary structure of the team, the Jets cannot bring back Antonio Cromartie at anything resembling his current salary. Cromartie would have to take a steep paycut, quite possibly steeper than he would be willing to take. Buster Skrine would slide into a starting role, but the Jets play with three cornerbacks a lot. Williams would get a lot of playing time on the outside with Skrine moving to the slot in those situations. Williams was protected this year. Will he succeed in a bigger role? Given the current finances, the Jets might need to find out.
Mauldin showed some flashes as an edge pass rusher during the second half of the season in limited playing time. He looked more athletic than a lot of people thought he would be. Is he going to be good enough to be the primary edge rusher on the team? Will he take on more of a diverse role like Calvin Pace where he drops into coverage some, plays the run, and also rushes the passer at times? Will he be a third down specialist? It's tough to say, but Mauldin is probably going to see his playing time go up.
As bad as the tight end position was for the Jets in 2015, I would be somewhat surprised to see them make drastic changes at the position. Part of the hope will likely be that Quincy Enunwa works on his hands and builds on some of the progress he made as a receiver at the end of the season. The other hope will be that Amaro provides the team a lift as he returns from injury. Amaro had very solid rookie production, but he was doing limited things. Can he grow as a player? Ideally I think he would work best as a move tight end. The Jets indicated they were grooming him for the H back role Enunwa took. Can Amaro show enough as a blocker in-line to stick there? An Amaro-Enunwa tight end combination could be solid in theory. In any event, it is difficult to imagine him being worse than Jeff Cumberland or Kellen Davis.
Dion Bailey/Rontez Miles
The Jets have a lot more depth at the safety position than they did a year ago. Bailey and Miles both played some really solid ball when Calvin Pryor was hurt at various points of the season. There isn't going to be an opening at safety, but I think about Todd Bowles' flexibility. The Jets do have an opening at inside linebacker where Demario Davis and Erin Henderson are free agents. Henderson might be a candidate to re-sign. Here is something to keep in mind. Two years ago, Bowles was the defensive coordinator in Arizona and lost both of his starting inside linebackers. The Cardinals drafted a safety Deone Bucannon and turned him into an inside linebacker. The hope with a safety good in run support is you get the run stopping skills of a linebacker with the coverage skills of a safety. Bailey and Miles are both smaller than Bucannon. Bailey did convert from linebacker to safety in college, however, so he does have some familiarity at the position. I doubt the Jets would count on either guy to take on a starting role. That would be way too risky given the thin NFL resumes they have. I could see them throwing looks, particularly in passing downs using these guys in more of a linebacker role, though.
These are not the only guys who could potentially step up. I didn't include guys like Bryce Petty or the young offensive linemen because it is too early to know how good they are. I didn't include Devin Smith because he will spend the offseason rehabbing a serious injury rather than giving his game the work it desperately needs. There are a number of lower level candidates who could surprise, though. Who would have thought Enunwa would become a legitimate part of the offense this time a year ago?