On a team with so many unproven or castoff players primed to take on huge roles all over the roster, it’s inevitable that a few are going to stand out and have a career year. With that in mind, which Jets (excluding rookies) will break out in 2017?
RT Brandon Shell
Mike Maccagnan traded a future fourth round pick to select Shell in the fifth round in 2016, a questioned move. However, when Shell got extended playing time late in 2016 he was consistently solid.
Now entering 2017, he has a shot to stick on the right side of the offensive line. While he’s been pushed by Brent Qvale, Shell seemed to play well throughout the preseason, looking capable in pass protection consistently. His run blocking could use some work, but it’s become a rare occurrence to see him get beat in the passing game.
Don’t be surprised if coming out the year Shell is one of the future “pieces” in place on the Jets offense.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Jets fans will remember another tight end who was poised for a breakout only a year ago. His name was Jace Amaro, and obviously that didn’t turn out as hoped.
Seferian-Jenkins is another young tight end looking to break through in New York. Seferian-Jenkins, who will turn 25 in September, was picked in the second round of the same draft as Amaro in 2014. He was booted from Tampa Bay after an arrest and other off the field problems, then had a limited impact after being picked up by the Jets, catching 10 of 17 targets for 110 yards and no touchdowns.
All indications have been that he’s overcome those off-field problems and is ready to fulfill the potential that made him a second round pick.
While he has to prove that on the field, what’s lost in his struggles is that Seferian-Jenkins was becoming an efficient player in Tampa Bay. Over 2015-16, Jameis Winston had a 127.2 passer rating on his 42 official targets to him. In 2015, ASJ ranked 11th in receiving yards per game, 2nd in yards per reception and 7th in yards per target among 45 tight ends with at least 30 targets.
For Jets fans who have seen brutal tight end play for a while, ASJ looked like Tony Gonzalez out there this preseason. He caught 4 passes for 55 yards and a nice touchdown from Christian Hackenberg:
The size and ability is there. He’s a 6’5, 262 pound man with a 40 time and vertical jump both above the 90th percentile at his position. With the Jets poised to use the tight end more this season (5.5 targets per game in 2017 preseason compared to 1.8 in 2016 season), Seferian-Jenkins could make an impact when he returns from suspension.
CB Juston Burris
It’s a wide open cornerback position, as outside of Morris Claiborne (who is extremely injury prone himself) anybody can make a run at playing time.
Sophomore Juston Burris, who showed promise at the end of last season, is poised to take advantage of that. The 6’0, 212 pound NC State alum has the size and length to be a physical playmaker, something Todd Bowles seems to favor in his corners.
Throughout the preseason, he looked like he belonged when with the first unit, getting in on a few passes in addition to his interception of Eli Manning (though it was primarily created by Sheldon Richardson’s pressure).
Plenty of young corners are going to get long looks this year, as Darryl Roberts, Marcus Williams, and maybe even rookie Derrick Jones figure to be thrown into the fire quickly. Someone is bound to stand out, and my favorite bet right now is Burris.
LB Darron Lee
Lee’s incredible speed, athleticism and length for the linebacker position gave him the look of a player with a high ceiling down the line, which is what made him a first round pick. Despite that, he was a young rookie who had little experience at the position, and as a small linebacker was weak at the point of attack. These deficiencies led to the rough rookie year he had, as he was often caught out of position and made few big plays.
He can get a pass for that rookie year because of the type of prospect he was. The excuses are up now, and it’s time to start seeing progress from the former 20th overall pick. And this preseason, he showed some.
Here’s a positive example. Lee shows some power in the trenches and block-shedding ability you might not have seen last year, and gets the tackle for no gain.
Here is a glimpse of where Lee might still be overall. You can see his outstanding speed in addition to the improved play recognition. He just needs to finish these himself more often.
Lee was finding the right spots and anticipating plays far more often, looking stronger as a tackler overall. In coverage, he also looked more fluid. His numbers were poor in coverage last year, but he seemed to be just a step short quite a bit. With the athletic ability and penchant for big plays he had in college, Lee has all the potential to be a star if he can get his fundamentals together. He showed excellent progress there this offseason, and I can see him being an established future building block come January.
Who do you think will break out for the Jets this year?
(And don’t worry about jinxing them. It helps the tank.)