This year hasn’t gone as I’d expected at all. The Jets are tied with the Patriots for second place in the division behind Buffalo. The Giants and Chargers are 0-4 while the Rams are 3-1. This year has been chaotic to say the least, but I have to say I'm extremely happy with how the Jets have played in the last two weeks.
While the Jets performed around how I expected in the first two weeks of the season, they have looked dominant against the Dolphins and even the Jaguars, despite the overtime finish. This raises the question: Are the Jets better than we expected?
I’d argue that yes, the Jets are a lot better than I gave them credit for coming into the season. The caveat here being that the Dolphins are absolutely horrendous and the Jaguars are incredibly inconsistent due to the play of Blake Bortles and the loss of WR stud Allen Robinson. The Jets have a good chance at winning 5 or more games this season at this point, which is better than I would have predicted, but they really don’t have the guns to compete with teams like the Patriots, Falcons, or Chiefs down the line.
I don’t have any problem with the Jets failing to reach .500 this year, however, because the only thing I’ve really been engaged in has been evaluating the young players on the roster. This is a rebuilding team and until the Jets have their QB of the future and some more homegrown talent, the Jets aren’t going to be real contenders in the AFC. With that said, let’s break down how players have performed through the first quarter of the season. Keep in mind that this is just my opinion based on what I've seen on tape and that I am no way right all the time about everything forever. It's much closer to about 99%.
Josh McCown has been more or less what you would expect. He’s no Fitzmagic, but he’s no Fitztragic either. He’s a replacement level veteran who probably provides more value in the locker room than on the field. Bryce Petty looked decent in preseason and may have the potential to be a solid backup, but I’m not convinced he’ll ever be a QB1. Hackenberg looks like a trainwreck and I have no real optimism there.
Matt Forte has no business being on the field. Even at his best, Forte is just not fast or shifty enough at this stage of his career to justify playing time. I've always been a fan of Bilal Powell as an option to share the load, and he's been pretty phenomenal the last two seasons as a decent do-it-all back. McGuire has shown some good moves and decent hands, flashing as a potential mid-round hit for Mac. The combination of Powell and McGuire should handle the load almost entirely and could solidify the Jets RB position for a long time with very good, if not exceptional, running back play.
The Jets wideouts have been better than expected, with Kearse performing as a solid contributor and Robby Anderson carving out a niche as a deep threat. Kearse has outperformed my expectations and is likely a decent WR2 option in this league while Robby Anderson could have some very solid numbers with better QB play, as he's gotten good separation on several plays in which he wasn't targeted. The return of Quincy Enunwa could make the Jets WR stable above average, though none of these players really deserve to be called an elite receiver, or really even a WR1. The rookies haven't seen much action, though Stewart has looked good in limited snaps.
The Jets have barely used their tight ends in recent years, but it may have been in part due to a lack of talent. Tye has looked like a decent backup and Leggett really hasn't seen much action. ASJ has looked somewhat rejuvenated in his small sample size, but he is hardly in the conversation with top players. The position is weak, but ASJ has shown enough in two games for me to think that the position could be around league average for the first time in about a decade.
This has been a very mixed bag. Shell has been inconsistent at RT and I haven’t thought that anyone has done particularly well at RG. I can't say I'm an excellent judge of center play, but it's appeared pretty average to me thus far. Beachum has been better than advertised while Carpenter remains the best piece of the line. I would argue that about half of the sacks that McCown has taken, if not more, have been due to his terrible pocket awareness and tentativeness to throw the ball. As a whole, the line has outperformed my expectations in the pass game as I thought they would be terrible, but the run blocking has been pretty poor. I still don't like the contracts given to Winters and Ijalana, but Carpenter has outperformed his contract and Beachum has looked like a good move for a team desperate for a LT.
It's time to change my account name. Wilkerson is officially mediocre, as he has failed to live up to the big contract extension he received after a broken leg ended his 2015 season. The trade of Richardson hasn't really hurt the line that much as two young players have really stepped up. Leonard Williams is a stud who has looked unblockable at times, building towards what should be a Pro Bowl season. Williams is the type of player who doesn't always appear in the stat sheet, but is playing and developing at a Hall of Fame rate while still just 23 years old. Kony Ealy has also looked like a great signing, as he's constantly been in the backfield and disrupting plays with tipped passes and even a big interception against Jacksonville.
