With the Jets clearly positioning themselves for 2018 and beyond, 2017 has become a sort of tryout year. Few players on this roster can feel safe if they have a tough year. It’s going to be a competitive environment within the roster.
Looking at the squad that’s been put together, most who follow the team are willing to go into evaluation mode and judge the team not based on wins and losses, but based on the development of its young talent.
For the leaders running the show, Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan, the same philosophy should apply.
The Jets are most likely going to struggle to get wins this year. We already know that simply based on the way the roster has been constructed with future flexibility in mind. Knowing this, it would be unfair to judge either Bowles or Maccagnan on the amount of wins the team picks up this year.
However, it would be equally unfair to the future of the team to give them a free pass for the year. Like the players, there is still room for the team brass to show progress and prove they can be a part of the solution long-term even without winning games in the present. Both Bowles and Maccagnan have a lot to prove this year.
For Bowles to prove he can be the guy to eventually lead a consistent playoff and championship contender, one area he needs to show improvement is in his game management. Through his two seasons at the helm, Bowles has made a few head-scratching choices during games. It would be encouraging to see him do a better job conserving timeouts, understanding the clock, and making smart fourth down decisions among other management moves.
Another area of improvement needed for Bowles would be the on-field chemistry of his players, specifically on defense. For someone who had an impressive NFL career as a safety, it was discouraging to see the brutal communication issues and constant breakdowns that plagued the Jets secondary in 2016. Giving up long completions and touchdowns were a weekly occurrence. It’s tough to win when you have those problems. Bowles must work to get the defense on the same page this season.
The development under Bowles has also been stagnant. Only Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams, and Rontez Miles remain from the Jets secondary in 2015. It’s wrong to point every finger at Bowles, but players like Lorenzo Mauldin, Calvin Pryor, and Darron Lee (though he’s only had one year) have all failed to break out. For a coach with a defensive background, it’s problematic to see that there really isn’t a single member of the current starting defense that has seen his game grow under Bowles.
Improved game management, better communication, and the development of players with potential who have been a part of the team such as Robby Anderson, Brandon Shell, Darron Lee, and Juston Burris would be a great look for Bowles. The readiness of the two rookie safeties he had a huge part of bringing in would also be a great sign for him.
As for Maccagnan, this is his team now.
While Maccagnan’s recognition of the situation and decision to put the team in reset mode was smart, it’s now up to he and the front office to make the most of their improved assets to get the team back to relevance. Has Maccagnan’s draft production earned him the trust to be responsible for picking the team’s next franchise quarterback? Two years later, his 2015 draft class will feature just one Week 1 starter, Leonard Williams.
As shown above, Maccagnan’s players will have every chance to prove him right. His 2016 class failed to make much of an impact last year but the promise and opportunity will be there in 2017. Darron Lee had a rough rookie year, but can he fulfill his first round potential and take a sophomore leap? Can Jordan Jenkins continue to develop into a strong full-time edge setter? Is Juston Burris starter material? Is Brandon Shell legit? All these questions will be answered, and each should be a factor in the evaluation of Maccagnan more so than the number in the “W” column of the standings.
It’s a lot to expect rookies to contribute right away, but you want to see promise from players expected to get a lot of playing time out of the 2017 class. The two safeties he selected back-to-back in rounds 1-2 have both shown potential in the preseason. If they can both become long-term starters, Maccagnan’s previously questioned move will look masterful. If they don’t pan out, it would be a costly failed risk. It would also be encouraging to see more late-round selections break out, specifically at the skill positions where the Jets are most sorely lacking homegrown talent. Elijah McGuire and Jordan Leggett will both get their shots.
Bottom line, Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan have as much to prove as anybody on the Jets roster. Their team will have trouble competing this year, and they shouldn’t be judged by the win total. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be judged at all. Like any unproven young player, they both need to correct their flaws and validate their potential to show they belong as a part of the rebuild.