With the start of the regular season now just six days away, it is time for that age old tradition of Jets fans everywhere, fear and dread. In some areas the team is in excellent shape. The Jets have one of the best pair of receivers in the NFL in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The Jets have a nice offensive backfield in Matt Forte and Bilal Powell, two backs that are well suited to play in a Chan Gailey offense. The Jets have a well above average left side of the offensive line in center Nick Mangold, left guard James Carpenter and left tackle Ryan Clady. The Jets have a young and supremely talented trio of defensive linemen in Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, each of which has a realistic chance to make the Pro Bowl. The Jets have a solid pair of inside linebackers in Erin Henderson and David Harris. The Jets have an all time great cornerback in Darrelle Revis who is still one of the best in the game.
Then there are the areas of concern. Let's take a look at where the Jets might have some worries going into the 2016 season.
Second Outside Cornerback
This could be a severe problem for the Jets in 2016. Buster Skrine is slated to man the position when the Jets are only fielding two cornerbacks, but Skrine is very small and much better suited to the slot than the outside. In defensive sets featuring three or more cornerbacks, which are expected to be the majority of snaps, Skrine will move inside and one of Marcus Williams, Justin Burris or newly acquired waiver pickup Darryl Roberts is expected to man the outside. Williams had a nice year in 2015 as the dime cornerback, mostly covering the opponents' fourth best receivers. Stepping up to the second outside corner position constitutes a big jump in the level of competition. If the preseason is any indication, Williams may not hold up. If Williams is not up to the task, the next man up is likely rookie Justin Burris, who also proved to be a concern in preseason. Darryl Roberts, a promising but unproven acquisition at cornerback is the last option here. The level of worry over the second outside cornerback position should be directly linked to the level of confidence Jets fans have that Revis is still capable of holding up on an island on the other side. If the Jets can successfully leave Revis alone every game then help can be consistently rolled to the other side of the field. That should mitigate the concerns regarding an unproven and largely unimpressive list of candidates to fill the second cornerback void. If, on the other hand, Revis needs help against his tougher matchups, the Jets could be in for a long and frustrating season watching the cornerbacks get burned.
Worry-Meter level, with 0 being free from all worry and 10 being defcon 5: 5, if Revis is still Revis. If not, then 8.
This position is manned by a bunch of young players, none of whom have any notable experience as three down players in the NFL. One side will likely be held down by rookie Jordan Jenkins. While Jenkins is a promising rookie who reminds some of a young Calvin Pace, he is still a rookie, and should be expected to make typical rookie mistakes. The other side was expected to be manned by second year player Lorenzo Mauldin, who shined in a limited role as a pass rush specialist in 2015. However, the transition from part time specialist to full time outside linebacker has not been a smooth one for Mauldin, who struggled badly in the preseason. Mauldin may have been surpassed on the depth chart by Mike Catapano, yet another young unproven player. Rounding out the choices at outside linebacker is Josh Martin, who got some playing time as a backup outside linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013 and 2014 and has a total of 26 tackles and half a sack on his resume. Martin flashed some in preseason against backups, but is likely not a great option for a starting role.
The outside linebacker position has the potential to be a major problem. There are simply no players with NFL starting experience, and no players who in the preseason looked up to the challenge against opponents' first team offenses. This could be a sore spot all year if none of the young guys prove up to the challenge. The apparent struggles of Mauldin in attempting to transition from specialist to full time player is especially concerning, as he was being counted on to provide what little veteran experience the Jets have at the position. In the long run this group might prove to be good or even excellent. However, in the immediate time frame of the current NFL season the Jets are going to need a couple of these guys to grow up fast or the team will have a very exploitable weakness setting the edge this season. Mitigating the concern somewhat is the apparent intention of the defense to play a variety of fronts featuring four defensive linemen. Throw in obvious passing downs, when the Jets may bring in as many as six defensive backs, and it may be the case that for a majority of snaps only one of the outside linebackers is on the field.
Worry-Meter for the outside linebackers: 7
Offensive Line Right Side
Who ever thought Jets fans would be worried about Breno Giacomini being sidelined? Perhaps there is no reason to be concerned. Perhaps one or the other of Ben Ijalana and/or Brent Qvale will step up and provide decent play at right tackle, Wally Pipping Breno. Perhaps. But as much as Jets fans would like to be rid of Breno, nothing in the play of Ijalana and Qvale in the preseason has given us much assurance he isn't, sadly, still the best option the team has at right tackle. Throw in Brian Winters at right guard and you have a major weakness on the right side of the line. Perhaps this is the reason the Jets appear to put so much emphasis on blocking by the tight ends. There appears to be little or no interest in a move tight end that may be shaky blocking. Perhaps the plan is to shore up the right side of the offensive line with blocking specialists at tight end. Regardless, the right side of the line is a concern. If any of the big three of Mangold, Clady and Carpenter go down, the entire offensive line becomes a major concern.
Worry-Meter for the right side of the offensive line: 7. If any of the big three go down, bump that up to 9 for the entire line.
Ummm... what tight ends? Does this team actually have any NFL caliber tight ends? The Jets look to have the worst group of tight ends in the NFL. While this is mitigated by the small role the tight ends play in the current offense, still as a group the worst in the NFL is something to worry about.
Worry-Meter: 6. Only saved from being a 10 because tight ends seem largely irrelevant to offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.