Arguably the biggest letdown this season has been the horrendous play of Darron Lee. As a young first round pick, many had hoped he’d take a step this year and develop into something positive. He’s looked like the worst player on the field in at least half of the Jets games thus far. The Demario Davis Calvin Pryor trade has actually looked pretty good thus far, as Pryor is no longer on a roster and the Jets managed to shed some of his contract. Davis started off with two familiar performances in which he competed with Darron Lee for the worst player on the field award. In the last two weeks, however, he has been dynamic, filling the right holes and stopping plays for short gains, and even the occasional pass defense and tackle for loss. Despite his resurgence, I'm not willing to anoint him as above replacement level just yet, making this section of the team the weakest link (quarterback excluded.)
Mauldin's failure to develop was a running story before he ended up on IR and this lack of improvement could also rank as one of the major disappointments of the offseason. Jenkins remains a solid contributor, though he provides nothing in terms of rushing the passer. The Jets have gotten some very good play out of bargain bin FAs Josh Martin and David Bass, while mid round prospect Dylan Donahue hasn't looked bad as a rotational player. Bass and Martin have actually looked pretty good at times, though the Jets biggest weakness may be the lack of a true pass rusher. A Von Miller-type player would really change the dynamic of the Jets defense.
This was a weakness that could have been expected coming into the season, but it hasn't been as bad as I thought. While Claiborne has gotten a lot of grief, I've actually thought that he’s outperformed his $5M contract in a league where CB1s are being paid north of three times that number. He's a solid #2 and is functioning as a serviceable #1 being paid like a low end #2. Skrine has been pretty lousy, and his contract is simply not justified by his play. He should be a low paid slot corner, but he is continually treated as a CB2 due to his contract. I haven't seen much of Marcus Williams and Justin Burris has been mostly terrible. Darryl Roberts has looked good in a limited role, and could be a decent developmental option despite being near Claiborne in age already.
Now for the good part. Say what you want about Maccagnan, his double dip into the safety position has looked excellent thus far. Jamal Adams is a certifiable stud. He does all of the little things, filling the right gaps and not letting things get behind him. Adams has shown off great range and has even beaten offensive tackles on safety blitzes. He's going to be a centerpiece of this defense for years. Maye hasn't been quite as consistent and struggled at times in his first two games, but I think he's been very good overall. Adams and Maye complement each other well with their versatility, as both players are rangy and good in coverage, but also not afraid to lay lumber when needed. Terrance Brooks has even gotten in the action after being acquired for probable-cut Dexter McDougal, recording two interceptions and looking above average in special teams. This safety group could be set for the next decade.
The Jets finally don’t look terrible here. The coverage unit and blocking are night and day from where they were a few years ago. The Jets still lack kick and punt returners, but the kicking has been above average and Edwards has looked good, if inconsistent. His 70 yard punt essentially won the game in overtime for the Jets this week. The Jets also converted a fake punt while intercepting a fake punt attempted against them. The unit is no longer a major liability.
While the Jets have outperformed their talent thus far, I think that Bowles has been doing a simply horrendous job of in-game coaching and clock management. I make no claims to being an NFL caliber coach, but even I'm shocked at times by Bowles' poor clock management and even the occasional decision to/not to go for two when there's no upside. This type of in-game decision-making should be second nature to a Pop Warner coach. Even with the Jets record where it is at this point, I don't see how one can justify Bowles returning next year as these issues continue into his third season.
I have been pleased by the performance by the offense, however, as Morton has more or less gotten the best he can out of the talent available. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that the Jets would be 14th in yards per play and 21st in points per game with no special teams/defensive points, I would have been overjoyed. They've also ranked in the top 10 for time of possession, which has probably helped the defense stay fresh.
So there you have it. Many of the young guns have been playing lights out and have left me with a lot of optimism for the future. Adams and Williams could lay the foundation for a strong Jets defense for nearly a decade if the Jets can find an edge rusher and a few solid complementary pieces. I'd like to see more of the young Jets receivers, but thus far it's hard to get a read on them beyond Robby Anderson, who could very well be a good complementary piece on the outside with a rare ability to stretch the field. The young running backs have looked very good while Darron Lee and Hackenberg have essentially solidified their bust statuses. It's a bit of a mixed bag, but overall the young players have looked quite good and could be the building blocks to a solid roster for years to come if, and here's the eternal conundrum, the Jets can finally solidify the quarterback position.
Which young player’s progression will you be keeping an eye on this season?
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